A few days before Brazil's Lollapalooza 2017, Raffa Moreira received an unexpected phone call: a journalist from G1—the largest news organization in Brazil—managed to get his number and called to ask for his opinion on Haikaiss, an all-white rap group featured in the lineup for the festival, which ran from Saturday, March 25 through Sunday, March 26. "I cussed out the reporter for about five minutes," said the rapper from Guarulhos in an interview with Noisey. "I kept repeating: 'My phone number is for personal use or just to schedule shows, man. Not to talk about my opinions.' I thought it was someone trying to mess with me, record the audio, and share it around on Whatsapp." But it was no joke: the following day, Moreira woke up to a direct message from a friend who sent, along with several other funny messages, a link to the published G1 article.
The reporter had looked for Moreira after Poetas no Topo ("Poets on Top")—a musical web series that showcases multiple prominent rappers on a single collaborative track—announced that Pedro Qualy, one of the members of Haikaiss, would be featured in their third video. Moreira took to social media to criticize the project, which is sponsored by Pineapple Supply, a popular Brazilian streetwear brand. "If I knew they were going to invite someone from Haikaiss [later on], I would have never accepted the invitation to participate in Poetas 2," Moreira posted (and stressed several times during the interview) on Twitter. His additional posts on the matter prompted a racial debate in the online hip hop community. The dialogue became so impassioned that it was covered by TV Globo, the largest and most-watched network in the country.
"It was funny to see the G1 headline referring to them as the 'foursome of white rappers,' but that's who they actually are, right? It's not like I lied," Moreira said. "But I thought it was strange that people were surprised by what I said about Haikaiss. My beef with DamassaClan"—a rap collective that includes Haikaiss—"is a million years old." Moreira first mentioned his distain for the group in 2015, on the first track of his FERNVNDXmixtape, saying: "I don't understand DamassaClan/And I want your sister!/"I hate Don Cesão!"/Cash, a sold out show/That doesn't make you real." "To me, from the beginning, it was always very clear that the [DMC] guys had a bourgeoisie agenda in their lyrics. And that's different than the rap I knew," the rapper explained. "It's a bunch of white playboys, you know? Not that I'm an old guy who thinks that music doesn't need to be recycled. That's not it. It's just that rap was created by black people. In America, it's still black. Then, in Brazil—a country where corruption rules, where the poor and the black are already fucked—[Haikaiss], who are already better off and white, are taking over everything [in rap] now."
Smoking joint after joint—during our three-hour conversation, at least four joints were lit and passed around by Moreira and his trap "gang," which includes fellow rappers Blackout, Imob Zind (both of whom were featured on the track "T.O.P.O."), and Fuky—and sipping catuaba (an inexpensive liqueur made from infused tree bark, believed to have an aphrodisiac effect) at 2PM on a Thursday, the rapper welcomed the Noisey crew into his home in Guarulhos, the second most populous city in the state of São Paulo. Despite having moved in with his wife, Tayara Andrade, six months prior after news that she was pregnant, Moreira ensured that his home adhered to the same aesthetic he'd grown up with: simply furnished, "but never missing anything." "I was born and raised in the projects of Guarulhos. I had toys and never went hungry, but of course I never had the games and skates that were in style."
The son of a nail technician and a former accountant, Rafael Fernando Moreira got involved with music at an early age because of his family. "My father played samba and my grandfather was part of Camisa Verde-Branco, that samba school," the rapper recalled. The institution is widely regarded as one of the most famous traditional samba schools in Brazil. As a boy, Moreira went to church with his mother, where he learned how to play instruments. When he was 12 years old, he started a hardcore band that he played in until he was about 16. "It's all connected, right? Hardcore and rap. The two have kind of a revolutionary feel."
Moreira has been listening to hip-hop since childhood, but he "really freaked out about the stuff" in 2009, after the release of renowned Brazilian MC Emicida's first mixtape, Pra Quem Já Mordeu um Cachorro por Comida, Até que Eu Cheguei Longe ("For Someone Who Once Had to Bite a Dog for Food, I've Made It Pretty Far"). "I found myself in those tunes, because I've lived throug the things that he talked about in his music. Imagine me, poor, 21 years old, already having to work to raise my first child." Before his relationship with Taynara, Moreira dated another woman with whom he had two kids; the first came when he was only 18. "When I found out my ex was pregnant, I knew I wouldn't be able to get married or anything, but I also didn't want her to get fucked over caring for a child alone, either. So I got a telemarketing gig to help her out."
While dating that ex, Moreira started taking guitar lessons in downtown São Paulo. Around the same time, his mother paid for half of his college tuition so he could study marketing. "I even graduated and found a few jobs as a customer service representative at a pharmacy, but I never really fit right in with that kind of position," said the rapper. Music lessons allowed him to book a few gigs with bands. "I've played with rock bands, country duos, samba groups, always as a freelance musician," he added, explaining that although he's worked in several genres of music, he's always been "Rafael Fernando Moreira Michael Jackson of Guarulhos Gang Gang Skr"—especially after falling for Emicida. "I always enjoyed rap, but I had to live, to make money. And music is what I know. I am a musician."
Shuffling through tracks on his laptop—one by the up and coming MC Igu here; another by American rapper 22 Savage there—Moreira explained he's also attracted to the genre because he wants to sing about daily life. "Trap was born around drug trafficking, but it's not like we wanted to change our reality," he said. "We're doing well here. We're happy and that's it: there's whores, money comes in, money comes out. I looked up the lyrics of some tracks I listen to that say things like: 'Whore, whore, whore, whore. I shot a guy 35 times and fucked a whore.'" He says that he, at least, tries to write songs that are a bit deeper but still incorporate the same subject matter. "But this is trap, what can we do?"
Lil B "THE BASEDGOD" is another figure he admires. The Californian's slightly nonsensical vibe and the fact that he calls himself "THE BASEDGOD"—an identity which includes being "God," having several money and swag—inspired Moreira during the creation of his own artistic character. "The guy has an album called I'm Gay, which is controversial since he's not actually gay. But nobody gets it and even then, he has this thing about being 'God', which I find fucking cool. And B also has lots of haters, just like me." For a long time, Moreira sent direct messages to Lil B on Facebook saying he was a big fan of his work, and that Brazilian hip hop needed attention and help in order to not be controlled entirely by white men. One day, the rapper answered with an "alrighty"—probably by mistake, but Moreira freaked out and proposed a collaboration with the American rapper. His answer? "Send me your stuff." "I want to send him my best work. I am going to be dedicated to composing the best music I can before sending it to BASED," he said, scrolling through his phone to show the countless messages he'd already sent to Lil B.
But Moreira isn't exclusively influenced by rappers. Michael Jackson is his biggest inspiration—so much so that, as evidenced earlier in this interview, he refers to himself as the Michael Jackson of Guarulhos. "I am the Michael Jackson of Guarulhos and that's it. There's no way to explain it—the musical inclination that he had, I have. The pop that he had, I have." This obsession with the King of Pop gave birth to his second mixtape, appropriately titled The Michael Jackson Mixtape (2016). In the main track, "Michael Jackson vs. Freddy Kreuger," he explains why he gave himself the name and also why he refers to his haters as Freddy Krueger, the notorious character from the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): "I am Michael Jackson, I personify rap, I am the true hip-hop. You [haters] who hate me are Freddy Krueger, because you destroy dreams like him. Every time you tell me 'Stop, brother!' you're trying to destroy my dream, but you will not succeed."
Haters frequently surround Moreira. Whether through Facebook or Twitter, he receives messages almost everyday, saying things like "stop, brother!" in reply to his posts. "I use social media like any other person. Sometimes I post random things. There are some tweets about depression or not wanting to live, but I only post what I'm feeling in the moment. I'm a sadboy," he said, referencing the cult Swedish rap crew by the same name. "Sometimes I get answers from people, and I think that when your posts show too much personality, not everyone's going to understand." But he believes this movement of hatred directed at him is vital for his artistic growth. "It would be cool to get to a point where everybody likes Raffa, everyone thinks Raffa is cool. But that's not what we want," the rapper explained, taking a drag of another joint. "What we want is to show our attitude, our reality. It's not like, 'the more haters you have the better'—it's just that it's not going to make a difference, you know? The guys I've looked up to—like João Gordo, Sepultura, and Racionais," the lead singer of hardcore punk band Ratos de Porão, the biggest metal band in Brazil, and the most famous rapper in the country, respectively, "—they didn't start their careers with everyone around them thinking they were cool."
Moreira's last online feud started when he criticized Pedro Qualy on Twitter, after news that the Haikaiss member would be a part of the third Poetas no Topo video. Moreira previously had been invited to participate in the second collaboration by the Brazília-based MC Froid, who was already a fan of the Guarulhos rapper. "[MC Froid] had already shared my music videos on Instagram, so I got excited and accepted the invite to participate in the project," Moreira said. But he articulated that if he'd known beforehand that someone from the DamassaClan collective—especially Qualy or another Haikaiss member—was going to get the same invite later on, he wouldn't have done Poetas no Topo 2. "If they invited Bitrinho or Flow, [who are also members of DMC,] that'd be fine. I respect them. They are black militants of rap. I just don't know if they're in the right place," the rapper said. "But I'd already said bad things about [DamassaClan] on FERNVNDX (Intro). Bro, why would a rapper who's done that to another one want his name associated with that same person [in the case, the people from Haikaiss]?"
I asked if he was afraid of being boycotted by the people involved with Poetas no Topo considering his feud with Qualy. Moreira said he prefers to express his opinions rather than "allowing [his] art to be fake because of others." "I think [Poetas] was pissed off about my attitude, but it's not like I despise the work that they've done there," he explained, adding in justification that he has no intention to sing about disliking white playboy rappers and then wind up participating in a project alongside them. "The idea of gathering several different MCs on one track—that can actually help hip hop and [its fans], but having Qualy there just wasn't good for me. The public may or may not like what I do, but they need to know that it's honest."
Regarding some of the online responses from people who defended Haikaiss and accused Moreira of "discrimination," the rapper said he understands "it's easier for the kids to hate" because—in addition to his attitude, which rarely pleases everyone ("What can you do? I'm not the Justin Bieber of trap. I'm punk, man.")—lack of money inhibits the reach of his work. "Haikaiss manages to have the most beautiful music videos because they got money. They get to sell out a venue to pretty people because they're a bunch of boys who know everyone, and they call up even more boys to join their shows. That's why they get more support on social media," Moreira explained. "How can we perform at similar spots, bring our crew from the hood and convince everyone that it will be 'cool'? Sometimes it happens because nowadays people from the hood have more ways to go out and hang, but for [Haikaiss] it's a lot easier."
Another outcome of the feud with Haikaiss is the mixtape Raw Raw Emo, which Moreira released on Tuesday, April 4. During their heated exchange on social media, Qualy managed to find photographs of Moreira as a teenager—during his time as a member of an emo band, to be specific. The Haikaiss rapper posted the images online in retaliation. "I don't understand how he thought those [pictures] would offend me. 'Oh, we found where he came from?'—what do you mean, bro? Look at my life," he said, pointing to the house and his surroundings. "I'm human and humans go through things in life, right? I'm a harmony musician too, and music is music. Emo influenced my rhyming style a lot." Instead of becoming offended by evidence of his rocker past, Moreira chose to turn it into a mixtape, adding, "Haters think they'll get me down, but I'm always ahead of them."
But the "Michael Jackson of Guarulhos" is thinking bigger than mixtapes in 2017. Now, under the pseudonym xYoungMoreirax—"I think Raffa already achieved everything he could, and is too exposed. So I need to put another artist out in the industry," he explained—he'll release his first full-length album. It doesn't have an official name yet, but it will likely be released on July 7 of this year—7/7/2017, that is. The date is significant to Moreira. "777 is an important number to me. If the [number of the] Devil is 666, [the number of] God is 777. Seven is bigger, right? It means Raffa is tight with God."
UPDATE: On Tuesday, April 4, Moreira watched a few documentaries about Che Guevara and changed his artistic name again; according to him, it's now definite. Follow the birth and baptism of Guapo Raffa.
"Many people may think that I'm bluffing, but I really changed my name because I really want to be another person artistically."
"I watched some documentaries about Che Guevara and I don't know. I want to do something with the same kind of attitude he had. My artistic name is a tribute #GUAPORAFFA"
"Enough with rhyming about nothing you know… Or even about myself… Nobody wants to know about me. I will think collectively. As Guapo Raffa."
"Things will change. And I just want us to become the change that we wish for. Like Boom Bap. Like GUAPO RAFFA!"
"I swear to god that I will never change my artistic name and from now I am Guapo Raffa."
This article originally appeared on Noisey Brazil.