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La Zowi
La Zowi’s ‘Bitch Mode’ video

Meet the artists taking Spain’s underground trap revolution mainstream

Get to know the DIY movement spearheaded by the likes of Granada-born Yung Beef through five key artists

In between the Lavapies Public Square in Madrid and the areas surrounding the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, a Spanish trap revolution is taking place. Hidden in plain sight, amidst clouds of cannabis smoke and the steady streams of skateboarders, a group of young, working class artists from the city’s surrounding neighbourhoods collect together to make music at makeshift studios in packed-out bedrooms. The result is strictly DIY, and you can feel it. 

Much of the sound is heavily stylised; the main contenders of this trap movement favour crisp beats and Auto-Tune vocals over the bouncing, Latino melodies of its reggaetonero forbearers, brought into focus by the likes of Mala Rodriguez and J Balvin (the latter of which replaced Drake as the most-streamed artist on Spotify earlier this year). The new players are brash and their flow is brusque. These are the artists who are taking power from the monopolies of Universal and Sony and bringing low-budget, self-produced tracks to the mainstream – in short, it is a story of democratisation.

At its forefront is La Vendicion, Spain’s biggest underground label, founded in 2016, which is headed by Granada-born rapper (and former Dazed 100 star) Yung Beef, whose success has been teetering on the edge of the mainstream since becoming a poster boy for labels like Calvin Klein and Givenchy. By his side is Steve Lean, a Barcelona-based producer from Uruguay, who is associated with the movement’s biggest export Bad Gyal, among others. But while the label is enjoying airtime on some of Spain’s most-viewed television and radio channels, it is still considered wholly grassroots – with most label meetings taking place in city squares and public spaces.

So how is it that a group of young people making music in their bedrooms, using microphones padded with egg cartons, can feature on Spain’s biggest platforms, yet still retain the authenticity of underground status? You need only look at the subject matter. “I get up with God and I fuck with the Devil / While my swagger is absorbing the hatred,” spits Yung Beef between lurching basslines in his track “Ready Pa Morir” (“Ready to Die”). His lyrics are purposefully political; they highlight the attitudes against the working class in Spain, a perspective that is felt by most of the key figures in the scene, all of which are from poor backgrounds – and many, immigrants.

With the city as their stage, Beef and Lean are at the helm of a new generation of politically savvy, working-class artists whose modus operandi is to create music for the masses, using the internet – through services like SoundCloud and YouTube – as their mouthpiece. Below, we explore five of the artists making it happen.

YUNG BEEF

When an artist almost single-handedly creates a counter-cultural movement to upturn an entire nation’s music industry, it will definitely cause a stir, and Yung Beef is no exception. And while the sui generis rapper has established big-name connections in the world of high fashion, having walked the catwalks of Paris and Milan in asymmetric gowns and knee-high boots, he remains authentic to the movement, with his new mixtape El Plugg defending Spain’s underground scene with tracks like “High Street”, and “Cardi B” exploring the consequences of his fame.

LA ZOWI

Another figure central to the Spanish trap scene is La Zowi. A character-driven artist, the Madrid-born rapper started out working with Atlanta-based music collective and Cardi B collaborators 808 Mafia before carving out her own artistic take on the genre, an avant-garde style that uses the lens of experimental music to shine a light on her experiences, coating beats by the likes of Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke with a sticky synthetic sheen.

Her aesthetic is ever-changing, from the cerebral witchiness of track “Obra de Arte” (where she sits in a mansionic room flanked by two greyhounds and dressed in gold) to “Bitch Mode”, where the ‘bitches’ that usually play Adam’s rib to male rappers are given centre stage. Between bags of Balenciaga and bottles of champagne, Zowi and her crew dance and smoke joints in a subversive reinterpretation of the genre.

MC BUSETA

Before Brazilian-born rapper MC Buseta released his mixtape Heart Breaker earlier this year, the self-proclaimed “pretty boy” of La Vendicion Records was a member of Los Sugus, a four-piece adolescent trap group facilitated by Yung Beef when Buseta was only 16 years old. Three years later, Buseta – whose name literally translates to “pussy” in Portuguese – is the golden goose of La Vendicion, whose music flirts the line between rap and funk. The 19-year-old rapper’s lyrics – a combination of Buseta’s native Portuguese, Spanish, and English – are about his day-to-day experience, hanging outside the MACBA, dating girls, and living life on the streets. Not too bad, if you ask us.

MS NINA

It was only when her track was featured on an advert for Gumtree Spain that Ms Nina left her job at Burger King to pursue a career in music. Formerly a member of La Vendicion, Nina’s sound – a steady blend of future-focused reggaeton and electronic beats – packs a punch. Following years of early-00s Tumblr stardom, Ms Nina’s aesthetic is a heady mix of Japanese manga and Western motifs, while her style feels like it’s been pulled from a future catwalk – and her music is no different.

A key figure in the Spanish LGBTQ+ scene – she is friends with trans blogger and YouTube star Jedet – the 26-year-old artist’s sex-positive lyrics about inclusivity and feminism, along with her no-fucks-attitude, lifts a diamante-embellished middle finger up at the often heteronormative and male-driven representation given to reggaeton by the media.

BEA PELEA

“We are the gasoline,” purrs Bea Pelea in her recent track “La Gasolina”, a feminist manifesto that tells its listeners that they don’t need a man to be happy. And while Pelea is but one of a new generation of sex-positive, female artists lighting up the music industry, her lyrics about freedom and free-love are setting reggaeton on fire. With a sound as diverse as the geography it represents, Pelea combines flamenco themes from her teenage years spent living in Haza Grande and Albacín, typically gypsy neighbourhoods in Granada, with music from her childhood in Mexico, where she attended indigenous parties where marimba was played, it’s no wonder that she was snapped up by fellow artists La Zowi and Ms Nina before beginning a solo career. A frequent performer in the LGBTQ+ circuit – Pelea began playing at World Pride events – the Barcelona-based artist is central to the increasing awareness of Spain’s diverse reggaeton scene.