No Party Like a Rakas Party: In Conversation with Los Rakas
It’s a cloudy morning in San Francisco and I am trying to find something to miraculously summon the sunlight. I put on Los Rakas, a bilingual hip-hop duo hailing from Oakland and Panama, who rap their message in both English and Spanish. The duo is made up of Raka Rich and Raka Dun; cousins with big dreams and bigger passions, without a doubt, listening to their music brings forth a celebratory energy that even the gloomy weather could not deny.
This 2016 has been a big year for Los Rakas, and I had the fortune of speaking to Raka Rich. We covered a plethora of topics ranging from how their year has been, what it means to throw a Rakas party, their recent Grammy nomination, the duality of their identities and the importance of reaching their community.
TOASTEDLIFE: How has your 2016 been?
Raka Rich: 2016 has been a great and very productive year for us, where we’ve just kept moving. We’ve been international a lot this year and we keep travelling. We celebrated our tenth year this year, and we did our first show in Panama for the first time in years. It’s been something we’ve been talking about for a long time and we also went to Columbia, Cuba and Mexico. We had one of our friends, DJ Imperial, who came over with us and helped us throw the parties.
TL: What was it like going to South America and performing your shows? How did the people back home welcome you and respond to your music?
RR: In Panama it was like [we were] superstars. It got really crazy we even needed security guards. It was getting crazy out there. That was insane, but it was dope because you want to be recognized in your own hometown, and you want people to know who you are because you represent the place. We want people to know who we are and where we come from, and we’ve been in the Bay Area half of our lives and we know a lot of people who come from places in North America. We love our country and we never lost our heritage, and we still have the same values.
RR: A lot of people now when they leave Panama and go to the States become Americanized. They talk like American people and lose their touch. Even though we hadn’t been in Panama for so long, our music sounds authentic and our way of talking sounds authentic – so that’s really dope.
TL: And that’s why I think your music is so special, because you still keep your roots deeply embedded in your song. You also have your American culture in it too. What was it like to be raised in such a duality of cultures and how have you put that into your music?
RR: It happened organically. We have the same upbringing and we’re proud of where we come from. It’s hard to be different but we also represent the Bay Area and Oakland. It’s a very proud place and it’s very cultured. It’s driven by a lot of energy and we cannot act like something that is not that. It’s so difficult to do that because it’s so different to Panamanian culture.
RR: I was born in California in the Bay Area and I was raised in Panama and went to school out there. Dun was born in Panama but raised in the Bay Area, so we split up and we’re half and half. We’re cousins and working with family is a dope thing because we can be real honest with each other. We have the same ambition and same methods, not everybody has that. For the most part, we have a lot of similarities, which help what we’re trying to do – we don’t let nothing distract us from what we’re setting out to do.
TL: Exactly, that’s amazing. Your music has influence from both sides of your cultures and it’s rare. Do you think there needs to be more music like that? Because I feel like you’re reaching out to such a wide range of people, but not too many artists are doing that nowadays.
RR: It is rare. We’re seeing more artists do that, like Drake and Nicki Minaj. I remember when artists liked to separate rap from the R&B – the hardcore rap music and the romantic music. People would criticise and say, “You can’t be rapping about girls”, but that’s lame because I grew up in the Caribbean where we listen to a lot of reggae and dancehall. A lot of reggae artists, when they sing roots, also sing dancehall. You have the fundamental methods but at the same time you have the groove and the dance and there’s a balance of different styles of music.
TL: You were ahead of your time in that sense and people caught up slowly. Are people who have similar backgrounds appreciative of what you’ve brought forward in the music industry?
RR: Yeah, they thank us. Some people cry when they see us and encourage us to keep doing what we’re doing. It blows me away because we’re striving to be up there with Drake and Rihanna, but for us to be at a level where we’re still growing, to see the impact we are making and our logo being tattooed makes me remember that I am proud of who I am. It motivates me that maybe we’re doing something right. We’ve been doing it underground for years and it’s happening now where our lyrics are being tattooed and we’ve only been ten years in the game.
TL: How have you grown as artists? Are you more confident and weary?
RR: Coming into our tenth year, we’re so confident because we’ve done collaborations with companies like PUMA, interviews, developed a clothing line, and our performance is way better. We know things that we didn’t know before and we know how to communicate with people who don’t necessarily speak our language. We’ve reached a new level of expertise for ourselves.
TL: You’ve made a name for yourselves as Los Rakas, and I wanted to ask what people can expect when they go to a Los Rakas party and live performance?
RR: The Raka party is one thing. It’s a party that we throw. It’s like Soul Train from back in the day. We have people from all over the world; different races, who just want to come and have a good time. By the end of the night, I feel like everyone in the crowd has touched the stage at least once. We allow our fans to hop on stage and be a part of the whole experience, because everybody is VIP at the Raka party. All the guys go on stage because all the girls are on stage, so there’s a lot of energy.
RR: The Raka show is a different experience because we have a drummer and a DJ. The drummer is about six foot six so he’s humongous, and we have a DJ who is a scratch master. He talks on his turntable. He cuts the record so clean that people are in disbelief. Nowadays shows are the rapper and the hype-man, but our show feels like an underground hip-hop show as well as a rock n’ roll show because of the energy in the room.
TL: You’re making me really want to go to one of your shows. It seems like you put in the most amount of energy every chance you get.
RR: You’re going to have to! One more thing about our shows, it’s all improvised. It’s like how Payton Manning was one of the greatest quarterbacks because he knew what to do on the spot. We don’t plan out every move we make; every show is different and defeats expectations. It’s all spontaneous and organic and we try to bring back the old school flavour where we have to do our thing on the spot and interact with the crowd.
TL: You’re encouraging people to have a good time and have fun. What’s the importance of bringing the community together like that at your shows?
RR: It’s magnificent. People have a perception of what Oakland is – which is for the most part negative. We try to make it so that when you go to a Raka party, all of that goes away. We want to bring people into our community to defy what they think, and people who have had negative backgrounds to come and have a good time and maybe even find their soul mates and fall in love. We did a Valentines Day show and we’ve had people come up to us and tell us they found their lovers in the crowd.
TL: Clearly people are recognising the good energy you’re putting out there, and I also learned that you got nominated for a Grammy! That’s huge, congratulations for that.
RR: Thank you we are so honored. [Laughs] I woke up early to take my son to school and my friend posted an old picture of us saying that she wanted to congratulate Los Rakas for our Grammy nomination. I read that and thought, “You have to be kidding”. I was scrolling through the Grammy website seeing all the big names like Kanye, and I keep scrolling and I see Los Rakas is nominated for best Urban Latin album. I call Raka Dun and he’s still asleep and I tell him the news and he asks if he’s dreaming.
TL: Everything is shifting right now. What do you think is happening in the cultural and music movements in the Bay Area?
RR: A lot of artists in the Bay Area are successful right now. We have G-Eazy, Kehlani, Kamaiyah. These are young cats and it’s a new generation, and we’re all coming together and represent the Bay. It feels like, right now, all eyes are on the Bay Area and we’ve been working towards this for a long time. It’s really exciting and everybody is doing their thing. With us, we’re the first Latin rap duo from Oakland, and it’s rare like seeing a pink dolphin.
RR: I feel like people are still sleeping on it because it’s Latin. When you look at this nation, the most spoken language is Spanish, and it’s growing and we represent that; the first, second, third generation. Latin people that speak Spanish AND English, that comes from this culture that also understands the American culture. For a lot of people it might be different because we’re from Oakland and that crowd comes from New York or Miami, but we’re not afraid of the challenge and we knew from the beginning and we’re going to try to keep educating the people and allowing them to be proud of where they came from.
TL: You’ve got a lot on your hands. Are you working on anything right now?
RR: We’re in a good place and I feel like people are becoming more open minded now, and we’re trying to put out our own culture and make it mainstream. Raka Love Part II is finally come out soon, and people have been waiting on it since Raka Love Part I came out a few years ago. It’s baby making music [laughs]. No, I’m serious, we baptised a few kids. People are going to hear another side of us – grown and sexy Los Rakas.
TL: That’s incredibly exciting. What’s coming for Los Rakas for 2017?
RR: For 2017, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re gonna let the Universe guide the way, and hopefully with that comes big collaborations, more nominations and better music.