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Los Rakas: Rappers From Panama Who Are Proudly Hood

Raka Rich and Raka Dun of Los Rakas
Raka Rich and Raka Dun of Los Rakas
photo by Aris Jerome

Oakland hip-hop duo Los Rakas spent the early years of their lives in Panama City, Panama before settling in the Bay Area and immersing themselves in hip-hop culture.

Joining forces in 2006, Raka Rich and Raka Dun coined the term "PanaBay" to describe their music, a mix of the Latin rhythms of Panama and the heavy boom-bap sound of Bay Area hip-hop. They rap mainly in Spanish, but there's some English in there, and they're starting to take off. Songs like "Soy Raka," "Ta Lista," and "Bien Ribetiao" helped the duo score spots on Snoop Dogg's Smoke Out Festival and Paid Dues Festival along with coverage on CNN, NPR and others. We caught up with Raka Dun (pronounced 'Doon') before their show tomorrow at the Troubadour.

How did you and Raka Rich come together to start Los Rakas?

He's my cousin, and I was going to some youth organization here in the Bay Area and I got him involved with them and we started doing music. He had his group, I had my group and the first song we did together was called "Mi Barrio" and the second one was "Bounce." So I would perform those songs and invite him to come perform with me and people would ask, "Are you guys a group?" And we'd be like, "Nah, he's my cousin, he's doing his own thing and I'm doing my own thing," until we got booked for a show in L.A. and they were like, "We want you, but we want you with your cousin," and when we were on our way there, we said "Let's just make this group, do a project and see what happens." So what should we call ourselves? He threw a name, I threw a name, and the third name he threw was Los Rakas and he started laughing. And I said, "No, no, I think that's it man! Los Rakas!"

And that comes from the Panamanian slang word, rakataka?

They used to use that word to make fun of people from the ghetto. If you're "hood," you're raka, feel me? So when he threw that name out there, we could use that name and make it to something positive, something that the people from the ghetto can proud of and be like, "Yeah, I'm from the hood, so what?" Not everything negative comes from the hood. Just because I'm raka doesn't mean I'm negative.

Early on, with the Panabay Twist mixtape, it seemed you guys were doing a balanced mix of English and Spanish lyrics, but now it's a lot more Spanish. Was that a conscious decision?

Panabay Twist 2: La Tanda Del Bus, was more Spanish, "Hierba," was the only Spanglish record on there, Chancletas y Camisetas was all Spanish, but we don't do it on purpose man. Sometimes we feel... I don't know, right now we're making a lot of Spanglish music, and it's not on purpose. It's just what we feel at the moment.

 

I saw that you were working on a new album called Raka Party. How far along are you with that?

We were working on Raka Party, which was strictly dance music but we decided to hold off. We didn't like the mixes and we're trying to make the album right. We're still working on new music but we'll probably put out another mixtape before we put that album out. We're working on a lot of songs with Bay Area artists and we have a song with Diplo coming out in January. And on November 18, I'm releasing my solo EP, El Negrito Dun Dun.

The song, "Bien Ribetiao," is still hot, thanks to the recent video.

Yeah, "Bien Ribetiao" has that sound I'm talking about. That PanaBay sound. That no other Latin artist can get. You can only get that here in Oakland. [Regarding the English lyrics in the video], we do that so people can understand where we're coming from. A lot of people, they feel our music but when they read the English lyrics, they're like "oh man, you're just like us!"

Los Rakas perform tomorrow, Nov 2, at the Troubadour

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