Music Interviews
3:58 am
Wed December 11, 2013

Venezuelan Hip-Hop Takes On Police Corruption

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 9:10 am

A music video made in Venezuela this year calls attention to a special kind of crime: corruption by Venezuelan police.

Two rappers who go by the names Apache and Canserbero show themselves driving a beat-up Lincoln, maybe from the 1970s. They're pulled over at a checkpoint by cops who want cash.

The video, "Stop," has been played 1.6 million times on YouTube. It strikes a chord in a country suffering from severe crime and corruption. Morning Edition heard about the video as it was released this spring, and sat down with both men in the eighth-floor office where they work.

They're low budget. They share space with an industrial design company that makes giant posters and signs. It was in this cluttered space that they planned a video on a subject Canserbero says is obvious to Venezuelans: "You just have to live in the country, and it's gonna be enough [to understand the video]."

Of course, it's not unusual for rap lyrics to question authority, but "Stop" is notable for its light touch. The video shows the rappers trying to turn the car around while police shine flashlights in the window. Something about the spinning car, and the increasingly annoyed officers, almost makes you laugh out loud.

In real life, both men say they've been stopped and shaken down by police, especially Apache, who's darker-skinned and tattooed. The week before he sat down and spoke to us, he said, it happened four times — in one day.

The rappers, ages 25 and 30, say police search for contraband such as drugs, and then demand money to overlook it. Apache says he was once asked for the equivalent of $50 and his iPod, but plea-bargained to keep the iPod. The men say they have also given officers their own music. Some even liked it.

"Stop" portrays the police as crooks, but also as human. Graffiti artists disrupt the police shakedown by spray-painting the cops' van and then torching it. One of the frustrated officers shrugs — and then lightens a lousy day with a breakdance.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Even Venezuelans who muddle through economic trouble face another problem: some of the highest crime rates in the world. Two Venezuelans have had a hit with a music video that highlights corruption with the Venezuelan police.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

APACHE AND CANSERBERO: (Singing in Spanish)

INSKEEP: The rappers who go by the names Apache - or Apache - and Canserbero show themselves driving a beat-up old Lincoln, maybe from the '70s. They're pulled over at a checkpoint by cops that want cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CANSERBERO: (Singing in Spanish)

INSKEEP: Their video "Stop" has been played 1.6 million times on YouTube. It strikes a chord in a country suffering severe crime and corruption. We heard about the video as it was released this spring. We were covering stories about Latin American crime at the time. So, we sat down with both rappers in the eighth-floor office where they work. They're low budget. They share space with an industrial design company, which makes giant posters and signs. And it was in this cluttered space that they planned a video on a subject Canserbero says is obvious to Venezuelans.

CANSERBERO: You just have to live in the country, and it's going to be enough.

INSKEEP: It's going to - that subject is going to come to you. You don't have to come to the subject.

CANSERBERO: Yes.

INSKEEP: Of course, it is traditional for rap lyrics to question authority.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

NWA: In the case of NWA versus the police department, prosecuting attorneys are MC Ren, Ice Cube, and...

INSKEEP: But while this decades-old American classic by NWA describes leaving police in a bloodbath, the Venezuelans have a lighter touch. Their video shows the rappers trying to turn the car around while police shine flashlights in the window. Something about the spinning car, and the increasingly annoyed officers, almost makes you laugh out loud. In real life, both men say they've been stopped and shaken down by police, especially Apache, who's darker-skinned and tattooed. It happened last week four times.

APACHE: In one day.

INSKEEP: In one day?

APACHE: Yeah, man. Yes.

INSKEEP: (Spanish spoken) You're special.

(LAUGHTER)

APACHE: (Unintelligible) going to know that he's a very special person.

INSKEEP: The rappers, ages 25 and 30, say police search for contraband like drugs, and then demand money to overlook it. Apache was once asked for the equivalent of $50 and his iPod, but plea-bargained to keep the iPod. Do you think, Apache, that the next time you're stopped at a checkpoint you might have a copy of this song? You can hand that over to the police officers?

APACHE: (Spanish spoken)

INSKEEP: We have given them music, he says. And some like it. 'Cause that was my next question: have you ever met a police officer who said, oh, I'm a big fan?

APACHE: Yes.

CANSERBERO: I'm sure it's happened.

INSKEEP: And in the video "Stop," the police are portrayed as crooks, but also as human. Graffiti artists disrupt the police shakedown by spray-painting the cops' van and then torching it. One of the frustrated officers shrugs - and then lightens a lousy day with a breakdance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

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