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ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT

ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT

This week on Backstage we sat down with Denmark-based rapper Alvarado. The badass MC and songwriter talked to us about everything from early inspirations and how she got into rapping to what’s happening in hip-hop today. She is performing at the Low-Fi Members’ Party in just a couple of days, so we thought what better excuse to pick her brain about what’s good.

By Delia Albu-Comănescu &
Mihaela Yordanova
26—April—2019

D: I’ve been listening to whatever I could find from you. Throughout there was one question that I kept going back to about the core message that you wanna put out there through your music. Is there a main narrative you want to convey to people?

A: When I started rapping, it was just because it was fun. My friends were doing it, too. So at the time, there was this big thing about going on Limewire and downloading rap battles from New York. You know, straight gutter shit. And we would watch that and we would study every bar and wanted to be just as cool as Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, those cats, you know. So, my rhyming came from that, it was just about writing the illest bar, the illest metaphor, and I never really thought about oh, I have to put out a message or anything. That was something that came later on. Back then it was just rapping, I was writing all the time. Like “Check this metaphor! Listen to this!… Give me a beat! Give me a beat!” It was just playful. My message still is to just have fun with music, you know. You don’t have to overthink it … I think a lot of people overthink their songs or who they wanna be and the message just doesn’t come out clearly because they’re trying too hard. So have fun, just do it, let the beat take you wherever it's gonna take you.


D: I saw in your instagram stories that you found your notebooks from when you were first starting out as a kid. What did you find in there?

A: I think I found the spirit I was in back then. I think the longer you rap — I’ve been rapping since I was 12-13 years old and I’m 30 now — I guess you just find yourself suddenly in another place so this helped bring me back to that core. Where’s that playful mind, that free spirit… that attitude, that: “I’m just writing, nobody has to see it”. That’s kind of what I got out of finding those old notebooks, from seeing all the things I wrote.


D: You started early though, you said 12-13?

A: Yeah, that’s when I remember I was like OK, I’m rapping, I’m not just writing things. My mom, when we came to Denmark, she started going to school. So she would always do her homework around me and she was always writing and taking notes. So, I think I got that from her. I used to write stories and poetry when I was little. But when I got into rap, it just all focused there, it became all about rap. I was 12-13 when that happened, when I realised this is rap, this isn’t just writing cute poetry or something like that.


M: Who were your most important influencers in that period?

A: Lauryn Hill mostly. I used to live in California and I remember when we came to Denmark that was one of the songs that was playing — Ready or Not, with The Fugees. I remember my mom got the album for me, but I lost it at some point. I was so sad that I didn’t have it, so I went to the library where you could borrow music and I borrowed their copy over and over and over again. In all the songs on there, Lauryn, she just kills it. She was the first female rapper that inspired me.


D: So you mentioned living in California, and I know you also have roots in El Salvador. Did that translate into your music or rhymes in any way?

A: I think the whole Salvadorian part probably didn’t. My family doesn’t listen to rap at all. My aunt she hates rap music (laughs) and she’s a hardcore latina mom. I really respect her, so it’s OK (laughs) I don’t think she ever heard any of my music, she’s old school. I think it was the entire experience of us moving back and forth coming to Denmark and going to the States. We moved back and forth a lot, so hip-hop connected me to the States. I grew up in California, but I make music that sounds like the East coast, but I live in Denmark. Everything is all over the place. And thinking back to my aunt, she likes soul music and she doesn’t really listen to Spanish music — like salsa — so that must have also played a role, growing up with soulful music, with old R&B.


M: So when you came here, how did you connect to the Danish hip-hop scene?

A: I’ve always been very bilingual, since I was a kid, but with hip-hop I really just started rapping in English to everyone. It was first when I grew up a little, when people wanted to have me in the studio, or thought I had a good look or something when I started getting “you should try writing something in Danish”. And it never really felt right to me. English has so many ways of explaining something. It’s hard for me to find that in Danish.


D: Does that translate into your relationship with the Danish hip-hop scene? How are things moving there?

A: I’ve always been … basically a hermit. I don’t really hang around other rappers, I’m not a joiner. So basically my ties to the hip hop scene are just about hearing a song here and there on the radio… It’s pretty mainstream around here, I think. It’s not like Germany or Sweden where they have more layers of different types of hip-hop music. I think Denmark is just too small, it’s not like I think that anybody sucks. It’s just hard to get those layers of diversity when there’s just one big city in the country.


D: I was wondering, was there a moment that you can pinpoint where you thought, this is it, I want to make music professionally?

A: I think it was when I moved to Copenhagen. I was just turning 19 and I came here and I had just left a relationship. So I started working and going out on the weekends and I would meet some people who would say “oh you’re dope”. Or I would go to a rap concert where the rappers from the crowd would come up on stage and afterwards a lot of people were like “Hey, who are you? Can I get your number?” Or “Come hop on a track over here”. So I guess that was when I decided that I really wanted to stick with the music. I didn’t have a plan, it was more like… let me do as much music stuff as I can every day. If I have to go to work all day, just at least write 16 bars on your phone. Or go to a concert, just show up, show myself and keep connected to music.


M: Did your attitude change from those early years?

A: I think when I was younger I thought there was going to be this stage when I was gonna be famous. And then the older I got and the more I figured out how everything works I started to realise I gotta humble myself. Because wanting that type of fame meant I would also have to move to the States. And we have it so well here, I mean, we’re so privileged to live in Denmark and it’s a good country to, like, survive in. And I would not get to do that in the States, it would cost so much money for me. So I just decided to do it independently. I’ll have a dopeass track, pay a producer and then put it out. I make my own artwork, I can make my own video if I wanted because I’m under CART records so we’re a lot of different people, we do everything in-house, everything happens between us. Spotify helped when I came out with my EP, getting put on playlists helped a lot.


M: Speaking of Spotify what do you think of that whole 0.007 cents per stream that musicians are being paid?

A: Yeah, my whole perspective on that is that I kind of gave up on the whole making money off your recorded music idea. I focus more on getting more gigs, because that’s where you can at least see the impact… instead of waiting for that 0.00… whatever that was. For me it’s just shows, I just wanna be booked more for shows. I think the live scene in Denmark is pretty good, I think there’s a lot of stuff, like you guys, where people can get showcased. There’s more focus on the live experience because clearly the money’s not on the streaming. It’s the shows and the merchandise and all of this stuff.


D: Do you have any new music in the pipeline?

A: I’m working on an EP again. First time I’m putting this out there, but I’m planning on making a part 2 of Venusian. I’m still collecting… Venusian was my baby so I feel I have to live up to that. I set my standard and it was a big thing for me in my career. So I really want part 2 to be perfect. But there will definitely be some smaller EPs and some featurings that are gonna come out. I’m really just in the studio and just creating.


D: One last question… You know, we have these Low-fi stickers saying “music matters” and I’d like to wrap things up by asking: Why does music matter?

A: It matters because the world can be a horrible place sometimes but music gives you the chance to pick whatever mood you want to be in.

D: I’ve been listening to whatever I could find from you. Throughout there was one question that I kept going back to about the core message that you wanna put out there through your music. Is there a main narrative you want to convey to people?

A: When I started rapping, it was just because it was fun. My friends were doing it, too. So at the time, there was this big thing about going on Limewire and downloading rap battles from New York. You know, straight gutter shit. And we would watch that and we would study every bar and wanted to be just as cool as Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, those cats, you know. So, my rhyming came from that, it was just about writing the illest bar, the illest metaphor, and I never really thought about oh, I have to put out a message or anything. That was something that came later on. Back then it was just rapping, I was writing all the time. Like “Check this metaphor! Listen to this!… Give me a beat! Give me a beat!” It was just playful. My message still is to just have fun with music, you know. You don’t have to overthink it … I think a lot of people overthink their songs or who they wanna be and the message just doesn’t come out clearly because they’re trying too hard. So have fun, just do it, let the beat take you wherever it's gonna take you.


D: I saw in your instagram stories that you found your notebooks from when you were first starting out as a kid. What did you find in there?

A: I think I found the spirit I was in back then. I think the longer you rap — I’ve been rapping since I was 12-13 years old and I’m 30 now — I guess you just find yourself suddenly in another place so this helped bring me back to that core. Where’s that playful mind, that free spirit… that attitude, that: “I’m just writing, nobody has to see it”. That’s kind of what I got out of finding those old notebooks, from seeing all the things I wrote.


D: You started early though, you said 12-13?

A: Yeah, that’s when I remember I was like OK, I’m rapping, I’m not just writing things. My mom, when we came to Denmark, she started going to school. So she would always do her homework around me and she was always writing and taking notes. So, I think I got that from her. I used to write stories and poetry when I was little. But when I got into rap, it just all focused there, it became all about rap. I was 12-13 when that happened, when I realised this is rap, this isn’t just writing cute poetry or something like that.


M: Who were your most important influencers in that period?

A: Lauryn Hill mostly. I used to live in California and I remember when we came to Denmark that was one of the songs that was playing — Ready or Not, with The Fugees. I remember my mom got the album for me, but I lost it at some point. I was so sad that I didn’t have it, so I went to the library where you could borrow music and I borrowed their copy over and over and over again. In all the songs on there, Lauryn, she just kills it. She was the first female rapper that inspired me.


D: So you mentioned living in California, and I know you also have roots in El Salvador. Did that translate into your music or rhymes in any way?

A: I think the whole Salvadorian part probably didn’t. My family doesn’t listen to rap at all. My aunt she hates rap music (laughs) and she’s a hardcore latina mom. I really respect her, she basically raised me, so it’s OK (laughs) I don’t think she ever heard any of my music, she’s old school. I think it was the entire experience of us moving back and forth coming to Denmark and going to the States. We moved back and forth a lot, so hip-hop connected me to the States. I grew up in California, but I make music that sounds like the East coast, but I live in Denmark. Everything is all over the place. And thinking back to my aunt, she likes soul music and she doesn’t really listen to Spanish music — like salsa — so that must have also played a role, growing up with soulful music, with old R&B.


M: So when you came here, how did you connect to the Danish hip-hop scene?

A: I’ve always been very bilingual, since I was a kid, but with hip-hop I really just started rapping in English to everyone. It was first when I grew up a little, when people wanted to have me in the studio, or thought I had a good look or something when I started getting “you should try writing something in Danish”. And it never really felt right to me. English has so many ways of explaining something. It’s hard for me to find that in Danish.


D: Does that translate into your relationship with the Danish hip-hop scene? How are things moving there?

A: I’ve always been … basically a hermit. I don’t really hang around other rappers, I’m not a joiner. So basically my ties to the hip hop scene are just about hearing a song here and there on the radio… It’s pretty mainstream around here, I think. It’s not like Germany or Sweden where they have more layers of different types of hip-hop music. I think Denmark is just too small, it’s not like I think that anybody sucks. It’s just hard to get those layers of diversity when there’s just one big city in the country.


D: I was wondering, was there a moment that you can pinpoint where you thought, this is it, I want to make music professionally?

A: I think it was when I moved to Copenhagen. I was just turning 19 and I came here and I had just left a relationship. So I started working and going out on the weekends and I would meet some people who would say “oh you’re dope”. Or I would go to a rap concert where the rappers from the crowd would come up on stage and afterwards a lot of people were like “Hey, who are you? Can I get your number?” Or “Come hop on a track over here”. So I guess that was when I decided that I really wanted to stick with the music. I didn’t have a plan, it was more like… let me do as much music stuff as I can every day. If I have to go to work all day, just at least write 16 bars on your phone. Or go to a concert, just show up, show myself and keep connected to music.


M: Did your attitude change from those early years?

A: I think when I was younger I thought there was going to be this stage when I was gonna be famous. And then the older I got and the more I figured out how everything works I started to realise I gotta humble myself. Because wanting that type of fame meant I would also have to move to the States. And we have it so well here, I mean, we’re so privileged to live in Denmark and it’s a good country to, like, survive in. And I would not get to do that in the States, it would cost so much money for me. So I just decided to do it independently. I’ll have a dopeass track, pay a producer and then put it out. I make my own artwork, I can make my own video if I wanted because I’m under CART records so we’re a lot of different people, we do everything in-house, everything happens between us. Spotify helped when I came out with my EP, getting put on playlists helped a lot.


M: Speaking of Spotify what do you think of that whole 0.007 cents per stream that musicians are being paid?

A: Yeah, my whole perspective on that is that I kind of gave up on the whole making money off your recorded music idea. I focus more on getting more gigs, because that’s where you can at least see the impact… instead of waiting for that 0.00… whatever that was. For me it’s just shows, I just wanna be booked more for shows. I think the live scene in Denmark is pretty good, I think there’s a lot of stuff, like you guys, where people can get showcased. There’s more focus on the live experience because clearly the money’s not on the streaming. It’s the shows and the merchandise and all of this stuff.


D: Do you have any new music in the pipeline?

A: I’m working on an EP again. First time I’m putting this out there, but I’m planning on making a part 2 of Venusian. I’m still collecting… Venusian was my baby so I feel I have to live up to that. I set my standard and it was a big thing for me in my career. So I really want part 2 to be perfect. But there will definitely be some smaller EPs and some featurings that are gonna come out. I’m really just in the studio and just creating.


D: One last question… You know, we have these Low-fi stickers saying “music matters” and I’d like to wrap things up by asking: Why does music matter?

A: It matters because the world can be a horrible place sometimes but music gives you the chance to pick whatever mood you want to be in.

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