Estudio Real 70: twenty years of underground
If you see them, tell them that I'm still clinging, boarding, maybe screwed, drowning / that I haven't succeeded, that fame hasn't arrived, that the great public we're talking about still doesn't acclaim me / that producers and record companies don't claim me, that I'm still living secluded there in Barreras
(…) And here I am, even if it is not the most logical, giving more, much more, against all odds / My diagnosis is serious, I am sick without a cure: chronic rap addiction, hip hop, culture / And here I am
if you see them, Papa Humberto
Episode 1: Rappers get baptized in Barreras
I came to Barreras because they told me that the backbone of Cuban hip hop is here. Perhaps five kilometers separate Tarará from the old town of Los Dolores, east of Guanabacoa, from Bola de Nieve, from the Masons, from Pepe Antonio. It's actually four and a half kilometers, almost.
On Calle Real you can breathe the air of a relaxed suburban neighborhood. Lost in geography. Only those who live there know well at what time and how the atmosphere is shaken. The facade of the rappers' house 70 may indicate tranquility, but inside it is "armed" during the day and at dawn. Inside it is recorded, produced, mixed; rap feel, scream, sister, survive. This is where “the revolution within the revolution” began: at Real 70, an emblematic producer label, an obligatory reference for Hispanic-American rap.
If the adult human body has approximately 24 vertebrae, the anatomy of the study must house more than a hundred vinyl records, piled up, classified by jazz, blues, salsa, rap and other musical labels. The bolero, one of the favorite genres for sampling and where many of the best came from beats for backgrounds of national rap classics, has a four-beat beat. There are three links of Odfelismo in which the MC, producer and beatmaker, Papá Humbertico —an affectionate brand by which they name the founder of Real 70, Humberto Joel Cabrera Santana—: friendship, love, truth.
Over the years, the studio can move around the rooms of your house, and it has; but his peculiar lyrics, from the street, his sensitive and severe aura, coined with the exquisite taste of beat nineties and smell of Palo Santo incense, did not change. More than a thousand letters must have come out of here, fired like bullets at point-blank range by the defiant voices of Roly, the pro boy; the well-known Al2, from the phenomenon Los Aldeanos; by Silvito The free; by Rene Diaz the eloquent; by Yoandy Gonzalez the disciple of Armed Hand; of the recognized Danay Suárez or Papa Humbertico himself.
The rappers from Santa Cruz del Norte, from Santiago de Cuba, from the world; the new and old, those from Ranchuelo, even those from the special land of the pineros still continue arriving, at any time, at Real 70. They are the ones who tell this story; the one about how the studio was built and how urban poetry is made made in Cuba, which is also a lifestyle, a fighting tool.
Papa Humbert: I like rap since I was 10 years old. Around 1994 or 1995, when Puerto Rican Vico C, Panamanians El General and Nando Boom, and other Spanish-speaking Caribbean artists doing rap and raggamuffin were all the rage in Cuba, their music completely captivated me. Later, in high school, I started listening to Cuban rap: Primera Base, Amenaza, Doble Filo, Obsesión and something from the United States as well. In 1997 the radio announced that Primera Base would give a concert that same night at the Guanabacoa Amphitheater and I went there alone. I was in the ninth grade, that was the first time I saw rap live and I went crazy with the show of those people. One day in 1998 I went to my first peña as an audience in La Chusmita de Alamar, where the cream of the genre was at that time. That was the lethal injection.
the eloquent: The history of Cuban rap has a watershed and that is Real 70. It produced a turn at the time when a mimesis of North American rap predominated and its beats and, with them, their problems. Real 70, with the vision of Papa Humbertico, managed to take that influence, transform that energy and make it ours, in our political and social issues. It changed everything, it was a revolution.
From Santa Cruz del Norte, Raudel, from Escuadrón Patriota, put us in touch with Humbertico. When we finished a first album, recorded with my group Article 53, we became good friends. Then I came back with a bigger project which was Soldier Squad and he didn't charge us anymore. We were with family, in Real 70.
Silvito The free: I knew Humbertico only by name. In those times we lived an incredible rap fury, people really felt it and, in the early 2000s, the studio was already being talked about as one of the few places where music of the genre was recorded. I came from another province, Holguín, and then recording there was like the consecration or the oath in the rap movement of those years. Those who had a passion for hip hop culture wanted to have a song that said Real 70. For me it was a school.
Al2: If Real 70 hadn't existed, my career wouldn't have existed either. I lived there in Barreras and his mother always treated me like a son. I ate there, I bathed there, I recorded and made all my records there. With Real 70 I learned a lot, including how to record and use some of the studio programs, because I was never very good at it. His influence was very important to become independent as musicians, with my group at the time Los Aldeanos. From there I would go home at dawn, three buses… Love for hip hop, that was it… He [Papá Humbertico] never charged me a peso, dawn after dawn, and I will never forget that.
Papa Humberto: Real 70 emerged in 2001, because Cuban rappers at that time had nowhere to make our own songs. The state recording studios very, very occasionally recorded some rap —that I remember, in 1998 the Egrem released the album A lot of things, from Obsession; and Abdala, between 1999 and 2000, the Cuban Hip Hop All Stars Vol.1, produced by Pablo Herrera, in which the best of Havana rap of that time participated. Outside of that, the vast majority of rappers recorded their songs on cassette, in a live performance if the audio guy had the tools. Cuban record companies, in general, were not interested in what we were doing.
At first, Real 70 was just a producer of instrumentals. At that time we sang only with backgrounds of foreigners; We didn't have our own music since getting it was very difficult and expensive. But before Real 70 there were people recording and producing rap: Malcoms Junco from 18A16 and Emilito, from the group Alto Voltaje, in San Francisco de Paula. They gave me the first instructions and copied the first software recording and production. He did not sleep, he tied one day with another, messing around and cutting samples with a very old record player that was in my house. But he still didn't trust me.
In 2001, moreover, I recorded my first songs with them. That's when I realized that I could also do that, with an old Acer laptop, model "extensa 365", that they gave my mom at work and with which I worked at night. At that time, Pablo Herrera was the most famous rap producer in Cuba and all rappers wanted music made by him. But it was not accessible to everyone; he had his people and it was very difficult for me to gain access to him. One of the times I managed it, he told me: “Asere, you have a computer, produce yourself”, something I will thank him for all my life.
Danay Suárez: I met Humbe when I saw him sing at the entrance of a house, on the corner of 19 and 10 in El Vedado. Then I found him singing in the rap clubs that were held in the Almendares Park amphitheater. Later I visited him in his studio, to which I was invited by the group Explosión Suprema, when they were recording their second album. That day I noticed the respect that everyone had for Humbertico's criteria and how far they were able to go in order to record there, because of his good taste and knowledge when it came to making the mixes. After several visits accompanying others—and when I had written several of my songs—I asked him to give me the opportunity to record with him, even though I couldn't pay him at the time.
Humbe received me in his studio every time I had a new song, with the sole interest of supporting my work. Convinced that he did not waste time with bad artists, that gave me security at the beginning. Sometimes I had to stay the night because it was dangerous to return alone, I cleaned and organized the place because I felt it was part of my house or my life. All those details sealed my friendship with him. I promised him that I would pay him one day.
the disciple: We studied in the same elementary school and I already knew him in the neighborhood. We had our small age difference, that's why —since I was more of a kid— at first he hung out with his circle, with his people. We began to sing to him in '99, in some peñas that were held in the community, and as a result of those meetings, where he was better known, friendship was born. Then I went for a scholarship in Güines; I came back in 2004 and reinserted myself into the hip hop movement. There I met again with Humbertico.
Later we always went together, on bus trips to any rap event in Havana or in the studio itself, where my first experiences were as an observer. That's how I fell in love with hip hop culture. Rap was a family that was centered around Real 70. Two years later our group Mano Armada emerged and left Revolution within the Revolution.
pro boy: Look, I think that if it hadn't been the Humbe it would have been another; luckily for me, it was Humberto. There were studios like 18A16, 264, Champions Records for example, which helped rap a lot in Cuba; but Real 70 is a temple. Many masters go there to exhibit their art, and I was nurtured by most of them. It was a great school, I mean… the best of the schools I had. I come from '99, from recording on cassettes and I've had several, but this one brought me together with artists who were my reference.
At Papa Humbertico's house, in 2004, I recorded my first demo with my old group, Asunto Serio. He had the minimum conditions, but he did it with a lot of pomp and professionalism. Then, in 2005 and as a soloist, I accidentally stumbled in life and fell suddenly in Barreras, from Santa Clara. Since then I have been and am part of that family that Humberto and El Discípulo created over the years. That closeness, in addition to facilitating the recording of all my demos from that date until today, opened the doors to important presentations for me.
the eloquent: I remember that a pre-village album also came out of there that brought together the best of that time: the poster. The studio symbolized a kind of mecca, if you didn't go there you practically didn't exist as a rapper. You record in Real 70, then you exist. From there came what has shone the most in Cuban rap towards the international arena because it catapulted not only Los Aldeanos, Danay, but also Bárbaro. The Urban Vargas, Los Paisanos that later divided and where Rxnde Akozta came from.
Danay Suárez, under the influence of God and natureRafa G. Escalona10.02.2020
Episode 2: All the underground fits in Real 70
From the beginning, this independent label worked with the hardest of rap in Havana: Grandes Ligas, Los Paisanos, Junior Clan, Hermanos de Causa, who were the ones who performed the most live with the music they made in Barreras. While in other studios more select groups were recorded or at unattainable prices for the "bottomless pocket" of a rapper from the underground Cuban, Real 70 recorded everyone; or almost everyone. Barreras thus ceased to be a lost point in the Havana geography to be the nucleus of the hip hop movement on the Island.
Papa Humberto: I began to give him the first beats that I did to people like Hermanos de Causa, Los Paisanos, Grandes Ligas, Junior Clan, Insurrecto, Pasión Oscura and, yes, I didn't love them at the time —now I do—, but several of those songs are today classics of Cuban rap. A neighborhood associate lent me a shure 58 microphone that connected directly to the computer and I started recording: first, my album Social complaint and the compiled Muddy Sound Vol.1 with the themes of those artists to whom he gave the beats. Years later we witness the creation and promotion of Muddy Sound Vol.5, whose first cuts began to see the light since last April 22.
That was the beginning. At that time I was a Gastronomy student who had just dropped out of basketball at Espa [Higher School of Athletic Improvement] who loved rap and everything that had to do with it. In 2003 I met Los Aldeanos at a concert in Mantilla and offered to record with me. It was with them that I worked the most, almost every day. From there, Real 70 was known a little beyond the rapper circuit. With Los Aldeanos came another rebirth of Cuban rap.
What I recorded was promoted from hand to hand, from USB to USB and on burned discs. If I got on the bus or in a taxi I could listen to some song I had recorded. The videos, which we made with 12-megapixel digital cameras, someone already had on their YouTube channel with thousands and millions of views. From 2003 to 2010 was the golden age, the rap boom in Cuba: Danay Suárez, La Alianza, Soldier Squad, Rxnde Akozta consolidated at that time. The sound obviously got better as the tools got better. Thus, it crossed the borders of the Island and without us knowing it, they were already listening to us in many places in Latin America. Since then I have recorded more than a hundred Cuban rap albums and several international ones as well.
Al2: Papa Humbertico offered me to record in the studio in 2003 and we worked until 2010; I have recorded more than Humbertico at home. In Havana there was no studio that would accept us and the only place where one could go to record everything one thought and wanted to sing, shout without anyone telling you anything, was at Real 70.
Danay Suárez: Humbertico's knowledge at that time, when he was almost a child, and the practically artisanal resources with which we recorded are worthy of receiving an award for sound engineering. In that place I recorded my first songs and the album Moisture Dust complete. When the day of recording came I learned we did one take. It was very special. It can be said that Danay Suárez, professionally, was born in Real 70. That studio has a particular sound, I don't know how to describe it, but I know how to identify when a rap song has been recorded and mixed there.
Papa Humberto: Properly producing and recording rap albums and songs requires certain equipment and software. In Real 70 I work with MPC, for example, that the machine itself gives that 90s rap sound. Some people prefer Mashine or Reason, or just Fruity Loops and a PC get some beats beastly. I prefer to use samples which is the classic way of doing beats. To record in Cuba you have to do it with the microphone you get. Luckily I have had an AKG 260 for more than 10 years that is still a cannon, but I didn't have it before. The promotion is now a little more serious, before the song was recorded and the next day you released it for the street: crazy. The fundamental thing now is social networks and that each artist knows how to promote and sell themselves, under the seal of Real 70.
Episode 3: Strength is in unity
the disciple: There was a time when it seemed that the spark had died. We managed to unite thanks to the enlightenment that Aldo and Papa Humbertico had. In 2007, Aldo came up with The Purification Commission, he was the spiritual leader of the idea, along with Maykel Xtremo. That great project, which brought together about 50 rappers in the Jardines de la Tropical, was produced and Papá Humbertico recorded, mixed and mastered everything at Real 70. Without a doubt, that was one of the best moments we experienced, more than as rappers as a movement of hip hop; as a community united on the same stage and with an audience with a raised hand from start to finish.
Silvito The free: That was a very important project. In Cuba at that time there were few spaces to perform, almost the entire hip hop billboard was from the catalog of the Cuban Rap Agency; but the best MCs were on the streets and didn't have the support of those who controlled the media. The Purification Commission brought together many of us who were new and opened the way for us. Before that, the public was increasingly scarce, however all the concerts we did with that project closed due to capacity. The international audience began to look at Cuban rap; In general it was a unique and unrepeatable experience. Then, in 2009 my album came out The Kbayros, together with Al2 El Aldeano, 17 tracks, all recorded and mixed right there, at Real 70.
pro boy: In Real 70 the most important rap albums of the archipelago have been recorded. I could put a lot of examples, but just to mention three: the outrage, by Los Aldeanos, which achieved international fame and from which classics such as rap is war; muddy sound; and Real 70 Crew-Group Therapy, where a whipped cream of high-end exponents of Cuban rap participates. group therapy it is the best of the materials in which I have worked in collaboration. In my opinion, one of the best records made in Cuba. It was well received in digital stores and brought together artists like El Pelón and Soandry; Danay Suarez; The Eloquent; Anderson; Nedman Guerrero, from Mexico; Barbarian The Urban Vargas, Mano Armada, DJ Pencil and a server.
Papa Humbert: That yes, obstacles have always existed, many: institutional censorship, cancellation of concerts, minimal access to radio and television when there was still no Internet, the fear of state bar and club managers to relate to rap, not being recognized as artists by many people and by the direction of culture in this country, the uncertainty every time we have had an invitation from outside Cuba. Even when in 2010 my group Mano Armada became part of the Cuban Rap Agency —with the aim of being able to charge for the concerts—, even with the roles of “professional” artist, it was difficult for someone to hire us. But we mark a generation.
It has been enormous to learn from the experiences and forms of each Cuban rapper. In addition, I have worked with international artists such as Monasterio do Hip Hop, a tremendous group of MCs from Angola and Mozambique who studied in Cuba; Promoe, from the legendary Swedish group LoopTroop Rockers, which I had been listening to since I was a teenager; with Rapsusklei, from Spain; Rebecca Lane, from Guatemala; Afaz Natural, from Colombia; Norick, from Peru; Maria Isa, from Puerto Rico; Muja Messiah, from the United States, Nukleo, from Argentina and among others. The objective now is to work looking at the market underground from Latin America.
Episode 4: Real 70 moves to Calle 80 in Bogotá
the disciple: The label was internationally recognized and we didn't know it. When we left Cuba we realized. The two years we spent in Colombia were very important for us as Mano Armada, but also as people. For the group it turned out a very fruitful period: presence on the Internet, popularity, contact with the public. We live from our music, talking about our problems, with common points with Latin Americans, which made the experience more interesting.
Papa Humberto: We left in 2013. We spent two years working as independent artists and learning a lot about managing social networks and selling music on-line. Right now the Internet is essential for music, you don't exist as an artist if you don't have a presence on the networks. For work in the studio that is essential; If we had had that facility 10 years ago, the impact of Cuban rap would have been greater in every way.
Today, under the Real 70 label, we have our music available in all stores on-line, as well as other artists we work with. The YouTube channel has been monetizing for eight years and every day we work to update ourselves and keep up with the pace of the market underground in which we move; although it is still difficult from Cuba.
the disciple: Colombia was practically like starting from scratch. We set up the studio on Calle 80, in Bogotá, on the second floor of a graffiti store. That's where we made our album smoke signals, and we continue with the concept that we always defended: we don't need record labels, we can do everything independently, learning as we go. And so we did.
While Cuba was pushing to update itself in digital matters and promote projects on the Internet that would tie us, at the wrong time, with the new ways of recording, producing and promoting music; in Colombia and in 2015, Mano Armada sold the last romantics, an album born from the experiences in Medellín and the ecstasy that only the views of a neighborhood like Brisas de Robledo could unleash. In 2019, the group would return to Colombia again, and they would release what they conceived from the city of Cali as the first national rap vinyl: Forbidden.
Episode 5: What if Real 70 didn't exist?
pro boy: When you say Real 70 in a song, the public that listens to Hispanic rap knows that it is a seal of guarantee and that helps a lot. On the other hand, if your resume says Real 70 when it comes to working in Cuba, it becomes a dilemma since for the Cuban government it is a symbol of rebellion. The rap here is done with pressure; Not everyone protests, but we are all singled out equally. The fact of being a rapper on the Island is a cause for alert for government officials.
Silvito The free: The voice of rap is the voice of truth and reality for every MC. Whoever says that rap doesn't mix with politics is wrong, because rap is protest and in Cuba almost everything is political; That's why I think the fight is part of its essence. Real 70 has been an option for all MCs who didn't belong to any government institution and I think the only condition to record there is to be real and do it from the heart.
the disciple: If Real 70 didn't exist, it would have happened like before Real 70, when many very important milestones within the Cuban hip hop culture could not be recorded because there were no studios. So many songs, so much history would never have been recorded. I don't even want to imagine that.
Papa Humberto: If it didn't exist... well, I think people would have looked for a place to record anyway, but luckily... The key is to work full to achieve your dream, give it, give it and give it. In almost every rap song you listen to from 2005 to 2010 someone says Real 70; that was the time of the effervescence of rap in Cuba and it fell to me to record almost all of that. It was a tremendous pleasure and it is a great honor.
Real 70 as "the backbone" was said by Maguesh, super lethal MC of the Monasterio do Hip Hop, in a song recorded in my studio. We, the people of Real 70, defend the most genuine of this music and try to maintain the essence of hip hop culture, while keeping up with the times. We also try to create political and social awareness in people, provide solutions to problems and try to live in harmony with others. Hip hop has brought a lot to our lives and we want to share that with new people.
Danay Suárez: Real 70 is and always will be a classic. The only studio that can be named and remembered within the most significant discography of Cuban hip hop. It is an unforgettable place in the heart and history of each artist who recorded there and who went out into the world as a voice that promoted disciples of the style of rapping in Cuba. Real 70 was finding my voice. As long as it exists, I'll be back.