Meet Rapper C. Tangana, Centering Hip-Hop Culture in Spain One Verse at a Time

Javi Ruiz
C. Tangana

C. Tangana has been making waves in the Spanish rap scene since 2006, back when he was known as as Crema. Unlike his fellow Spanish-speaking rappers -- J Balvin, Nicky Jam, Daddy Yankee and Maluma to name a few – the 27-year-old hasn’t achieved mainstream clout in Latin America or the U.S. -- yet.

Tangana (né Antón Álvarez Alfaro) was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. He was born to humble, Spanish parents (fun fact: his mom has 14 brothers and sisters) who made sure he got an education before fully pursuing his dreams of rap stardom. He studied philosophy, and his favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche, because “of his nihilistic views.”

Take a listen to his music and you’ll see where that influence may come across. He raps about a certain type of woman in “Mala Mujer,” and about his journey and personal world views on the braggadocious “Los chikos de Madriz.” Beneath his bad boy imagery, however, lies a tint of softness, like on “Antes de morirme”, with singer Rosalia.

On a scorching July morning, Tangana is seated on a gray velour couch inside New York City’s Stewart Hotel’s swanky lobby. He’s dressed in all black with the face of the legendary Mozart on his t-shirt, as he candidly speaks to VIBE Viva about what it means to be a rapper in Spain, and how he hopes to globalize his music in his own country.

“In Spain, I’m going to lay my foot down and make sure that urban culture is at the center of everything,” he says. “Just like it is in New York, LA, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. We’re going to make it happen because we are the only Latinos in Europe. It’s a different clique.”

How has Spain received rap music?

Tangana: In Spain there is a genre of rap music, but you wouldn’t listen to it here in the States, or any other country in South America, because it’s a genre that is closed off and doesn’t really have much influence. Then a couple of years back, a new trend started with lots of young people who are familiarized with the Internet, and with a more global sound coupled with more musical influences. And now everything is changing. There is a new urban scene that is interpolating itself with fashion brands, and other scenes that are much cooler. It’s beginning to become more of a national scene.

Would you say that in Spain you have had to fight so that rap music gets respect over there?

Yes, there are still bigger mediums that don’t see us as something that’s interesting. We’re looked as something that is just part of youth culture. Most of us have made it without any help from the press or labels. My career has been independent from the beginning. It’s only been a year since I’ve signed to Sony. So they look at us like a small movement, but honestly we’re the most important thing that’s happening, culturally, in Spain. We’re a new generation that’s putting all the young people together. We’re changing how art, business and culture are being made.

But still, there are older, more antique crowds that still look at us like we are beneath them. There are still articles about us using auto-tone and things like that. The culture over there is still very dated. Lots of people say we don’t make real music. And that the topics we talk about aren’t smart, but more so delinquent like -- they define it as only to be about drugs and things of that nature.

Was getting a record deal always your goal? How has your life changed since then?

When I was younger it was my goal. Then, when I saw that I can independently start to create things, it wasn’t. It was like if it comes, it comes, if not, there is still a way of making something happen. When I didn’t have that thought of needing to get signed, was when I was ready to negotiate with them. Now I feel like I can say no to things. I had to have the thought of knowing I can do things on my own to be able to sign. Everything now has changed since then. Right now, I have had the luck that I delayed the time in which I signed, in efforts to try to find something that favors me. Sony in Spain is trying to give young artists more independence in how they create their art. They’re not trying to dictate to an artist how they should sound or look like.

But for me, the best was Don Omar. He had good hits, but he still remained true to his Latin roots, while the rest where coming up with more club records or rap. They were doing whatever to get airplay, but he still remained true to the Latin sound. His sound was very bachata-like, and he still kept making hits like “Pobre Diabla.” Now, the rest of reggaeton is sounding not as gritty with artists like Maluma and J Balvin.

Have you ever been compared to J Balvin or Maluma?

In Spain, J Balvin mentioned that he liked what I was doing. Since then, they have associated me with him. But he is a bigger artist than I am. He’s huge in Spain, so when he spoke well about me lots of people correlated us together. With Maluma, the comparisons haven’t been there. I think we’re different.

How do you feel about being associated to J Balvin, and how do you think you guys differ?

For me it was honor that he mentioned me, because he didn’t need to. He said good things about me, which then helped me rise to a better space in the market. I was making a career within urban music, but it wasn’t mainstream. Then I started making hits and getting signed. Him mentioning me was the best thing that has happened to me in terms of press. It was better than any great picture or interview. I’m very thankful to him. I think we’re different because I’m only doing strictly rap and doing some R&B, and I’m in Europe. I’m not just a reggaeton artist.

You mentioned before in the Spanish press that you would categorize yourself as a pop artist than a trap artist, even if your music sounds like it…

It’s more like an issue with what trap represents in Spain. If it were here, I wouldn’t have a problem being called a trap artist, but in Spain there is a certain connotation with the word trap, which they use it to define everything. You would laugh if you went over there and saw what they defined as trap. It’s associated with young people who are online. It’s not what it means here. In Spain, I’ve been cementing my spot and have been heard throughout. Everyone knows me, and we are everywhere.

Ultimately, I felt like I was being trapped inside a niche audience, and they didn’t want me to be heard anywhere else. So I would just introduce myself as a pop artist, and people would be like, “Wait, you’re a rapper? Look at the videos you make.” But they started growing into it.

You’ve also mentioned before that Drake has been a great influence for you.

When If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late came out, I noticed that Drake made a movement within urban music. Let’s say I wanted to create the movement the opposite way. He was more R&B, and he’s a well-known face and amicable. He made music that attracted other rappers and producers. I came from making rap and getting respect in Madrid, but not from the mainstream.

I say that he had one foot in and one foot out between both scenes. And he made it work. He was able to make a record with Rihanna that was on the radio, and also make one with Future. I want that same thing in Spain. I have a song with Rosalia called “Antes de Morirme” that lots of people listen to. I wanted [what he had going on] in Spain.

Where do you find inspiration to write your songs?

Inspiration for me comes in two ways: One is, I’ve had to work, and have had bosses tell me what to do, and I couldn’t invest my time in what I wanted to do. And the other is sentimental: romantic relationships. It’s something real important when I realized I was going to dedicate my time to my music.

Are you more romantic in your personal life than how you’re perceived on wax?

I’m very sexual and I love women. It makes it hard for me to be with just one woman, but I’m very romantic. I have an idea to have a family with kids, and treat my wife like a queen. I’m very romantic. I like the small details, and taking care of a person. But if I’m traveling all day, and meeting different people all day it’s very hard to just stay focused on one person.

This article originally appeared on Vibe.