For the past two years, a 23-year-old producer from suburban Buenos Aires has challenged the Latin music mainstream, one viral YouTube video at a time.
Known worldwide as Bizarrap, Gonzalo Julián Conde is one of the most listened to Latin American artists in the world thanks to his BZRAP sessions and their exhilarating fusion of hip-hop, trap and EDM. Every month a new session pops up featuring some of Latin rap’s most intriguing MCs – from Argentina’s L-Gante and Paulo Londra to Spain’s Ptazeta to San Jose, Calif.-born Snow Tha Product. , and Residente de Puerto Rico, whose freestyle Bizarrap made headlines this spring with his ruthless bars aimed at J Balvin.
You only need to watch a few sessions to understand the rules of the game. There are 49 videos so far, numbered and posted in chronological order, each with a different rapper. Biza offers a backing track, then the guest MCs record the vocals in the producer’s minimalist home studio, equipped with three cameras to record the visual part of the collaboration. The space is small and deliberately indescribable – white surfaces, blue-green lighting, low ceilings, a Sony monitor hanging on the wall – hinting, somehow, that the magic at your fingertips could happen anywhere in the world.
Biza sits in the background, raising his arms or dancing in his chair as the singers dominate the spotlight. More often than not, the resulting video exudes a certain indelible mystique, like being a fly on the wall during an impromptu session of brilliant minds. There’s something oddly hypnotic about following the entire series, and YouTube videos featuring fan reactions have become a genre in their own right.
“I completely understand the addictive qualities that music can possess,” Bizarrap tells me in his signature tone – polished, articulate, cooler than cool. “I remember the feeling of discovering a new artist and wanting to hear everything from them. I bring people what I would like to find myself: an artist who releases a new song every month, according to his own tastes and criteria.
The strategy has certainly paid off. At the end of April, Bizarrap teased on Instagram that he would release his latest video – a “disappeared”, for legal reasons, Session No. 23 with Paulo Londra – only if fans left 23 million comments on his post first. It took them 19 hours to reach the mark. As the viewership of the videos grew, he also began to leave his mark on the wider music world, co-producing the sultry 2020 single “Mamichula” of Trueno and Nicki Nicole; earning a Best New Artist nomination at last year’s Latin Grammys; and position himself as a rare producer with undeniable star quality.
Getting an interview with Biza was not easy. A trusted press officer offered to host a Zoom meeting. Moments before the interview, I get a phone call from the artist camp. Bizarrap is happy to talk, but no personal questions will be allowed. I suggest asking what part of Buenos Aires he’s from, as an icebreaker. They say no, unequivocally.
When the Zoom chat finally begins, everyone else on the call has turned off their video. Bizarrap’s voice is clear, but somewhat distant. On screen, all I see is my own, slightly artificial smile.
Bizarrap would not have which it does if the music hasn’t transcended the gimmicky aspect of the videos. His tracks are funky and lush, with a DIY spirit that gives way to touches of EDM, unusual textures and adrenaline-filled breaks. Then, of course, there are the guests.
His session with Snow Tha Product (160 million views), for example, is an almost surreal demonstration of bilingual rap at the speed of light. Argentinian singer-songwriter Nathy Peluso (over 300 million views, Biza’s biggest numbers so far) is edgy, combining Auto-Tune melody with sexual defiance and a wicked sense of humor. buenos aires rap star L-Gante (250 million views) adds ominous bass lines and cumbia beats to the mix.
“It was so much fun, because we worked together on the beat,” says Peluso from his home base in Spain. “We are both passionate about hip-hop, and I wrote my rhymes from an improvisation. We recorded the video while traveling in Argentina and completed the track in a few days.
His video highlights another element that helps explain the popularity of Bizarrap’s sessions: while the music constantly pushes the boundaries, the presentation remains laid back and minimalist.
“The visuals are representative of any budding teenage producer – and that’s exactly who I was when I made my first videos at 19,” says Bizarrap. “I started in this same room with my speakers and the FL Studio software, and I want people to identify with the space. I stand up for every artist who started recording tracks from their bedroom.
“At first, I didn’t quite understand the concept,” says 21-year-old Argentinian rapper Nicki Nicole, who recently gained a global following with a dazzling Tiny Desk Concert and subsequent performance at Coachella. “I was very nervous, because we were creating a song from scratch. He had different beats and tried a few until we found the best fit. Then he started adding Biza thought of everything well and he gave me confidence when I recorded my voice.
Nicole points to an additional reason why Biza is highly respected among his peers: he has opened his studio to many women, providing them with a safe creative environment where they can thrive.
“I’ve spoken to other female artists who have worked with him and we all agree on that,” she adds. “Biza is not only amazing as a producer, but as a person, he provides the kind of security where we can feel confident and safe, and thus deliver the best version of ourselves.”
Biza admits that some of the great artists he approaches have been surprised by the laid back vibe of his videos. Some refused his offer of collaboration. “I have something like a homemade sticker album with my favorite rappers that I would love to work with,” he laughs. “I won’t stop until I finish the album.”
Initially, local Argentinian MCs like Duki and Lit Killah sent him a capella tracks which he turned into EDM songs.
“I started incorporating EDM into my tracks around 2019,” he says. “I love switching genres in the middle of a song. Maybe add some drum loops in the bridge that don’t appear anywhere else. I don’t really listen to trap. My personal playlist is mostly made up of movie soundtracks and music from the 80s and 90s. I’m deeply influenced by the albums my parents listened to when I was growing up.
Does the fact that millions of people listen to his songs as soon as they are released stress him out? “There is a certain pressure, yes,” he admits. “But it’s also fun. This kind of exposure gave me the opportunity to learn my skills while lots of people were watching. And I’m never afraid to learn.
Despite all the controversy his series has sometimes caused, Biza has a strong desire to stay in the background. “I don’t want to draw attention to myself,” he said emphatically. “I prefer to look at my computer, not the camera. I shine through the beats, creating a platform where my guests can feel comfortable and express themselves.
Later, he adds: “I never comment on the lyrics. My guests can say whatever they want.
A few days after our conversation, Bizarrap drops session #49 — the one where Residente calls Balvin “a dyed-haired jerk who puts black women with leashes on their necks” and growls, “That asshole is a racist and he doesn’t know it. .” It immediately becomes one of the most controversial and discussed songs of the year.
Upon its release, Bzrp Music Session 49 sparked heated debate due to the brutality with which Residente beat Balvin in his three-chapter, eight-minute rap rant, confusing both Balvin’s questionable artistic choices and the music industry. commercial music as a whole.
Some Balvin fans saw Residente’s downright cruel rhymes as bullying. For others, they were part of a long tradition of tiraeras, or diss tracks, in Latin rap, where big stars such as Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón and Nicky Jam have all used music to settle scores with competitors.
Residente minimizes the drama when I find him in Los Angeles. “Biza had sent me some beats that I didn’t feel connected to, so instead I invited him to come here and start from scratch,” he says. It’s a balmy afternoon in Los Angeles, and we’re sitting in the home studio of the lavish mansion where the rapper is staying while developing film projects, and where they recreated Bizarrap’s famed studio for their video. “Biza is a humble and generous guy.”
Residente feels that part of the response to his words was misplaced. “The track is mainly aimed at the music industry, which focuses on business and blocks the development of art,” he adds. “Managers are credited as songwriters, etc. The character I’m talking about at the end of the session could have been anyone. I have chosen [Balvin] because we have a previous beef, but what happens to him, happens to many others. That’s the sad truth.”
As for Bizarrap? When I find him to ask him for a comment on the freestyle heard around the world, he is typically discreet. “I was honored that Residente wanted to rap on one of my tracks,” is all he will say. “He’s one of my all-time favorites.”