Primeiro de Dezembro

Lyrics from “Primeiro de Dezembro” by Gustavo Black Alien (2004)


It could happen to anyone, bro
Me, you, your cousin
That’s why I rhyme from my heart
For every rule there’s an exception
But not in this case, so, so be it… so, welcome!
He didn’t know the men were listening
A shoot-out broke out when he was taken by surprise
It happened just as they were leaving
From the jurassic comedy: good guy versus robber
To the classic tragedy: cops versus robber
He’ll never know just when the roles were reversed
Everything was already set, everything was already sold
Except they didn’t realize he’d resist
The state of the individual; the individual and the state
Creon revealed over the wire-tapped telephone
On the horizon, his chop-shop gone to pieces
Time for insurrection, elegant, advance payment
In the memory of an elephant to six-feet-[under]
And he doesn’t feel calm from reading the psalm
From that little room, in that little ‘hood
Direct to stardom with a car robbery
He climbed to the highest rung of the ladder – left anonymity behind
In this kind of heist he was still a novice

December 1: He planned the hold-up
December 15: He said, “Hands up!”
December 25: He called his mom from Bangu 4
The highest flying gull can be seen from farther away (repeat)

There are those people who are more badass than you
Money that comes easily isn’t the fruit of any labor
A shortcut that Babylon can offer
Facing off with vampires without a stake, cross, and garlic
They found the notebook with the details of the sale
And of course no one’s filing income tax
From the imported vehicle in the gated condominium
Heads of cattle on the farm
If anyone embezzles, they want their share: they follow the scent
If it’s bigger than you are, what’s cheap costs a lot
The cure is worse than the disease
Description of the culprit always lines up with the profile of the suspect
In the ghetto style, a shot that grazes his right arm
His accomplice takes a pop in the middle of the chest
The steel bird beats its wings above the houses
Blue uniforms turn red
He tries to escape breaking tiles
If hope is the last to die
Welcome to its death-bed
December 1: He planned the hold-up
December 15: He said, “Hands up!”
December 25: He called his mom from Bangu 4
The highest flying gull can be seen from farther away (repeat)

— Interpretation —

Black Alien on stage in the late 1990s with Planet Hemp.

Black Alien on stage in the late 1990s with Planet Hemp.

Gustavo de Almeida Ribeiro (June 7, 1972; São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro) —  known by his artistic name “Black Alien” — is one of the most respected and influential Brazilian rappers and hip hop artists of all time.  In this documentary, fellow rapper and composer BNegão says he might be second only to Mano Brown, the lead vocalist for Racionais MC’s, considered Brazil’s pioneer rap and hip-hop group since it was formed in São Paulo in the late 1980s.

Gustavo felt out of place as one of the only black students at the expensive American school he attended in Niterói. Here is his first grade class picture from 1979.

Gustavo felt out of place as one of the only black students at the expensive American school he attended in Niterói. Here is his first grade class picture from 1979.

Gustavo found his way onto the music scene through fellow skaters and hip-hop artists he met at a skate park in a poor neighborhood of São Gonçalo, an industrial city bordering Niterói, across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro. Part of his family lived in São Gonçalo, but Gustavo grew up in a wealthier neighborhood of Niterói, where he was the only black student in his class at the American school. He therefore said he felt somewhat like an “alien” in both environments. This upbringing also meant he was fluent in English by age 12, and prefers to rhyme in English.

primeira demo lançada por Speedfreaks Rapper, Gustavo Ribeiro & O Mago da Edição num Tascam com 4 canais Dj Rodriguezz... (K7 rip)

Black Alien started rapping with Speedfreaks after Speedfreaks basically told him he’d better rap with him or else. Speedfreaks was known as Speedy Gonzalez and Black Alien was Bulletproof.

In the 1990s Black Alien quickly became known and revered for his sophisticated rhyming and flow — in both Portuguese and English  — and for switching seamlessly between hip-hop, rap, reggae and samba sounds and rhythms. Likewise, his songs weave the socio-political commentary characteristic of the genre together with literary and cinematographic references, humor and romance, without sounding trite or like he’s trying too hard. On top of all that, he has a resonant, expressive voice that’s just pleasurable to listen to.  Rappers and hip-hop artists in Brazil almost invariably cite him as one of their main inspirations, as Criolo did in his recently released song “Esquiva da Esgrima.” And Gustavo Black Alien achieved this level of regard in spite of having only released one solo album (whose title has begged a sequel for ten years now): Babylon by Gus, Vol. 1: O Ano do Macacofrom 2004. The title is a play on the Bob Marley album Babylon by BusGustavo just switched in his nickname, Gus.

Gustavo started out rapping with Speedfreaks (Cláudio Márcio de Souza Santos) — a fellow skater and rapper who had taken his nickname from this popular 1989 Santa Cruz skate video — and his friend DJ Rodrigues, in the band Speedfreaks. In the band, Speed took on the name Speedy Gonzalez and Black Alien was known as Bulletproof, because he had escaped a bullet by “running zigzag.”  But later on he decided the nickname was dangerous — “people could try to test it” — and took the nickname Black Alien, which DJ Rodrigues had come up with.

Tensions grew among these three “temperamental” artists, and when BNegão left the rap-rock group Planet Hemp — the group that launched the career of the tremendously popular rapper Marcelo D2 — Black Alien left Speedfreaks on bad terms with Speed and joined Planet Hemp. Since Planet Hemp didn’t take too much of his time, he also formed a short-lived group with DJ Rodrigues, which they called Black Alien.

After less than a year he ended up fighting with DJ Rodrigues too, and in 1999 he went back to rapping with Speed, whom he accompanied to São Paulo to try to “make it” in the music business. They produced an album with Carlo Bartolini that was never released, reportedly because of the clash of fiery personalities among the three.  In 2001, a U.S. ad agency hired Black Alien & Speed to make an ad for an imported Nissan pick-up (“Follow me, follow me, follow me, I got the key-key-key”), which became famous across Europe and in the United States with a remix by Fatboy Slim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Go9R_wsNaU.  Black Alien said the song’s popularity is considered to have paved the way for the success of Brazilian funk abroad.

Finally, in 2004, Black Alien signed with Deck Disk, and in less than a month he had recorded Babylon by Gus Vol. 1.

Black Alien (L) with Cypress Hill, 1996.

Black Alien (L) with Cypress Hill, 1996.

This song, the eighth track on the album, recounts the demise of a poor boy, presumably from a favela, who steals a car; since he’s inexperienced and an “easy target” for police, he’s caught, and a shoot-out ensues. The protagonist is an easy target versus more “badass” gangsters mentioned later on in the song, who have more street smarts, are often part of the system, or cooperate by offering hefty bribes to keep the police on their side as they steal and embezzle to maintain their luxurious lifestyles.

“He didn’t know the men were listening”:  The subject of the song was caught because he presumably told someone  — a Creon, a character from Oedipus that has come to be used as slang for traitor — about the crime, and the Creon’s phone was tapped by the police. Because of this, his dealings at the chop-shop were broken up; the police were able to track down the criminal and the stolen car.

Album cover for Black Alien's solo album Babylon by Gus vol 1: o Ano do Macaco (2004).

Album cover for Black Alien’s solo album Babylon by Gus vol 1: o Ano do Macaco (2004).

The car robbery provided a moment of glory: the boy rose quickly from his utterly modest conditions to “stardom” through the heist. But he was just a beginner, a novice criminal.  As the refrain recounts, on December 1 he planned the heist; one December 15, he stole the car; and on December 25, he called his mother from Bangu 4, Rio’s infamous prison complex that approximates hell not only because of conditions in the prison but also because of the neighborhood’s notoriously high temperatures.

The line between good guy and robber, or criminal, is unclear; the subject of the song never realized when he went from being one to the other — “when the roles were reversed.” This line speaks to the blurry line between good and bad, and the conditions that can push someone over the edge from one to the other, and also to the tragic brutality of the police, where any role of “good guy vs. bad guy” often vanishes.

Babylon (also in the title track of the album: Babylon by Gus, which states “Jah Jah summoned me, and he knows I’ll go”) in the rastafarian belief system refers to dismal capitalist societies and cities that run on corruption, abuse of power, and avarice. In the song, Black Alien says Babylon provides “shortcuts” — easy ways out — for people who become wealthy with the sort of white-collar crime he goes on to describe or allude to.

A notebook tracking drug trafficking finances that was found in 2011 in the Manguinhos favela in Rio de Janeiro. In the song, the police find the notebook detailing the sale of the stolen car.

A notebook tracking drug trafficking finances that was found in 2011 in the Manguinhos favela in Rio de Janeiro. In the song, the police find the notebook detailing the sale of the stolen car.

In this story, a shoot-out breaks out when the police surprise the suspect, who is with his accomplice. The word gull in Portuguese is used as slang for fool — this is another reference to him being an easy target. “Wings of the steel bird” probably refers to the police helicopter’s propellers. In the shoot-out, the subject of the story takes a bullet to his right arm, while his accomplice is shot and killed by the police, who are also hit, turning their blue uniforms red with blood. My understanding of “he tried to escape breaking tiles” is that he was running over tiled rooftops.  It’s a story that Black Alien says can “happen to anyone” in his world — who can easily be lured from poverty into a world of crime, where they will be tiny and easily dispensable “fish” in a massive, often government-orchestrated “pond.”

2013 photo of Black Alien and DJ Castro preparing pieces of his second album.

2013 photo of Black Alien and DJ Castro preparing pieces of his second album.

Black Alien’s creative perfectionism and fear of not living up to the first album, alongside his sometime substance abuse problems, have hindered the release of a second album. But in 2013 he reached his crowd-sourcing goal for the album (once he cut the goal in half) and he released the first song since Babylon by Gus vol.1 –Jah na Contenção” – in December 2013.  It’s still unclear whether this song will be on the second album, Babylon by Gus Vol. 2: No Principio Era o Verbo. Speed was murdered in 2010 in São Lourenço, Niterói.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Pode acontecer com qualquer um, irmão
Comigo, contigo, seu primo
Por isso, eu rimo de coração
Pra toda regra existe uma exceção
Porém, nesse caso, não, então, que seja…

Que seja bem-vindo!
Ele não sabia que os homi tavam ouvindo
Tiroteio na seqüência quando foi surpreendido
Aconteceu na hora que eles tavam saindo
Da jurássica comédia, mocinho contra bandido
Pra já clássica tragédia, polícia contra bandido
Ele nunca vai saber quando os papéis foram invertidos
Já tava tudo entregue, já tava tudo vendido
Só não sabiam que ele nunca seria rendido
O estado do indivíduo, o indivíduo e o Estado
Creonte revelou no telefone grampeado
No horizonte seu desmonte desmontado
Hora do levante, elegante, pagamento adiantado
Na memória de elefante para sete palmos
E não fica calmo porque lê o salmo
Daquele pequeno quarto, naquele pequeno bairro
Direto pro estrelato no roubo de carro
Foi no degrau mais alto, saiu do anonimato
Nesse tipo de assalto, ele ainda era novato

Primeiro de dezembro – Ele planejou o assalto
Quinze de dezembro – Ele disse: “Mãos ao alto!”
Vinte e cinco de dezembro – Ligou pra mãe de Bangu 4
Você enxerga mais longe a gaivota que voa mais alto

Existem as pessoas mais sinistras que você
Dinheiro que vem fácil não é fruto de trabalho
Atalho que a babilônia pode oferecer
Frente a frente com os vampiros sem estaca, cruz e alho
Encontraram a agenda com a movimentação da venda
E é claro que ninguém declara imposto de renda
Do veículo importado no condomínio fechado
Cabeças de gado na fazenda
Se alguém desvia algum, querem também, vêm pelo faro
Se é maior do que você, o barato sai mais caro
A emenda foi pior do que o soneto
Descrição do elemento sempre bate com a do suspeito
No estilo do gueto, um tiro de raspão no braço direito
Seu comparsa, um pipoco no meio dos peito
O pássaro de aço bate as asas sobre as casas
Fardas azuis ficam vermelhas
Tenta escapar quebrando telhas, tá feito
Se a esperança é a última que morre
Bem-vindo ao seu leito

Primeiro de dezembro – Ele planejou o assalto
Quinze de dezembro – Ele disse: “Mãos ao alto!”
Vinte e cinco de dezembro – Ligou pra mãe de Bangu 4
Você enxerga mais longe a gaivota que voa mais alto

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About lyricalbrazil

My name is Victoria Broadus and in early 2012 I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Brazil - first São Paulo, and now Rio de Janeiro. I began studying Portuguese while working toward a Master's degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, and have since become fluent. I love Brazilian music and want to be able to share it with more people, so I'm working on translating songs to English and providing some contextual interpretation and stories about the songs and the musicians.
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