Rapper in Paradise: Vico C combines the spiritual and the social

Vico C started rapping as a kid in Puerto Rican slums. While his vocation might have given him a way out of poverty, it didn’t solve his spiritual issues. That came when in the early ’90s he discovered evangelical Christianity. It got him off drugs and brought him stability.
Growing up poor, black and socially marginalized has marked Vico C’s life, thought and rap career. His songs speak to the spiritual trauma that poverty inflicts on people, but goes a step further. As the title indicates, Vico C’s new album “En honor a la verdad” (In honor to truth) stays true to social realities. In doing so, Vico C hopes to empower poor youth to avoid the pitfalls of poverty.
JO: How did you start rapping?
VC: In 1898, a warship exploded near Cuba. Americans used it to start the Spanish American War. They ended up with Cuba and Puerto Rico and these years have brought us Burger King, McDonald’s and hip-hop. I came from the Puerto Rican barrios. Everything in the U.S barrios goes through New York and hits Puerto Rico. As far as colonialism goes, this is one great thing that I don’t regret. It allows me to express myself.
JO: What inspires your music?
VC: What inspires me most is what’s happening today, what’s just and unjust. That inspires me completely. The news, the neighbors, my kids.
JO: What justice and injustice?
VC: Being marginalized. The injustice that I’ve felt. As a barrio person, I’ve dealt with a lot of prejudice, classism. A lot of my lyrics spring from that experience.
JO: You’re called the ‘rap philosopher.’ What’s your rap philosophy?
VC: The basis of my ideals is evangelical [Christianity]. For me, it’s the only path to the truth. My philosophy starts with that, which includes love for wisdom, fear of God being the basis of wisdom. I bring the biblical themes together with my concerns.
JO: How did evangelical Christianity help you get your life together?
VC: If I say that evangelism helped me drop drugs, I’m leaving out some important information. We’re talking about a process, after all. Evangelism teaches me to get to the root of the matter about how the links in the chains of vices and problems develop. When I found evangelism, I realized that my cocaine addiction wasn’t my problem. It was a result of what I’d lived and that’s where I had to start. Evangelism gave me the strength and the wisdom to deal with these problems.
JO: What do rap and evangelism have to do with each other?
VC: Rap is a movement, while evangelism is the truth. Rap serves as an instrument for spreading evangelism and vice-versa. Evangelism comes in the lyrics, while rap is the rhythm. I put the two together, although they’re different.
JO: These two influences help you express your social concerns.
VC: Exactly. Because when you develop concerns, it automatically takes you to social content. Evangelism is social.
JO: Marginalized people often develop rage and bitterness about their social condition. How have you managed to achieve balance and avoid hatred?
VC: Love. When you decide that love shall dictate your behavior, you learn to accept all as they are. Let me give you an example. If your child is a real lowlife, you’ll still love him because he’s your son. You want to kill other people’s children who are less base. What’s the key? Love. If you loved your neighbor the way you love your kid, you wouldn’t develop rebelliousness, but concern for finding a solution to the problem. My lyrics offer a solution and not rebellion or division.
JO: How does an evangelical rapper like yourself look on the values of commercial American hip-hop as seen in its violent and sexual content?
VC: It’s the same as what I think about music from other genres that talk about the same things, but say it in a prettier way. In the ’50s, there were many songs with graphic content. I don’t distinguish between the values of rap, merengue, ballads, salsa, everything.
JO: What do you think about Latin American rap?
VC: I adore the Latin American content. Here, people have profound values. In the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we lack those values because we have everything easy. That allows us to worry about other things like entertainment, and that’s where drugs and everything else comes in. I like rap with a certain content. The accent is secondary.
JO: How did ‘En honor a la verdad’ come about’?
VC: It’s about truth. I’m not talking religion. I’m talking about real life. That song’s real, quite graphic, so you feel the weight of the matter.
JO: You came to Caracas for an anti-drug concert. Many anti-drug crusades take on the cluelessness of the U.S.’ “Say no to drugs” campaign. Speaking of going to the root of the problem, where do you stand on this issue?
VC: I agree with the concept, but that’s it. When it comes to drugs, government just throws money at an ad agency for an anti-drug ad. It’s a mistake. If you gave me the money from one ad, I’d achieve a lot more because I’d put it where the problem lies. Who has changed their lives around from one of those ads? No one.
JO: They don’t prevent people from getting started either.
VC: They promote [drugs]. Take Adam and Eve. ‘You can’t touch that.’ That was the end of it! You have to show the consequences. It’s like, ‘let’s tell people not to use drugs and those who have that they’re screwed.’ That’s the way I see it as a former addict. We need to take that money, drop the TV campaigns and put it in the people. We don’t have to say the word ‘drugs’ to deal with the problem. It scares and offends. It scares those who haven’t used them by pressuring them and making them curious. And it offends those who have used drugs.

JO: Considering your references to capitalism and colonialism, and evangelism’s social message, what do you consider Christianity’s social role?

VC: Jesus’ mission wasn’t limited to solving real life problems. His social claims were automatic. His central mission was saving souls. To do that, he had to instruct people with love and forgiveness. His mission was salvation, while the other things were complements. These [social] complements are a way to get to [salvation]. It doesn’t limit itself to fixing something in the world because everything is transitory.
JO: But you can’t deal with the spiritual issues of barrio residents and leave their social issues aside. They go together.
VC: They go together, but because it’s automatic. If you take the social path to get to the spiritual, it’s longer. You might lose your way. If you start with the spiritual, the social is automatic.

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