The baile funk artist known as MC Bin Laden is becoming a real-deal pop star in his native Brazil. His first U.S. release collects his biggest hits from the last three years, and shows why.
Jefferson Cristian Dos Santos De Lima, the 23-year old baile funk artist known as MC Bin Laden, has over 3.5 million likes on Facebook. For perspective, that’s a larger following on the site than Chance the Rapper or Diplo. Dos Santos De Lima is likely one of the most popular funkeiros in Brazil (one of his videos have over 90 million views on YouTube). In his native São Paulo, Dos Santos De Lima is a real-deal pop star, who bears a striking look of two-toned dyed hair—half-black and half-blonde—and endearing braces.
Though his songs have percolated in North American clubs in the past few years, and he had enough crossover fame to perform with Skrillex and Diplo at last year’s Lollapalooza Brasil, he is only now becoming more known stateside. Unfortunately, the narrative that has surrounded Dos Santos De Lima has become one of controversy—in the last year he has been denied entry visas into the U.S. twice—which some of have pinned to his choice of name. But Dos Santos De Lima’s difficulties have more likely been due to the Brazilian government’s known distaste for the kind of baile funk that he is associated with, the sub genre funk proibido (“prohibited funk”). In reality, Dos Santos De Lima’s music is no more provocative than most of what’s on the radio nowadays. (His lyrics talk about sex, motorcycles, and partying—not all that controversial.) The É Grau EP is his first for a U.S. label, collecting his biggest hits from the last four years. It’s a wonderful sampler and glimpse into why Dos Santos De Lima’s music is so popular.
É Grau contains just six songs, and except the closer “Ombrinho com Romano,” the rest were released from a period of 2014-2016. The earliest, “BOLOLO HAHA,” was one of Dos Santos De Lima’s breakout hits, introducing his signature ad-lib (“bololo haha,” which has no translation in English) and his arresting sound. Even for a three-year-old song, the production Dos Santos De Lima chooses here is aggressively new—it’s a stripped down version of baile funk, with its touches of Miami bass and cumbia influences—injected with extreme industrial horsepower. Motorcycles revving, clanking machinery, and dissonant sirens are the leitmotifs in Dos Santos De Lima’s songs. His delivery, too, is both speedy and measured: his singing pushes the pace of these songs to the brink, but he delivers each syllable and phoneme carefully, making sure each vowel has the right amount of energy behind it.
There are also touches of lightheartedness, though. What sounds like a pan-flute comes midway through to add a dash of levity, and as in-your-face as the song is, there is a silly catchiness you can’t deny. “BOLOLO HAHA” is the archetype for the songs on the EP: hyperkinetic and propulsive, but fun and unserious. His songs make you feel like you’re riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle and going past the speed limit.
The EP also contains his most popular song to date, “Ta Tranquilo Ta Favorável” (“It’s calm, it’s favorable”). In the song’s music video, watched over 90 million times, Bin Laden, a goofy guy, is cavorting around a beach shirtless as he sings smoothly about being calm and enjoying life. It's a carefree message that reverberates throughout his music, and explains in part why he’s the fastest growing pop star in Brazil. In 2016, he was even able to perform this song on daytime television with the global soccer star Ronaldinho, showing just how far this guy has come since he emerged three years ago.
When I first heard Dos Santos De Lima’s songs last year in the middle of a DJ set in Ridgewood, Queens, I reached for my phone immediately, stuck my arm into the air, and hit the Shazam button to find out what it was. His songs were still unknown to me, and I couldn’t help but feel flabbergasted by how joyous they were. That feeling comes through again on É Grau.