Everyone knows Northern Cali's Bay Area for its swagger, trendsetting slang, and unique-ness. When a musician from outside the area comes there at a young age, they can't help but to be influenced by its culture and style. When Panamanian duo, Los Rakas, moved to Oakland in their teens, the group's music evolved. Mixing their reggae/dancehall foundation with some of the Bay Area's hip-hop flair resulted a combination that has resonated with fans around the world, and has made them blog favorites.
After years of grinding with the release of mixtapes and performances nationwide, the duo -- comprised of two cousins -- have finally dropped their debut offering, an EP titled Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada, or Tank Tops & Flip Flops when translated into English.
On a the heels of the release of the project, we caught up with Los Rakas to talk about their journey through music, what influenced their style, and of course, about the EP they just dropped.
If you haven't checked them out yet, this will bring you up to speed on these two young and talented musicians, who exude that Bay Area swagger in a very unique way. It's time to meet: Los Rakas.
BallerStatus.com: You grew up in Panama, but during your teens years moved to Oakland. Musically, what types of music did you listen to as youngsters ... and how did it influence your style?
Los Rakas: We listened to all types of music growing up, like Jamaican reggae, Panamanian reggae, Haitian music, soft rock, salsa. All those genres influenced us indirectly, but naturally because it was part of our listening lifestyle. From Tito Rojas, to Supacat, to E-40, to Nas, to Ruben Blades, to to to ... the influences are endless.
BallerStatus.com: Obviously, Panama's hoods are a little different from the hoods in the States. What was it like, moving from Panama back to the U.S.?
Los Rakas: It was a culture shock. We went from the hood to a middle class neighborhood. In the hood in Panama, everyone knows each other. In the US, people barely know their neighbors. I (Raka Dun) was excited to move to Oakland, though. It felt like we were back in Panama. The environment was full of culture and diversity -- loud music bumping from cars, people yelling across the street; kids riding bikes, skating boarding, cars with rims. It was like, "Yes, this is more like it."
BallerStatus.com: Oakland is known for its swagger, and unique style/slang. How does a group like Los Rakas fit into a town like that?
Los Rakas: Panama is to Latin America what the Bay Area is to the States; we're trendsetters of slang and are full of swag. The OG's in Panama have more swag than the youngsters. They rock their gold teeth, gold chains, sombreros y hablan "con todo el styling" -- we fit right in. That has inspired us to create our own lingo; sometimes Panamanian/Latins can't understand us (laughs). Raka swag. We have a series called "Soy Raka University", where you can see this for yourselves. This is the first episode.
BallerStatus.com: At one point did you two decide to pursue a career in music?
Los Rakas: Hopping on stage for the first time in Los Angeles (at the House of Blues) and seeing the reaction of the audience was a feeling we had never felt before. It was a special type of energy. Instantly we knew: this is what we were born to do.
BallerStatus.com: Who are some of the local acts you've met around the Bay Area who have given you the best advice and what was it?
Los Rakas: Kaz Kyzah (we got some songs with him, called "Whoa" and "Hierba") was the most influential. One thing that sticks is when he said, "as your career grows, don't think you're too big to do music with the turf. The people are who make an artist." We took those words to heart -- to always be humble and know your roots. Know that the streets will always have your back, as long as we have theirs.
BallerStatus.com: Los Rakas has been around for a minute. You've won some awards, performed at popular music festivals. So far, you've dropped a couple mixtapes, and released countless tracks. After so many years, why is your debut EP finally coming?
Los Rakas: The foundation was set for an original release. Those performances, collaborations, awards, mixtapes, and singles helped us reach a milestone. We have over 1 million viewers on Youtube and have organically grown a Raka Nation of fans all over the world. We hear from fans in Denmark to Japan to Uruguay. Raka Rich just got back from Colombia and a club of 500+ people sang "Abrazame", featuring Favi, louder than he could sing it. We wanted to give the fans something to be proud of. We worked on the EP for over a year and the timing felt right. Those are the benefits of being independent: this EP dropped when we said it was time, how we wanted it to look, and how we wanted it to sound.
BallerStatus.com: The EP is titled Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada, which translates to English as "Tank Tops & Flip Flops." Tell us about the title. What is the meaning behind it?
Los Rakas: The title itself described the attire that "Rakas" wear throughout the year in Panama because of the hot climate. "Camisetas Bordada" is not just an ordinary tank top though. It's a custom colored hand-stitching around the seams that gives it a unique swag and style. On the EP, there's a record entitled "Camisetas Bordada" that describes it in more detail.
BallerStatus.com: Tell us a little about the EP. What should new fans and your regular fans expect?
Los Rakas: Both can expect music they've never heard before. Our new fans have never heard a sound like these eight tracks, and our regular fans already know they're getting something original because all of our projects have a different sound. The concept behind this EP is a this: Imagine a tropical weekend a Raka would experience in Panama -- parties, street life and the Panamanian culture in general. It slaps! We really enjoyed working with producers Chief Boima, Hawk Beatz, :::i.ameni::::, The Beat Man, and Ned & Grizz.
BallerStatus.com: There's eight songs in total, what would you say are your faves and why?
Los Rakas: That's like asking a parent who is their favorite child is (laughs). It depends on the mood we're in. We love them ALL equally. One day it's "Soy Raka"; another day it's "Borracho & Ta Lista". It just depends. I (Raka Rich) love "La Chola" because we got my grandmother from Panama (La Señora Iris Rosa) on the song and we had amazing chemistry making it.
BallerStatus.com: With this being your debut EP, what would you like fans to walk away with after hearing it?
Los Rakas: We want our fans to be satisfied to have spent $3.99 and got a good product -- customer satisfaction. Ideally we want them to replay it again and again ... fiending for more of this DOPE music and to see our live show.
BallerStatus.com: What's your immediate plans following the album's release?
Los Rakas: The team is planning a nationwide EP tour that includes trips to Colombia, Mexico, Europe, East Coast, West Coast. You can expect us in a hood near you. And just making more, good Raka Music... we're in the studio constantly.
BallerStatus.com: What's your goals over the next several years?
Los Rakas: Continue spreading the good Raka Music throughout the world. We want to be a household name in the music industry and continue influencing the convergence of Latin and English hip-hop in radio/tv/films as the demographics of this country continue to change. More Latinos are growing up in this country than ever before, and to be an act that can bridge cultures and understanding through music at a global level is where we cant to be. We also want to continue developing ourselves as artists and business people while growing our company, Soy Raka LLC.
For more info about Los Rakas, and/or to purchase their EP, visit LosRakas.com.