L-Gante and his ultra-viral crew are to today’s popular music in Latin America what N.W.A. was to North American music in the late 80s and early 90s.
“Nowhere else have I heard a rhythm like this, a sound like this,” declares the mega-viral Argentine artist L-Gante, poster child for the new, cannabis-infused musical style born in the favelas that’s jolting Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world: Cumbia 420.
L-Gante has been dominating the leaderboard for over a year now, sometimes boasting as many as ten of his songs on Billboard charts at the same time. What’s more, his videos have accumulated more than a billion views on YouTube over the last twelve months.
Authors’ note: remember to skip the ads to see the actual music videos.
What’s Cumbia 420?
Formally, Cumbia 420 is cumbia, reggaeton and marijuana. In other words, Latin rhythms and good old weed. And its rise to virality reminisces of the ascent of gangsta rap into the mainstream. L-Gante and his crew are to today’s popular music in Latin America what N.W.A. was to American music in the late 80s and early 90s.
“It’s reggaeton with the cadence of cumbia in its rhythmic structure,” explains DT.Bilardo, L-Gante’s producer and a guru of Latin American fusions who, by dint of his hits, laid the foundations for the musical phenomenon of the moment.
Cumbia 420 is “a brand, rather than a style,” he adds.
Unlike L-Gante, who has more than 4 million followers on Instagram, DT.Bilardo, who pulls the strings from backstage, has only 100K. And he likes it that way.
The Cumbia 420 Assembly Line
With an approach to production that reminds of Taylorism – in their serial line of assembly every station is labeled “work,” DT.Bilardo and the crew of the Kriterio Music label (which includes professionals in design, audiovisual art and sound production), publish practically one track per week.
Again: That’s one track per week.
And the path is almost always the same: a song comes out accompanied by a video clip, the view count starts to surge quickly, and, within a few hours, it becomes a hit.
That’s one hit per week!
“Cumbia 420 connects in a very personal way with the audience that it seeks to represent. It’s a product that’s 100% designed for people who smoke, for people from the hood, the ghetto. It’s for humble people who are immersed in an adverse situation but want to get out and want to progress,” details DT.Bilardo, talking about the close connection that Cumbia 420 has with its followers.
But Cumbia 420 is not just about the South American superstar L-Gante and his producer DT.Bilardo. Others, such as Perro Primo, are also helping push the movement forward.
“Cumbia 420 exploded because cumbia started to sound, once again, like it used to. As it used to sound in Mexico, Colombia and, obviously, Argentina. And on top of that, now people are super weed-friendly, super into cannabis. So, Cumbia 420 is a perfect connection,” says Perro Primo.
There is a unique force in the boondocks of Buenos Aires, Argentina: music producer Bizarrap, a sort of South American Dr. Dre, a hitmaker who has already accustomed its loyal fan base of tens of millions to a weekly smash rap hit.
If Biza participates in the production of a song, chances are it will be more successful than the latest Justin Bieber, Drake or Rihanna release — and this is quite literal. For instance, one of his latest releases with Nicky Jam has accumulated more than 100 million plays on YouTube alone in just four months. His latest drop, with Anuel AA, already counts 22 million views in a week.
The role of the visionary artist that Bizarrap is in the rise of the Cumbia 420 movement was not minor either. With almost 350 million plays on YouTube and Spotify in just a few months months, L-Gante’s Villarap Session (that’s what they informally call L-Gante’s “BZRP: Music Sessions #38”) is one of Biza’s most popular productions. And, some may argue, it’s also the true driver behind the original virality of the cumbiero artist born in General Rodríguez, Buenos Aires.
In an interview with Spanish youtuber Ibai, Biza reinforced DT.Bilardo and L-Gante’s view of the genre: “Cumbia 420 is cumbia, reggaeton, and marijuana.”
In his words: “It combines a bit of what RKT is, which is a very Argentinean genre that used to be played in a dance club in Buenos Aires, called Rescate. What is unique about it, and there are many people from other countries who do not understand it, is that it is not like reggaeton. Everything is thrown backwards. The percussion is kind of out of tempo. But actually, it is not incorrect. In the end, it’s not uncoordinated… It’s very strange.”
The Waiting Room – And Cooking The Main Course
In short, Cumbia 420 carries on the legacy of the cumbia villera subgenre. Originated in Argentina in 2001, a year of economic crisis in the country and a complex moment across the region, cumbia villera represents the slums promoting a message of resilience and empowerment.
In its origins, linked to the group R.P.M., Cumbia 420 was born almost as a joke that nobody noticed because they were “just too stoned.”
That is, until L-Gante came into the scene, repeating “Cumbia 420” here, there and everywhere; until it became a trademark.
He tattooed it on his belly, he committed to the project, he sprinkled his inexplicable magic powder over it. His existence is also one of the essential components for this success. A success that, of course, has other reasons.
In the strictly musical aspect, Cumbia 420 is seasoned with exquisite beats, fun rhythms and a very particular warmth. It pleases, plays and resonates: Cumbia 420 spreads popular fever.
The Fragility Of Margins
The critical global situation, a result of the upheavals produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused the delicate social fabric of the most underprivileged countries in the world to be further weakened.
“The popular aspect of Cumbia 420 goes hand in hand with the social context in which we find ourselves. It’s a hood sound and speaks of circumstances to which many people were exposed. So, the popular aspect of Cumbia 420 is the support it gives to society,” reinforces La Joaqui.
La Joaqui is too an Argentine urban artist who has collaborated with L-Gante multiple times. Their song, “Lassie,” already counts 22 million plays and has been remixed to great success.
Although La Joaqui’s roots feed on the hip-hop universe, she feels at ease with the new movement. After all, she’s been combining cumbia and rap for years.
“Cumbia 420 is catching on in Latin America because it was needed, it’s the new thing. Also, because the scene was very open to the mix, to the mixture of genres. Anyways, cumbia is a rhythm that is in the Latinx DNA. Many countries consume this music,” says Maxi El Brother, L-Gante’s manager and music producer.
And he continues: “Today’s generations were raised listening to that music. Their parents, uncles and grandparents listen to it. Today, it is coming back with a special refresh. It’s already being widely accepted in Argentina, Chile, Europe… and it’s also arriving to North American territories.”
Hits And Cannabis: The Power Couple
“Being stoned, we take everything with a relaxed attitude, with our minds and inspiration unrestrained. And this gives us a long-term and future vision,” confesses L-Gante.
His case proves the apple can fall far from the proverbial tree: one can be a cannabis consumer and, at the same time, remain productive, grow professionally and design a promising future.
Case in hand: In the last few months, L-Gante reached the top of the Billboard Argentina Hot #100 chart with “BZRP: Music Sessions #38”, third place with “L-Gante RKT” ft. Papu DJ and seventeenth place with “Malianteo 420,” among others.
The same happened with “Pistola,” in its remixed version with the famous Pablo Lescano (father of the cumbia villera movement), and their other collab “Perrito Malvado.” With millions of plays each the songs immediately placed #1 in the “Trending” list of YouTube Argentina.
“The stereotype of the lazy stoner exists, okay. But in my particular case, I smoke to disconnect after a long period of concentration,” says DT Bilardo.
“There are times when I don’t smoke. For 3, 4 or 5 days I am 100% concentrated. I get into a mambo [a sort of productive haze] and then I have to smoke to disconnect and get out of that mambo. I use marijuana as a tool,” he continues.
And this message clearly permeates the lyrics of Cumbia 420. There is a constant reference to joints, smoke, nightlife, parties and “the good life,” in general terms. Cumbia 420 is both about being real and about coming up.
Neither Hustlers Nor Bums: Cannabis Lovers
The crew of artists representing Cumbia 420 usually smokes sativa cannabis strains.
“It is the one that activates you and opens your mind to produce and create new lyrics and ideas,” Perro Primo dixit.
Pot is smoked; yes. Maybe every day, but not all day. The recreational consumption of cannabis ends up being a stimulus and, also, a moment of peace.
For La Joaqui, who is a mother and has a strict routine that starts very early — for our region, at 7 a.m., responsible cannabis consumption is key. It has helped her calm her anxieties and also put her thoughts in order.
“It has never limited my actions,” she says.
On the other hand, Maxi el Brother, one of the mainstays of the movement, does not smoke marijuana. Although, of course, he has tried it and even, in his words, considers himself “a super cannabis-friendly person.”
He says, “My whole environment, my work team and my friends are all super weed-centric people and the truth is that they are super productive.”
And it’s not just being productive for the sake of it. Neither is it about the “hustle” (in short, making money on the streets).
For the artists of the Cumbia 420 universe, it’s about the final product. Yes, there’s a lot of weed going around, but also a lot of effort and a desire to progress with sensible and consistent work.
“I use cannabis to disconnect and see myself in the third person. I open a gap with my reality and that’s what makes me productive,” concludes DT.Bilardo while he rubs his hands thinking about the next step that will take his invention, Cumbia 420, to conquer the entire planet.
Authors’ note: when L-Gante and the Cumbia 420 crew say “Cumbia 420 pa’ los negros,” they are not referring to Black or African-American communities. They are instead reclaiming a derogatory term used for decades in Argentina to talk about low-income people.
Lee la nota en español: Cumbia 420: Cómo L-Gante y Su Crew Conquistaron América Latina con Su Música Cannábica
This article was originally published on Forbes and appears here with permission.
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