A Grammy-nominated album, numerous mixtapes, countless collaborations and frequent trips back to their home country of Panama. For Oakland duo Los Rakas, the past decade has been all about hustle.
Cousins Raka Rich and Raka Dun are currently promoting their sophomore album, Manes De Negocio (which loosely translates to “men of business”), via Delicious Vinyl Island and their own label, Raka Music. The 12-track project mixes dancehall, rap and reggaeton from Panama and the Bay—a style Los Rakas have been pioneering over the course of their 13 years in the music biz. With a map of Africa on the album cover, Los Rakas remind listeners of the Afro-Latinx roots of the urbano genre currently taking over the airwaves, positioning themselves as the heirs of pioneering Black Panamanian reggaetoneros such as El General and Renato.
“It comes from Panama, from Oakland, it comes from poverty, from the ghetto, from the struggle,” Rich says of Los Rakas’ sound.
A lot has changed since Los Rakas came onto the scene with their bilingual back-and-forth and hyphy-meets-reggaeton production—a style many deemed too hybridized to gain mainstream traction when they debuted in 2006. But following the international success of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” in 2017, Latinx music that blends reggaeton flows and American hip-hop culture has grown to dominate global charts. Colombia’s J Balvin, Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny and Ozuna, and Southern California’s Becky G emerged among a new generation of pop stars who, unlike their forebears Shakira and Ricky Martin, attract huge international audiences without translating their lyrics into English.
“What we started ten years ago is where it’s at [now],” says Rich. “Now it’s not taboo to experiment, to be a rap artist and hop on an EDM song, or mix different languages.”