Los Rakas, a spin on the Spanish term “rakataka”—”ratchet” or someone from the ghetto in their native Panama—came together in 2006 when rappers Raka Rich and Raka Dun met in the East Bay.
Blending hip-hop, dancehall and reggaeton, the duo has released a handful of EPs and mixtapes, independently building a fan base in California and beyond through DIY street hustle.
They perform at Live at the Pagoda’s Sonido Clash, a music series focused on the Latin diaspora and progressive sounds that have transformed Latin music, on July 5.
Debuting in the midst of the Bay Area’s hyphy movement, Los Rakas was inspired by the sound of gnarled raps and heavy bass and positioned themselves as ambassadors of Latin urban music, fusing Bay Area-inspired beats with their own Spanish bars.
Both Rich and Dun say that Panama and the Bay Area are similar in that both places have a knack for trendsetting—Panama as the creator of Spanish reggae, which expanded into Puerto Rico into reggaeton. The hyphy movement, though short-lived, breathed life back into Bay Area hip-hop and its influence can still be heard through such other mainstream artists today as Drake and Tyga.
“The hyphy movement inspired us because we lived it, we lived the sideshows,” Dun says.
Songs like “Soy Raka” and “Ta Lista” are prime examples of the Bay Area sound mixed with their native Panamanian influences. Heavy bass lines serve as the foundation with Spanish-influenced drums overlaid on the beats. Life in the ghettos live through the lyrics, with gun talk and gold teeth in the “Soy Raka” hook—””tengo mi pistola y diente de oro.”
Working closely with Bay Area producers and artists, such as Hidden Faces, Erk tha Jerk, Nima Fadavi and Martin Luther, Los Rakas have found a unique niche among local rappers working to build a following beyond the confines of the Bay Area circuit.
The duo also recently teamed up with Major Lazer, super producer Diplo’s reggae project with Jillionaire, and released a remix of the summer anthem “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” with their song “Desorden.” Less than two weeks after its mid-June release, the track had netted more than 16,000 listens online.
Rich and Dun met up with Diplo after the producer tweeted to them that he liked their remix of Oakland rapper Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
For the two rappers, choosing the name “Los Rakas” for their music came from a sense of pride in their ghetto roots, but also a mission to encourage people living in the ghetto to strive beyond its limitations.
“You gotta know when to control that ratchet emotion,” Rich says. “We all have it being where we’re from, but you want to think about being somebody bigger than that and we want to inspire that. Our movement is ratchet we’re ‘rakataka,’ super ratchet, that’s what it really means and we want to show everybody we come from the ratchet but that doesn’t mean we have to act like that all the time.”
The group’s latest project, “El Negrito Dun Dun y Ricardo,” is a double album set to release this summer. Dun had already completed his portion of the album and was ready to release it as a solo project before the two decided to release it as a joint effort.
“Dun was already set to drop the album and I was working on some experimental stuff,” Rich says. “We had done every style of music already and I felt like I really wanted to challenge myself and try this new uptempo, old school house-type of sound.”
The goal for Los Rakas was to make music separately, taking a more experimental approach, but still operate as a duo with the same musical goals in mind.
“You can listen to any of our tracks and they can really vary from dancehall tracks done in Spanish, or Bay Area hip-hop tracks done in English,” Dun says. “We don’t really think about the music, we just do it.”
Both rappers say that the upcoming project has a vastly different sound than their previous releases and the subject matter is geared toward a more mature audience, with songs like “She Likes Me” and “”Let’s Get It On (Pa’encima).”
The “She Likes Me” cut features Richmond’s Erk tha Jerk and shows off the group’s softer side as they rap over Hidden Faces’ R&B piano riffs.
“Let’s Get It On” carries the same sensual context, but it holds traces of Los Rakas’ dancehall origins.
According to Dun, the switch in tone came from influences like Billie Holiday and Tupac Shakur, artists that were “really vulnerable and talked about things going on in their life.”
The duo has plans to then go on tour in Latin America, expanding their fan base as well as promoting their clothing and merchandise projects in their home country.
“We’re excited to see how it is when we go back and how big that show is going to be,” Dun says.