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Nilo MC

Along with los Orishas, Nilo MC is one of the leaders in Cuban hip-hop, an unsanctioned music so deeply underground that only expatriates have much of a chance of being heard. Born Nilo Castillo in the rough Marianao district of Havana, he grew up in an artistic family (his mother danced at the Tropicana cabaret) and initially made his living as a painter. He listened to Cuban music growing up, but was galvanized by an encounter with Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet album, and began composing his own raps in 1989. In 1992, armed with a letter of recommendation from an art gallery, Castillo traveled to Ecuador, where he recorded an album called Hora Cero in 1995. Never officially released, it remains available only as a bootleg cassette circulating in Havana's musical underground. Castillo later went to Germany, where he hooked up with producer Bernd Kunz (of trip-hop act A Forest Mighty Black). The two went to Madrid in early 1998 and recorded the demo album Coconuts (which, again, was not officially released). Splitting time between Madrid and Berlin, Castillo worked part-time as a DJ in the latter city, and made some connections in the former's hip-hop scene, including producer Juanjo Valmarisco. With Valmarisco at the helm, Castillo finally released his first official album as Nilo MC, Guajiro del Asfalto, on Virgin subsidiary Chewaka in early 2002; it was nominated for Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album at the third Latin Grammy Awards. ~ Steve Huey
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