LIZZ Forges an Imperio for the Future of Chilean Hip-Hop

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On her Imperio EP, Chilean rapper, producer, and DJ LIZZ (aka Elisa Espinoza) imagines a post apocalyptic future in which terrestrial life as we know it is no longer viable, and humans take refuge underground. In this subterranean future, Espinoza explains, society revolves around humanistic values and not financial power — a vision that touches on the core of many activistic initiatives in present-day Chile.

Musically, the EP blends the staple trap sonics with sparkling melodic lines and warbling synths, brushing brusque beats with an opalescent patina. LIZZ alternates between rapping and singing in Spanish and English with a confident, laid-back flow, though tracks like “Chacal” and “Pasado” leave instrumental room to showcase her productions.

As a kid, Espinoza dreamed of a future bathed in chrome silver, an apparent inspiration for the album art of Imperio Vol. 1, on which LIZZ poses in front of a gleaming BMW sedan in an industrial wasteland, dressed in a chrome leotard and wearing platinum blonde hair.

Citing a wealth of disparate inspirations from fantastical anime to the electrotypic aesthetics of soft-porn, Espinoza is a self-professed child of the Internet. While Chile as a nation struggles to define itself culturally, many artists like herself prefer to inhabit the digital realm, molding their artistic identities from cultural mélanges of mainstream and underground web content.

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Espinoza explains that the imagery surrounding LIZZ—futuristic, stylized, and hyper-sexualized — are obviously characterizations, as well as social criticisms of Chile’s social and economic disparities. But Espinoza works simultaneously fit and challenge the role of DJ/producer, as cultural agitations are often received poorly by some of Santiago’s illiberal audiences in the male-dominated DJ community.

“When guys go on stage, they’re automatically considered to be ‘good,’ but women can’t play a single track without being criticized,” says Espinoza. “Whenever I DJ, people ask, ‘Is she even good?,’ ‘She’s too pretty to be a DJ,’ and ‘Does she make her own music?’” Espinoza says that she’s felt much more respected in countries like Mexico, where electronic labels and collectives like NAAFI support their artists’ non-normative expressions and their parties’ inclusive environments. But LIZZ’s DJ sets are good. She seamlessly blends the ubiquitous, crowd-pleasing reggaeton with throwback hip-hop and the latest trap hits, to which Chilean crowds are slowly becoming accustomed.

The growth, however, of Chile’s own small, focused collectives is creating new spaces for younger artists wanting to challenge social conservatism while bridging Chile to the rest of the world. It’s a tenacious scene, but one which shouldn’t be overlooked when considering a dominating consumeristic influence on Chile’s popular music culture. We spoke with Espinoza briefly about some of these upstart movements, her outlook for the future of Chilean music, and her artistic identity as and outside of LIZZ.

How would you describe your musical community, and is there prospect for its growth in the future? Who are the important artists in that world?

It’s evident that each year the scene has strengthen and grown, not only in terms of la black music*, but also in all the other new niches and in old school.  There are several people keeping up with their own musical branches throwing parties, producing, and building audiences, all of whom have moved forward under the simple idea of “doing something.”

More then the exposure or money, maintaining a perpetual flow of music within the scene promises a future in which a much more concrete and formed community will be appreciated in Chile and abroad.  It’s already happening that each year, DJs, musicians, and producers are expanding their borders, so logically, the future of our musical evolution will be good, and that’s something super encouraging for the new generations of the next bebes músicos.

Within the scene, there are various standout artists, but more than anything I want to mention the collectives: los chicos from Cazeria Cazador, Dubcoll, Discos Pato Carlos, the Club Sauna team, Frenesí, Diamante Records, Nación Triizy, mis homies Ceaese from KSN Fam, Wildcat, Bronko Yotte, Zonora Point, (Jaez Manuel and Camilicci) las gis que ha hecho DJ Dacel (Beatminds) y el mismo como músico, la Tomasa del Real, Marineros, Fármacos, Playa Gótica, and I could go on…these people and many others do whatever they want to do musically, and have signified a large part of what we now call a scene, without mentioning many others in Santiago, Concepción (Discos Cetáceos), Iquique (The Hommies), and well, Chile is bacán.

*a catchall term in Chile for genres with roots in black America, including hip-hop, R&B, and soul

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It seems that you’ve found a niche between trap music, originally from Atlanta, and reggaeton, originally from the Caribbean. Do you think that the merging of these styles could be a new Chilean sound?

I think it’s already happening, and it can’t be claimed as a new Chilean sound since in the end, as a country, we are the summary of all the information that comes to us from the outside. We’re everything at the same time. Although we don’t have a traditional “Chilean” musical identity that defines us culturally, we’ve created a multicultural, varied Chile, which advances with what’s happening right in this moment. We’re on the vanguard, first, because we’re the Internet.

Do you have any internal conflicts between the persona of LIZZ and the Elisa of the other dimension, or of the more relatively “real” life? 

Truthfully, I only tend to separate my work from my life itself. More than having two personas or two realities, it’s about clarifying the objectives in my music and other projects. It’s all connected, either writing text for an exposition, planning a new EP, writing a direction for a video, or doing art direction for an ad spot. I’m Elisa a.k.a. LIZZ for those who know me, my friends. And for those who don’t know me, I’m just LIZZ.

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What are your musical plans for 2016?

This year I’m going to release the second volume of the Imperio EP, and after that more video clips for “Chacal,” “Piscis,” “21,” “INTRO,” and “Noche.” I’m going to go to Mexico again, to Argentina, and if everything goes well we’re planning to do a special video for the EP release. Also a track with Coral Casino which is ready, and another which we did with CEAESE for his new album Local Trap Stars. And a surprise remix compilation!

You can check out LIZZ on all of the relevant social engines: Facebook, SoundCloud, Tumblr, and her website

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