Better late than never.
Several decades behind schedule, hip-hop culture has finally conquered Latin America. At the forefront of this movement, mega viral artists such as Duki, Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, Bizarrap or Nicki Nicole reach hundreds of millions of monthly listeners.
Now, a rare new breed of young artists challenges our notion of what makes a hit song, combining elements from the 80s, 90s, 2000s and today. Rap, trap, cumbia, reggaeton, indie rock… Post Mortem, the new album by Argentine artist Dillom, 21, has it all. And the graphic and audiovisual material that accompanies his work does not fall behind.
By his side, a crew like no other: the Bohemian Groove label, run by Ignacio “Nacho” Caiella, and the artistic collective that it comprises, the RIP Gang.
But who is this young artist, outlined as a kind of Latino Eminem? Where do his elaborate, bilingual lyrics, packed with cultural references and sordid personal stories, come from? How do this little musical demon and his team achieve sound and video clips that hover above international standards?
“We sent the album to be mastered in Los Angeles,” says Santiago de Simeone, the 40-something year old guy in charge of mixing the sparkling new LP, during a talk at Cromo Música’s studio in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It shows in the final sound. It is impeccable.”
This is not an overstatement: the album is, indeed, flawless. And also, in its chemical formulation, it achieves an unexpected reaction, reconciling the hip-hop head, the avid rap fan, with indie genres, just as the Beastie Boys did for rock and rap years ago.
In his eclecticism, dwells one of Dillom’s greatest fortes.
Be Kind, Rewind
Although Dillom canvasses his life story in his lyrics, it’s not his favorite subject of conversation. In music, however, he finds catharsis.
“There is not much data out there about my own story, I don’t usually tell much,” he declares. “I don’t like being like, bringing up the subject of what’s happened to me in my life, makes me feel kinda dumb. But, well, my name is Dylan, I grew up with my parents, I was born in the Argentine neighborhood of Once [the most commercial and multi-ethnic neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina] and then I moved to Colegiales.”
At age 8, Dillom’s life was disrupted by his parents’ divorce. Although he does not love to admit it, the experience left a mark on him. From that moment on, his life would take quite turbulent and unexpected turns.
He recalls living back and forth between his mother’s and his father’s, while the latter built another family, with another woman. “My poor vieja [mom], she did what she could and got into some dark stuff, addiction and depression. She had several boyfriends who were kind of violent.” The unfavorable circumstances led his mother to get into situations of dubious lawfulness.
“And, well, one day, from all that running with the wrong crowd, she ended up stuck to a murky case and wound up in jail.”
Forced to move in with his father and his new family, Dillom would face a series of challenges that would end up with him sleeping at a public square.
As it turns out, the woman his father had married is a practicing Jew; “orthodox,” Dillom grants. Dad had also converted to Judaism.
Beyond the cultural distance, the young man felt constantly judged and never truly comfortable: “I felt very much an outsider in that world.”
“They became antiquated, full orthodox, and I was never orthodox. Like, not at all, not Jewish even,” reveals the artist. “And, well, I kind of had no choice but to live with them. But I had to follow their customs, they wouldn’t let me use my cell phone or even do my homework on Fridays because it was Shabbat. They wouldn’t even let me crack a joke.”
Although his life at his mother’s was not easy either, Dillom always liked it better there. At least with la mamma, he was free, he had his own room and space to do as he pleased. At dad’s, it was all sneaking around, hiding and lying. “They didn’t make it feel like a home,” he confirms.
The matter ended badly, a very messy ordeal. Dad said, “If you don’t like our rules, you can go.” And he gave Dylan three options: either he would go to Ushuaia [the deep Argentine South, similar to Alaska] to stay with family, or he would go to Misiones [up North, in the jungle] to stay with family, or he could go sleep on the street, at a public square.
“All I thought about was making a living out of music. So I said ‘no f*cking way am I gonna go live in Misiones or down South, in Ushuaia’. Like, it’s all good and all, but sadly there are not nearly as many opportunities as there can be in Buenos Aires.”
So that was that, and young Dylan marched down to the public square.
He lasted one night.
Luckily, a friend from elementary school with whom he’d recently reconnected invited him to stay at his place, with his mother and brother. Suddenly, Dillom had a family again, and one that he found agreeable.
To date, Dillom still lives with them, and he’s even planning to move the lot into a bigger house.
“Now that I am making money with this music business, my father’s wife suddenly agrees with me, time has proved me right,” he proudly proclaims. The resemblance is not lost on him: his story is reminiscent of that of redemption recounted by Eminem in the song Marshal Mathers:
For every million I make, another relative sues.
Family fightin’ and fussin’ over who wants to invite me to supper
All of a sudden, I got 90-some cousins
Like Eminem and many other artists, Dillom also turns to his personal experience when writing his lyrics. In Opa, he attests to his parents’ story quite reliably.
Mi mamá tomando merca, todo enfrente de mi cara
Y mi viejo después de eso me echó fuera de la casa
Pero si no fuera por eso, ahora no tendría nada,
Porque gracias a esa secuen'[cia] ahora estoy más pillo.
[My mom doing coke, right in my face
And after that my old man threw me out of the house.
But if it weren’t for that, now I’d have nothing,
‘Cause thanks to that struggle, I got streetwise]
Six Feet Under
Despite not being an instrumentalist in his current songs, Dillom was always a very musical boy. He began playing the bass at age 9.
“As a matter of fact, the day the police raided my house… I had my first show with a band that day; I was the DJ”, he recalls. “When there’s a raid they seize all storage devices, and I had the whole show in a pen drive. And I just told the cops, ‘I only need this, nothing else. You can go through it now, I have 18 files; check that there’s no confidential information in there and just let me take it with me, please’. And they were actually pretty cool about it. There was also an all-in-one computer, those where the CPU is inside the monitor, and the idiots thought it was just a monitor, so they left it. The raid lasted from 5 am till 3 pm. So I took a little nap and at night I played the show”.
How fancy Is Dillom?
-Ok, stop. For real, now. How “cheto” [fancy, rich, posh, well off…] are you?
— I was weird because I lived between two worlds, I was like Hannah Montana. I was going to a public school. My vieja [mom] and I had trouble to make ends meet; my vieja sold clothes in Parque Centenario and I accompanied her to the fair. My old man had nothing until he converted to the [Jewish] community… You see, one of the things that the community entails is that everyone helps each other a little.
The launch event for Post Mortem was set up like a funeral. There were even people hired to cry for Dillom’s “passing.” The swag accompanying the album launch included a vinyl version of the record, a photo album and some other fun things.
– What about your English? Why is it so good?
– A lot of video games. In addition, I am a huge fan and, at the same time, a lifelong student of American rap.
Walk The Line
“If she asks me, I’ll smack her,” says Dillom in his hit OPA, which has racked up over 30 million views in just 6 months. In the video, he’s seen wearing a leather harness, being whipped by a girl, in a sort of BDSM scenario. The key part of the phrase: “If she asks me.” Consent is everything.
“My money go dumb, tengo plata pelotuda,” he adds in his new single, Pelotuda. Again, in a subtlety lies its real meaning.
This phrase, had it had a comma between “plata” (money) and “pelotuda” [(fem.) “stupid”, but also an extremely usual vocative translatable to “dumbsh*t”] would translate as “I’ve got money, dumbsh*t”. This is what most people interpret and, given that “pelotuda” is feminine, it would be assumed he’s calling a woman a “dumbsh*t” -not a very popular stance these days. But since there is, however, no comma, it actually translates to “I’ve got stupid money”. So Dillom is really making Spanish wordplay out of an English expression. What a trip.
Like these, there are dozens of tricks and treats awaiting in the young musician’s lyrics. If there’s one thing he loves, it’s pushing the envelope. Walking that fine line is reserved only for the most focused, balanced minds of our time.
“I wanted to take advantage of that. It’s betting on something risky, but at the same time it’s safe, because it has a very logical explanation, so nobody can tell you anything because you’ll say ‘look, this is the real meaning of this bar.’”
“Obviously, there’s gonna be extremist, fully radical sectors that will get angry, but that’s not the people I make music for either. I mean, they’re not my target… A lot of people are saying that you can’t do humor anymore. And a lot of people’s answer to that is that you can still do humor, you just have to keep up with current times. And I feel that, right now, you can do that with a little ingenuity. I mean, this whole ‘If she asks, I’ll smack her’, it’s just taking two more minutes thinking how to phrase it so that it’s not something actually bad, but it does push the boundaries… I try to do very fine curatorial work in that sense.”
Everybody Loves Dillom
In Latin America, rap is either a young people thing or a niche genre. And, although this is changing fast, much of the mainstream and hipsters are not big fans of the scene.
Dillom, however, breaks those patterns.
“That’s my idea, covering a bit of everything, all those audiences, bringing them together. The youngsters, I’ve got them in my pocket, of course they listen to me. I’m super grateful, obviously. But being that Trap music is what’s popular with youths these days, young people are a given. What’s tougher is to get older people to listen to you. There’s nothing I love more than reading comments saying ‘Man, I’m 40 years old, and I love your music’”.
And he adds: “It’s been happening to me lately that I’m having flashbacks of songs I’d listen to in the car when I was four or five, and whose melody’s still in my head, and that influences my songs. It happens with Miranda [a legendary Argentine pop band] a lot. At that age, you can’t even discern what music you’re listening to, there are textures that you like, and you say ‘this is good’.”
The Elusive Joint
A lot of people ask me, stupid f*ckin’ questions.
A lot of people think that, what I say on record
Or what I talk about on a record
That I actually do in real life or that I believe in it
Or if I say that I wanna kill somebody
That I’m actually gonna do it or that I believe in it
This is the opening of Eminem’s Criminal. Here, Dillom finds a good way to explain his relationship with cannabis and why weed is featured in so many tracks on his new album despite him not currently being a regular cannabis consumer, in an environment where – oddly enough – almost everyone is.
“On this album, I mention many things that don’t necessarily have to be ongoing. If I had to rap about my current life, it’d be boring as hell, because I get up, do a skincare routine and I go to the office. I feel that, many times, in order to write one has to put oneself in a part of one’s timeline that most likely sucked ass”, he explains.
“Of course I can also have a bad day nowadays, suppose my aunt died and I write about it because it affected me, but I often regress to other times in my life… And so, I feel I gotta say it, talk about weed, because at another time in my life I did do it, at a time in my life I smoked like a madman. So f*ck it.”
But what was it that made Dillom lay off the herb?
Apparently, the pandemic had a lot to do with it. In the beginning of lockdown, young Dylan decided to buy an ounce of weed. “And I live in an apartment with my friend who rescued me from the street, his brother and his mother, who are like my assembled family. Living there is super comfortable, I get along and, I don’t know, living alone bores me.”
“I can smoke around the house, no drama. So I ordered an ounce, out of which I smoked one joint. I wasn’t a huge smoker, and maybe I’d have two puffs and start to overthink; I’d get this crazy anxiety and begin to feel like ‘they’re gonna realize I’m totally high.’ All mental. At one point I said, ‘why I’m I even smoking if I’m not enjoying it?’”
This doesn’t mean that Dillom never partakes. It’s just very occasional. Once in a while, in a social environment, his friends and crewmates Saramalacara and Muerejoven will slide him a joint, and he’ll give it one or two puffs.
Despite not being a frequent cannabis user, Dillom holds no stigma against it.
“I like to mess with Sara and Muere, who are very close buds of mine. I’ll go like Feinman [a notoriously anti-cannabis journalist] and say to them: ‘Oh, so you’re going to smoke some reefer? Huh?’ I think people wanting to smoke weed is completely fine. It hits me like sh*t, tho.”
“I would love, actually, to be able to smoke a joint and enjoy it like a champ, but I can’t to date, I have too many responsibilities. There are people who can handle responsibilities and weed; I can’t. And I feel that a lot of people can’t either, but they don’t realize it. There’s people who smoke and maybe go to work or do something and they’ll do a half-assed job, because they can’t manage it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who can handle it just fine.”
– Medical cannabis? Where do you stand on that?”
– Oh, no, medical… That’s not even up for debate. I’m obviously for it. What can tell someone who is having a seizure every five minutes? I’m in no position to judge that person.
On Psychedelics And Fame
“I like hallucinogenic mushrooms. I am very respectful of that too, because I am someone who tends to dissociate a lot. So it’s like, I love doing it, I have a great time, but I always try to do it in a special environment, where I turn off my cell phone,” reveals Dillom when opening up about psychedelics.
“Being a very public figure, I also tend to look at my cell phone on reflex, so I might just see a message that totally ruins my mood. I don’t know, it makes me feel like I’m being spied on”.
Dillom and his friends from the RIP Gang talk about it often. How do you deal with fame at such a young age?
“In our line of work, you shouldn’t ask yourself too many questions. You have to do, and that’s it. If you start asking questions, you’re f*cked, because you start to think that you are a dumbsh*t for posting this or that.”
And he connects it with the matter of psychedelics: “I feel that there are certain drugs that make me ask too many questions and, personally, that doesn’t work for me. So, well, I love psychedelics, but I like doing it in a place where I don’t have my cell phone on me, don’t have anything on me, just being in contact with nature and that’s it.”
G-Rated Dillom: All Ages Admited
In view of the many controversial topics he touches on, Dillom was bound to piss off quite a few people. Interestingly, in these experiences the artist found a new opportunity to broaden his audience.
During a show called Altavoz, a very young girl sang a fragment from OPA. In this bit of the song, Dillom makes reference to drugs: “My opponents are half opaque / I smoke it with Cocaine* / And if you want what I have, I’ve got the plug.” [*Cocaine was actually his dog’s name]
Outraged at hearing a girl sing about cocaine and dealers, several people in the media charged on Dillom.
“At first I wanted to punch back out of reflex, ‘cause they kinda pissed me off. On the second round, I said ‘I’m going to use all of this in my favor.’ And the truth is, it turned out great, it turned out perfect. It was one of the best marketing moves we made to promote the album,” he says, referring to the kid friendly version of OPA, released a few weeks ago.
“I always think of the kids. In fact, when OPA came out, I knew it was going to be screwed up for the kids. But when I was a kid, what I wanted to hear the most were those kinds of lyrics. Maybe I didn’t even know what they meant, but that’s the way it is: I liked songs that had bad words on them”.
Natalia Kesselman contributed to this report.