Thunderous bass, percussive vocals, unexpected samples, and the tamborzão beat distorting through your phone speakers as you scroll through TikTok. That’s the modern age of funk carioca, which, despite translating to “funk from Rio,” doesn’t sound like funk music at all.
Funk carioca, also known as baile funk or Brazilian funk, is edgy, abrasive, and addictive; it sounds like hip-hop colliding with bass music at a rave and has recently achieved viral success, especially on TikTok.
@shonci more brazilian funk 😈😈😈🇧🇷🇧🇷🇧🇷 #funkbrasil #brazilianfunk #brazilianphonk ♬ original sound – shonci
Even Travis Scott’s recent track “K-Pop” featuring Bad Bunny and The Weeknd draws inspiration from funk carioca.
So what is funk carioca? And how did it get so popular?
Origin & Evolution
Brazil has long had a culture of outdoor parties with enormous sound systems, known as baile funk.
@andre.batistta Quando o Dj acerta a virada do beat… #baile #bailefunk #helipaeofluxo #mandelao #dj #helipa ♬ som original – Andre ☯️
In the 60s and 70s, these parties mainly featured rock, jazz, soul, and funk records from around the world. As Brazil’s military dictatorship waned in the late 70’s, new kinds of foreign music entered in waves. This fresh infusion of Miami bass, electro, and New York freestyle records was collectively called baile funk.
DJ Marlboro noticed the hype and began to blend these new sounds with already popular funk and soul records layered with Afro-Brazilian beats. The 1989 release of his album Funk Brasil is considered the beginning of funk carioca as a genre.
DJ Marlboro credits Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s track “Planet Rock” as his primary influence for funk carioca. If you listen to these two examples side-by-side, you can definitely hear the influence. Interestingly, “Planet Rock” is an homage to the German electronic band Kraftwerk.
In the early days, some DJs used drum loops from Miami bass or freestyle records, while others opted to play their own beats live on drum machines. There were minimal melodies or none at all. DJs and MCs often shared the stage, with the MC hyping up the crowd to dance. Experimentation and innovation played out at parties as DJs could see what made partygoers shake their stuff in real-time. They tested out new genres, records, samples, and rhythms, eventually landing on their own recipes that never failed to get the party started.
The sound of funk carioca is tailor-made for the bailes funk and block parties, so it is a kind of dance music. But because of Brazil’s immense cultural and geographical diversity, many subgenres of funk carioca formed, each with its own characteristics. Some lean more into hip-hop or more into rave music. Some are heavily sample-based, while others use entirely original sounds.
Funk carioca and the bailes funk took the favelas by storm. However, due to the underground nature of the bailes funk and the social inequities in Brazil, it largely remained sequestered as party organizers and partygoers were continually targeted by police and legislatures.
In 1998, DJ Luciano Oliveira ushered in a new era of funk carioca by tapping out rhythms on a drum machine that would typically be played on the atabaque drum. Combining the traditional rhythms of capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art), Candomblé religious ritual dances, and Maculelê (an Afro-Brazilian stick dance) with hip-hop and Miami bass created the now dominant Tamborzão rhythm.
At this point, funk carioca was gaining popularity beyond the favelas via pirate CDs and radio. Independent record labels dedicated to funk carioca began to emerge. Artists like MC Batata, Cidinho & Doca, MC Marcinho released tracks that achieved national success, propelling the underground sound to mainstream popularity.
As funk carioca gained traction, Brazilian lawmakers continued criminalizing Bailes Funk, strictly forbidding the parties in all territories that police could access, meaning the bailes could only be held in the farthest reaches of the favelas.
Funk carioca is more of an umbrella than a set genre with defined rules. Artists and their music often have a rebellious and anarchistic quality. Whether plundering the internet for samples where absolutely nothing is off-limits or blasting out tracks at speaker and ear-drum-busting volumes, there’s an enthusiasm to push things to extremes.
In our new chronically online era, funk carioca is reaching people worldwide for the first time who are equally perplexed and fascinated by this chaotic and addictive hip-hop dance music hybrid.
2000s to TikTok
Brazil’s rich musical heritage has long had international appeal, so it’s no surprise that DJs and producers outside of Brazil have been fascinated by funk carioca. A larger global audience got a taste of it in 2005 with M.I.A. and Diplo’s funk carioca-inspired releases like “Bucky Done Gun.”
I was a fan of Sango’s early funk carioca-infused tracks like Agorinha.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, funk carioca continued spawning subgenres while gaining more mainstream success with artists like Ludmilla, Tati Quebra Barraco, and probably the most famous, Anitta.
Although a handful of funk carioca artists have risen to global fame, they might not be responsible for the genre’s popularity on TikTok. Anitta, for example, has a much more pop-polished sound and often sings in Spanish instead of Portuguese. She’s part of a surge in popularity of Latin pop music alongside artists like J Balvin, Bad Bunny, and Rosalia, more than a representation of Brazil or funk carioca.
#funkbrasil has an astounding 6.8 BILLION views on TikTok at the time of writing this article. Why is it so popular online?
Aside from the fact that TikTok is most famous for viral dance challenges, which funk carioca is perfect for, it has a certain rawness that’s valued on TikTok and makes it stand out from other genres, especially with our growing hunger for novelty and creativity.
Funk carioca is rebellious, taking pride in breaking the rules and flipping something on its head.
Whether it’s a sample of a weird sound you’ve never heard used in a musical context or an out-of-pocket mashup of “Fergalicious”, there’s something about funk carioca that keeps you guessing.
It’s actually a lot like meme culture itself. There’s something familiar about it: a loose format that holds for a while until someone comes along to flip it upside down. Funk carioca is serious but doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is still mostly about having a good time and chasing new sounds.
So, funk carioca is uniquely well-suited to the modern era of memes and TikTok. The element of the unexpected keeps it fresh, while the rebellious, playful, and meme-y nature has a global appeal.
That’s it for our primer on funk carioca!
I’ll wrap this up with a few more tunes for you to check out:
billdifferen. “What in the Honest Funk? My Eye-Opening Experience with Baile Funk in 2021.” Finals, 18 Dec. 2021, finals.blog/posts/WHAT-IN-THE-HONEST-FUNK-My-Eye-Opening-Experience-with-Baile-Funk-in-2021.
Garcia, Raphael Tsavkko. “Baile Funk: The Criminalisation of Brazil’s Funk Scene.” DJMag.Com, 2 Oct. 2020, djmag.com/longreads/baile-funk-criminalisation-brazils-funk-scene.
Ivanovici, Tatiana, director. TAMBORZÃO Baile Funk Beats, MTV/YouTube, 2006, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvZhwcFJ_aw.
Maia, Felipe. “‘If It Doesn’t Smell like Funk, Something’s Wrong with Your Recipe’: Brazilian Baile Funk Goes Global, Again.” The Guardian, 14 Nov. 2023, www.theguardian.com/music/2023/nov/14/if-it-doesnt-smell-like-funk-somethings-wrong-with-your-recipe-brazilian-baile-funk-goes-global-again.
Ribeiro, Eduardo. “A História Do ‘Tamborzão’, a Levada Que Deu Cara Ao Ritmo Do Funk Carioca.” VICE, 20 Aug. 2014, www.vice.com/pt/article/rjm9ak/a-historia-do-tamborzao-a-levada-que-deu-cara-ao-ritmo-do-funk-carioca.
Smith, Nadine. “An Introduction to Baile Funk’s Abrasive, Addictive New Wave.” The FADER, 31 Aug. 2023, www.thefader.com/2023/08/31/baile-funk-introduction-primer-dj-k-badsista-d-silvestre-dj-k-dj-ramemes-mc-lan.