To understand the birth of Spain-based hip-hop collective Ziontifik, you have to go back to the gritty early ‘90s rap of New York City.
“While other kids were listening to Spanish rap, we were listening to stuff from the States,” says Danilo Amerise (aka Dano), the group’s CEO, MC, producer and video director. “We try to make it as similar as possible, in the content, videos, pictures, arrangements — all the things that made you fall in love listening to [those] albums.”
Formed a dozen or so years ago by Dano (@danoziontifik) and his friends (“We all met in the city, like the movie Kids,” he says), Ziontifik is composed of five additional MCs, a DJ, two photographer/filmmakers and a designer. The crew is in charge of putting out its own albums, videos and artwork. “It sounds like we made our own thing because nobody gave us a chance, but it was more of ‘Let’s not ask anybody for anything,’” he says. Aside from musical skills, the Buenos Aires, Argentina, native has a background in graphic design after studying it in high school (he dropped out just before graduation to hit the studio). Sonically, he takes cues from urban architecture, which he often photographs mirrored in reflections or cut with shadows.
“The idea of structure and rhythm was always in my head,” he says. “One side of every picture has to have a sense in line with the others. My girlfriend said, ‘It’s like trying to make colors rhyme.’ She blew my mind.”
Now 30 years old, Dano’s style has evolved to reward both casual and scrutinizing fans, musically and visually. “It’s seductive because I’m not really showing things in an easy way,” he says. “There’s a surface and another deep level.”
Soon, American audiences will get a change to glimpse into Dano’s “inner world,” lyrically. “I’m making a mixtape, not rapping but singing, all in English,” he says. “It’s going to be a little introduction to a broader public.” And it’s the perfect time, thanks to the connections Dano’s made in his current home. In the last few years, there’s been an explosion of talent in Spain, with new groups self-producing and putting out their own material. “You can hear a producer and he might be from New York or a little town in the south of Spain,” he says. “It’s beautiful. If you’re lucky enough to surround yourself with that kind of talent, you gotta use it.”
––Dan Reilly for Instagram @music