Bezerra da Silva played zabumba as a child and sang coco in Recife. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1942, and in 1950, Rádio Clube do Brasil hired him as a session musician. In 1960 he became a member of the Orquestra Copacabana Discos of Sao Paulo, and in the 1970s and 1980s he performed with the Orquestra da TV Globo. He recorded his first singles in 1969, and went on to release 30 albums over the course of his career, charting many hits in his native country. His music often deals with political and social issues, touching on gang violence, the drug trade, and the law.
Bezerra became known for recording sambas from unfamed and marginalized composers, which were often people living in difficulties and dealing with criminal environments, who wrote with sharp irony. The label sambandido (samba + bandit) was sometimes used to refer to his work, and he strongly disliked the word. One of his greatest hits, which was rerecorded several times by various artists, is Malandragem Dá Um Tempo, whose chorus is I'm going to roll, but I won't light it now, an allusion to the efforts marijuana users make in order to avoid the law.