Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey

Hip Hop in Colombia, Cuba, and México- Arango Garcia, Gates, and Tickner

Entry Question

Why do you think is important to think of Hip Hop as a Latin American musical genre too?

Hip Hop and Latin America

Hip Hop resonates in Latin America and the Caribbean because of its legacy of colonialism and slavery. There is a rich oral tradition in the region connected to the stories of people with African roots. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa — up to 70 percent of the population in some countries. The region imported over ten times as many slaves as the United States and kept them in bondage far longer. Hip Hop in Latin America reminds us how the African cultural contribution is often forgotten or ignored.

Contextualizing Hip Hop 

Hip-hop exhibits a series of shared meanings and aesthetics that confirm the existence of a translocal network of cultural practices. The lyrical content of rap, especially, provides words, resources, and knowledge for articulating similar but not identical lived problems encountered in distinct places and times. The basic common denominator of this translocal space is the shared experience of marginality, understood as racial and ethnic discrimination, poverty, violence, and hardship. Hip-hop’s location in everyday life problems, however, also generates strong variations in local narratives, depending on the specific cultural contexts in which it is inscribed.  (Tickner 130)

Oral/Slide Presentations



Portillo-Carrillo,Laura A.

Ricketts,Javaun Anthony

Historical Context by Arlene Tickner

.Cuba’s isolation because of the U.S. embargo hindered hip-hop’s direct arrival via the culture industry. In the 1980s, however, television programs such as Soul Train and numerous U.S. radio stations, which Cubans heard through makeshift antennas, were received throughout the country. The 1980 Mariel boatlift, which permitted many Cubans to migrate northward, increased the circulation of cultural goods, such as cassettes and music videos, between the two countries. (129)

In the mid-1990s, the liberalization of foreign investment in Cuba, combined with the boom in world music sales, brought an upsurge in global music label contracts with Cuban musicians. (131)

.In Mexico, national and international media and record labels have been relatively uninterested in local hip-hop production, so that its expansion, development, and visibility to the public have been considerably less significant than in Cuba. The lack of public exposure led hip-hoppers to explore alternative venues for disseminating the genre. (132)

.In Colombia, hip-hop has enjoyed relatively ample media coverage nationally but has failed to attract similar levels of international press and record label attention. As in Cuba and Mexico, the mid-1990s constituted a turning point, when the genre gained recognition and an international market. (133)

-Arlene Tickner, “Aquí en el barrio”

Case Studies

I. Colombia

The song narrates a story of sadness and despair that characterizes everyday life in a poor and violent neighborhood in Bogota. The characters include a homeless man; a prostitute arrested for the umpteenth time for drug possession; her small children, who are forced to earn a living cleaning car windshields at stoplights; and an innocent youth unfairly accused of trying to steal an expensive car and then shot down and killed by the corrupt police. (134)

How this song by La Etnia compares to what the film La Playa D.C. depicts?

II. Cuba

The song is narrated by a black schoolboy who is the son of a construction worker. In subsequent verses, his awareness of class difference is apparent in the way he describes himself in comparison to the sons of doctors, who wear Adidas shoes and expensive cologne. At school, the narrator is the object of negative stereotypes associated with his race and social standing, among them thief, poor student, dishonest, and dis- respectful. In contrast, the doctor’s son is treated with veneration and respect. When the teachers discover that some math tests have been stolen, the black schoolboy claims that they automatically blame him, joking that the only reason he passed was that he cheated. Through this account, Clan 537 calls attention to problems of social inequality and racial discrimination. The song’s constant referral to the construction worker’s son as negro points to the role that race has played in the differential treatment of black people in Cuban society. (131)

Does this critique match what the rappers in Gates’ documentary series argued?

(Watch 47:41-51:15)

III. Mexico

In this song, Control Machete speaks about the violence characteristic of urban youth, as well as the anger and resentment associated with being poor and living near the U.S.-Mexican border. Throughout the narrative, being Mexican is vindicated through reference to local icons such as Pancho Villa and threatening language directed toward an invisible listener. As the song progresses, it becomes clearer that the “other” toward whom Control Machete’s rage is directed is the United States. In reference to U.S. border controls and police aggression, one of the rappers asserts, “what, you’re going to build a wall? We know how to drill. Don’t think for a minute that you’ll stop me!” Later on, he avenges dis- crimination against Mexicans by promising that he will be “sitting in your kitchen smoking a cigarette and drinking tequila, watching your television and eating your food.”

What thematic elements are distinct of Control Machete in relation to the other examples?