Latinx Film and Media

From Mambo to Hip-Hop and Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone

Entry Question 

Before watching From Mambo to Hip-Hop and/or reading “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone,” did your conception of Hip-Hop include other cultural groups besides African Americans? Why? Why not?

A Hip-Hop Definition

Raquel Z. Rivera, Puerto Rican author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, argues that “hip hop is most often historically defined in terms of music, visual arts (graffiti), and dance (breaking, popping, locking, rocking). Language, mannerisms, fashion, and other expressions of culture are considered by some to also be defining aspects of hip-hop. Hip hop, like earlier cultural expressions, has in many senses served as a bridge between Puerto Ricans, other Latina/os, West Indians, and African Americans.” (354)

Davey D Cook, an African American who grew up during this time in the South Bronx, explains: “Hip Hop was multicultural in the sense that it was Blacks and Puerto Ricans who put this whole thing down. We lived next to each other and, for the most part, shared the same urban problems. We also shared the same legacy of exploitation, oppression, and colonization.” (354)

When New York Puerto Rican youngsters began participating alongside African Americans in the early development of MCing as a lyrical/musical style, they were not exactly “defecting” from Puerto Rican tradition. Regarding social function and aesthetics, Puerto Rican oral and musical styles can be invoked as precursors of MCing as much as African American ones.

Island musical traditions like plena, bomba, and música jíbara can be invoked just as easily among rap’s forebears. Verbal duels featuring boasting, trading insults, sexual innuendoes, and improvisation are common in all three. Like rap, they are notorious for historicizing everyday events.

What would breakbeats be without the decades-old influence of Puerto Rican and Cuban musical traditions on African Americans in New York City? Those timbales and conga solos that were the heart of so many breakbeats got into soul and funk records from Africa via the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. (357)


Adams,Kianna Alexia

Griffiths,Alaynna Natasha


In her essay, “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip Hop Zone,” Raquel Z. Rivera argues that the Puerto Rican input to Hip Hop has been depreciated or plainly erased because of ethnic and racial constructions in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America. There is a marketing factor to the Puerto Rican exclusion. The U.S. music industry and the media centralized English-speaking African Americans over Puerto Ricans and Latinxs. But Rivera also posits that although conceived as multi-cultural and multi-racial, the Puerto Rican and Latinx identities (formed collectively) tend to reject the African heritage while celebrating Europeanness. This social process has created a false cultural divide between African Americans and Puerto Ricans. (352)

In the mid-1980s, as graffiti and the “breakdancing” craze faded into the media background, hip-hop became commercial popular music and was thought of as almost exclusively African American.  Back then [the 1980s], rap’s blackness was a big part of its commercial appeal. But it was not clear if Latina/os were a lighter version of black or not black at all. The industry gatekeepers were not often willing to take a risk by signing Latina/os. That is, until Latina/os, particularly Boricuas, became a ghetto-tropical fad in the mid-1990s. Then it became trendy for Latina/os and non-Latina/os to include words in Spanish and references to Latina/os in rhymes and have Butta Pecan Rican mamis adorning videos. (355)

Group Discussion 

How does From Mambo to Hip Hop show this joint Afro-Diasporic cultural movement?

Which testimonies better represented the cross-cultural dynamics of hip-hop as described by Raquel Z. Rivera?