Latino Hip Hop: The Complexity of Challenging the Status Quo

Curator's Note

Latina/o media and popular culture is in a moment of dynamic transition and flux. With the Latino population growing faster than any other ethnic and racial group, it is no surprise that major conglomerates are increasingly targeting the Latino audience not only in the United States, but also across the Americas. Within this context, there is a growth of Spanish-language and Latino media outlets and opportunities for artistic expression, especially in communities in the US that have historically not had such outlets. Yet as many marketers find their way to the sector, there is increasing pressure towards profits and commercialism, which often limits the potential of politically or culturally provocative and progressive content. Instead, there is a tendency to provide packaged programming that fails to address local community issues, the transnational character of Latino communities, or speak to the globalized social realities (both the challenges and opportunities) that many Latinos face. Kinto Sol, the featured Latino hip hop rappers in this 2006 video, are part of an evolving style of Spanish-language and bilingual hip hop/rap that aims to address the complexity of the Latina/o life on a transnational plane, while reinterpreting what it means to be “Latino” as well as hip hop/rap artists. They aim to challenge the status quo and the ways in which Latinos are imagined by mainstream media producers and society, and their music emphasizes that bilingualism, transnationalism, and immigration are central to Chicano/Latino identity. Kinto Sol is similar to other Latino artists (across media genres) who are responsive to the multiple histories, cultures, political and economic locations and creative talents of Latino communities. Yet despite the Chicano/Latino pride that the group represents in an era when being immigrant and Mexican is demonized, it is still important to question if their work dismantles one form of oppression, racism, while failing to challenge another, patriarchy and sexism, which mainstream hip hop and rap (and now reggaeton) continuously accentuate.


Interesting piece, Mari. While I don't see much in this clip to indicate an affirmation of patriarchy and sexism (though this might be more evident from their lyrics, which, to my detriment, I do not understand), I am curious about the history of "brown hip-hop". Is there the same kind of diversity of content and styles within Spanish hip-hop as there is within the black hip-hop community? If so, is Kinto Sol merely the "crossover" commercially-viable face of a far more complex and diverse cultural practice?

I've thought about this question as well. I still see painfully few examples of Latinas as strong, multidimensional, and what we might consider "hip" in the U.S.-driven media, even while Latino hip hop, reggaeton, and other youth-focused music forms are beginning to reach global audiences. The female veejays on SiTV and in other venues targeting young Latinos are some of the few exceptions that I've witnessed. One question that comes to mind is why there is so little critique heard of the typically patriarchal and sexist stance in this music and accompanying videos? Is the sexism in Latino hip hop unique from that which might be found in hip hop created in other cultural communities? And is it difficult to criticize these representations because they result in mainstream visibility for Latino musical artists?

In the 1980s, in the Mexican cultural scene, rap and hip-hop have been marginalized in the music industry that was controlled overwhelmingly by corporations connected or own by Televisa Group that were making profits largely with the Pop and Rock En Español musical genres. In the mid 1980s the corporate musical entities supported the Grupo Calo a rap/pop group that gained massive popularity with the purpose of domesticated and sanitized any considered “dangerous or subversive” properties of the rap and hip-hop musical trends. Since the early 1990s the musical alternative scene brought Santa Sabina and La Maldita Vecindad that promoted an urban rock scene that recognized their U.S. Latino musical trends and ties (Pachuco). But it was the surge of the groups Molotov and Control Machete who brought a rock/hip-hop powerful and commercially exploitable musical trend. These groups related their musical lyrics to the brutal social and political national realities and recognized their transnational implications by singing “Give me the power, Para que te demos en la madre.” However, the virulent lyrics particularly from Molotov against the social and political status quo have been framed under an assumed sexists and arguably homophobic positions. The process of musical and social “liberation” within the lyrics seems to stress a very masculine characteristic of the process. The use of derogatory terms, used against homosexuals in Mexican history, is pervasive in Molotov lyrics with the assumed intention of targeting the cowards and dishonest Mexican politicians. In cultural terms Molotov, maybe the most recognizable band from Mexico in the U.S. Latino cultural scene also embodies such as Mari Castañeda pointed out the paradox of an assumed “masculine” characteristic of a liberation from oppression processes, while intentionally or not, using “femininity” as an imagined “submissive political and social” property ready to be scorned.

All of your reflections and comments are important as we move forward in our understanding the complexity of what is happening within Latino media, and more specifically, how it impacts Latina/o communities. I work with a various Latino non-profits, and they've started using reggaeton and hip hop as method for engaging the youth, but some of the lyrics these kids produce are incredibly problematic. I've been working towards getting the CBOs and youth to think reflectively about how the music (and sometimes videos) they produce reinforce other forms of oppression. In many ways, this was my inspiration for using the Kinto Sol clip - not so much because they are an oppressive group, but how the move towards hip hop, rap and now reggaeton in communities are sometimes not questioned in the ways in which certain ideological positions are reinforced, and thus, limiting the possibility of liberation...

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