On Latin Hip-Hop

Calle 13
Calle 13

I’ve been thinking a lot about Spanish-language — or, if you prefer, Latin — hip-hop, lately. Perhaps it’s because I seeing gains by artists I can call friends, such as Los Rakas from Oakland, Calif. (Also this. The band led by Tony-winner Tray Anastasio, of Phish fame, covered Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux? Whaaaaa?)

A recent article in The New York Times and a segment on NPR’s Alt.Latino also prompted me to reflect where the genre has been and where it’s going (as well as growing.)

The Times’ Jon Pareles interviewed René Pérez Joglar and Eduardo Cabra Martínez from Calle 13 in advance of their forthcoming album, Multi_Viral (March 1).

Check out this excerpt from the Feb. 21 piece:

From its debut album in 2005, Calle 13 has spurned genres. It dabbled in the Puerto Rican hip-hop called reggaeton but refused to be bound by it. Since then the duo has constantly expanded its music, drawing on the folkloric, the electronic and the orchestral, mixing from a world of sources — discovered in the course of their ever-expanding tour circuit and lately, Mr. Cabra said, on YouTube.

Calle 13 has won 19 Latin Grammys, more than any other act, and it has rallied international audiences with songs that hold messages of solidarity, sympathy for the hard-working poor and demands for freedom and individuality, like the Andean-flavored “Latinoaméricano.” Calle 13 keeps its distance from party politics, but not from hot-button issues: Mr. Pérez strongly supports Puerto Rican independence, regularly describing the island as a colony of the United States.

“I think every musician has a responsibility when they are making music,” Mr. Pérez said. “Sometimes people are hard on you because you say things. But I prefer that, rather than to be an artist that does not say anything and that’s why people like you. It’s almost like you’re invisible. There is a lot of music going on that for me is invisible.”

Pareles also chatted with colleague Ben Ratliff about the band’s impact and political activism via their music in this Times’ “Popcast.” Listen here.

Over at Alt.Latino, hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras invited Latin music blogger Juan Data, as well as a pioneer of Mexican hip-hop, rapper Bocafloja, to discuss how hip-hop trickled into Latin America, changing the music scene forever.

Juan Data brought up Mellowman’s “Mentirosa.” Remember that song? Blast from the past. Listen to “How Hip-Hop Changed Latin Music Foreverhere. (And check out this October 2013 Alt.Latino segment on the women of Latin hip-hop.)

Though the number of Latin hip hop artists has increased, and the genre’s profile is somewhat raised, it’s important to support independent artists for several reasons. Mostly, because I’m sure the mainstream public can’t tell the difference between Latin hip-hop, reggaeton, bachata, and so on.

Supporting indie artists is also a way to find fresh, new music – a godsend since it’s not the same old reggaeton/urbano songs played one million times on the Spanish language radio stations.

I always tell folks to listen to Los Rakas, a duo out of Oakland, Calif., via Panama, that I’ve worked with in the past. The pair’s profile keeps rising and they have a dual album and some other exciting stuff on the horizon.

In the meantime, check out their song, “Hot,” currently playing in the video game, FIFA ’14. That’s big!

Last year, a Chicago-based DJ friend (Christian Vera of Soulphonetics) hipped me to an artist by the name of The Color Brown. Real name Ruben Borrero, Color Brown was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Chi-town.

I love this quote he gave Northeastern’s Independent when asked about the name, “The Color Brown.”

“After coming to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, I had a newfound love for the Latino culture in general. Not only Puerto Ricans, but also Mexicans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Colombians, Venezuelans—just everybody that identifies themselves with this mix of cultures that have to go through the same struggles in this country, regardless of their country of origin. I also realized that white Americans often referred to us as “brown” people not as an offense, but as a way to categorize us. I guess “The Color Brown” is an attempt to re-conquer this word and this color that all Latinos share in common in one way or another. It is, in short, my tribute to the struggle of all those brown people in the United States.”

That’s what it’s all about, especially the part about loving the Latino culture as a whole.

The Color Brown has a new song, La Excepción (free download!). With a backing beat by J.Cole, the song is about working hard by any means necessary to make it, no exceptions. Listen to the track below.

*** Update, Feb. 27: After I posted this story, I was contacted by some reggae/hip hop artists from Chile! They’re called Sur Flow (Southern Flow) and their song, “Old School,” is on the raggamuffin tip! Good stuff that brings me back to college parties in the late 1990s.

Here are just a few Latin hip hop artists I recommend:

Choquibtown, Bomba Estereo, Ephniko, La Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux, Chingo Bling.

MTV Iggy has a good list here. And these ladies below.

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