Healing Hip-Hops Racial WoundsBetween Blacks and Browns, That Is
doesnt recognize haters.
Haters within a
culture of love are traitors.
Gospel of Hip-Hop. New York: powerHouse Books, 2009, p. 395.
A few weeks back AllHipHop.com ran a feature news report, Rap Group
Calle 13 Dominates Latin Grammys, celebrating its recent sweep of 5
awards, including album of the year and best urban album of the year, at
the 2009 Latin Grammy Awards ceremony. The courageous
duo, unlike certain rappers I know, decided to use this prestigious
platform not as a soapbox upon which to remind the world of their divinity, but
to pay homage to their roots; more pronouncedly, Mercedes Sosaa pioneer and
pillar in Latin American folk music heritage. If I knew no better, I would
assume this great win for Hip-Hop would be heralded by fans of diverse
shadesespecially Black onesas a moment worth pausing for and championing;
but, unfortunately, my deepest fears were soon confirmed.
The first commenter wasted no time
establishing his hatred for all things Latin: only thing they dominating is
d**k in foreign places. The second, non-spam comment read: Those f**king
hispanics steal everything and bring it back to their Country.....Cant knock
the hustle though. The next few would reaffirm similar sentiments: who gives
a f**k looks like paul wall and pitbull, WHO CARES............I DON'T LISTEN
TO THAT SH**...........TO THOSE WHO DO...........THAT'S YOUR CHOICE..........I
WONT LISTEN TO IT, Latinos be on some bullsh** Don't get me wrong, I have
love for some Latinos but some of them are conceited for whatever reason, and
Soon after, it developed into a
full-blown misogynist café, filled with intellectually-paralyzed rants against Latina
females: Latin chicks are only in it to get married so that she can get her
papers, s**tI HERE THEY HAVE A HIGH RATE OF THAT HIV IN BRAZIL BRA. SOME OF
THAT p***y WE SEE THAT LOOK GOOD MAY COME WITH CONSEQUENCES FEEL ME, Yeah you
right, about they be having them diseases, but them muthaf**kas, be looking
good. Especially them Afro Brazilian Chicks, HELL YEA THEM MUTHAF**KAS LOOK
LIKE LIL CARAMEL CANDIES. MAKE YOU WANNA EAT THEY *** UP. BUT THEN YOU FIND OUT
THE CANDY IS ROTTEN INSIDE, Word up Ive heard alot of stuff about brazil,
mostly because i hear the women there are very loose and you got ppl from all around
the world trying to smash.
Of course this embarrassing display
ticked off many of AllHipHops Latino/Latina readership, including one who
poignantly explained why Blacks who view Latin folk as outsiders arent only
being bigoted but also exposing a crippled sense of history and memory: Wats
with the comments about Hispanics? What was stolen music is music. Dam! We was
there in the beginning just like black ppl. Alot of the founding fathers was
latino also. Sometimes You realy can sound stupid as hell. Im Dominican and let me tell you something
the same slaves that was brought to the US was brought to DR, PR, Cuba and other
Latin American countries. We all in this together.
If only intelligence reigned
supreme in the dreaded age of cyberspace: an age when critical thinking is
outlawedan age when the aim is to talk first and think later. No one wants to
be the last involved, thus no one wants to take the time to absorb the consequences
of an issue before adding their voice to the chorus of a caustic choir.
I dont see those responses in any way
as an isolated incidentor the artwork of immature fans. For far too long, many
have tried to ignore or defend this unmasked, mild hatred brewing within the
Black community; but the time has come for blunt talk and straight speech.
Some argue, in very convincing terms,
that no such divide or tension, as I call it, exists, as Hip-Hop has
successfully united diverse groups who ordinarily would have nothing to do with
each other. No doubt: Afrika Bambaataa's partnership with the White Punk Rock
community in the late 70s comes to mind. I do think, though, that the signs
have become too apparent to discard.
First, its critical to admit the tension
exists. It might not be explicit on the surface, but it exists nonetheless.
Its evident in the number of Blacks usually found at a Latin Hip-Hop concert (and vice versa); its also evident in the
reality that such a sub-genre as Latin Hip-Hop exists at all. It was evident
when Fat Joe was celebrated, much to the excitement of the Latin-American
community, as the first Latino rapper to achieve considerable mainstream
status; it was also evident when the late (much too great) Big Pun was crowned,
in equal order, the first Latino rapper to pass platinum. These events sent
shockwaves through the Black Hip-Hop bloc which failed to see why special
emphasis was being placed on the success of a not-so-small sector of the
Hip-Hop community. From then on, no matter how successful these artists became,
no matter how much they collaborated with prominent Black artists (Fat Joe with
KRS-One and LL Cool J; Big Pun with Black Thought, Nas, Raekwon, etc.), they
would forever be pigeonholed as Latin Rappersrather than rappers with Latin
origins or, better yet, simply Hip-Hop artists.
This tension exists for a number of
reasons, but two appear central: 1) For lack of history and memory 2) For fear
of depopulation and displacement, prompted by White Supremacy-infused inferiority
complex, but also triggered by a dilapidated understanding of reality:
How many hours
I waste, trying to figure this sh**/ Til I finally realized: we're just Ni**ers and Sp**s/ Cause ain't no brothers running sh** in the system/
You going straight to jail if you Colored and fit the description/
The field known to most as Latin
Hip-Hop is special in the hearts of Latinos/Latinas, as they tend to view it
as an extension of the legacies pioneered by Afro-Cuban, Salsa and Latin-Jazz
artists since the early 20s. When many Latinos/Latinas see Big Pun, Fat Joe, N.O.R.E.,
Tego Calderón, Pitbull, or Calle 13, they are reminded of the hard labor toiled
by Machito, Noro Morales, Rubén Blades, Willie Colon, Carlos Santana and,
perhaps most prominently, the inimitable Héctor Lavoe. When they see Angie
Martinez, Ivy Queen, or Nina Sky they find crystal clear the faces and voices
of Celia Cruz and Anacaonawomen who pushed past all barriers to assert their
humanity in the male-dominated, often dehumanizing, world of show business.
The journey of Latin music is far from
over. So it gives Latino brothers and Latina sisters great pride to see the
wheel kept rolling with great inventions like Reggaeton. This should be cause
for joy within the Black community, but the reactions have mostly been
reflective of the comments highlighted above. Ive heard a lot of Blacks claim
Reggaeton is inferior to Hip-Hop or not musical
enoughas though these fools dont recall the same was said about Hip-Hop
in such esteemed publications at Time and
Newsweek, shortly after its
inception, refusing to give it breathing space to blossom or, at the very
least, prove itself.
This dismissal of any musical creation
unrestricted to the Hip-Hop rhythm meter must be curtailed before it spills
overas its starting toand wreaks far more havoc than intended. Immigration
husband from wife and brother from sister, and some Blacks couldnt be happier.
Them Latinos are taking away our jobs, anyway, Ive heard some say.
little Lou Dobbs goes a long way.
Its unclear whether the Black people
who have noor so littlesympathy for the callous ways undocumented Mexican
immigrants are being treated understand fully the historical ramifications of
their concerns, but, increasingly, Blacks are being used as milk carton headshots to
pass draconian legislations against, and criminalize, poor Latino/Latina
immigrants. The racists fronting these projects figure no other community can
lend greater credence to a movement endangering the lives of a booming
population of color than the people most discriminated againstsecond only to
Native American peopleson these shores. And not only is this foolish,
ahistorical anti-Immigration stance taking shape in black working communities
amongst adults facing unprecedented economic turmoil, younger Blacks are also
beginning to link arms with White counterparts to terrorize undocumented school
kids. Again, lack of history can be brutal.
This is double-dutch on the minds of
Black people. In Hip-Hop there seems to be no universal concern for the plights these populations are being
subject to. Our (Black) best and brightest, those to whom we look in times of
social unrest, have been all but mum about the immigration crisis. When was the
last time Talib Kweli or Mos Def raised their voice against this mess? When?
Thank God for courageous voices like West Coast legend Ice Cube who can see the forest from
What many Black Hip-Hop fans dont
realize, or are too cowardly to admit, is that a division between Black and
Brown artists, Black and Brown fans and, inevitably, Black and Brown
communities would not only lead to disenfranchisement and self-destruction in
the long haul, but would also guarantee a complete overhaul of the Hip-Hop
demographic. If this tension goes unchecked, and is left to build up steam,
it would most likely be exploited by corporate forces who've had their eyes on
a dominant White Hip-Hop roster for over two decades.
Of course the Brown community isnt all
innocent. Many Blacks rightly feel a sense of condescension or superiority from
Latino/Latina peoples. Those of darker skin, especially, believe their lighter
kinfolk adopt the same sensibilities of racist Whites who contend dark skin is
a blemish signaling intellectual inferiority. And it doesnt help matters when
certain Brown folk subscribe to the same White supremacist dogmas that describe
Blacks in primitive and petulant terms. I can bear personal witness to such
encounters. But its critical that Blacks come to terms with what prompts such
presuppositionsmedia-misinformationand apply greater compassion when dealing
with their misguided family.
The Black and Brown wounds of Hip-Hop
would only be healed when we can look each other in the eye, fair and square,
and see the common ancestry, common purpose, common struggle inherent in our journey:
Cash pays, and
rulesthe root of all evil/ Shooting Amigos for looting perico, polluting our people/ Moving kilos, like it's all good, through every ghetto/ I ain't judging but bugging how we floss so many levels/ The devil's got us by the ba**sthat's why the law allows/ The drugs to overflood, knowing we gonna buy it all/ It's time to call a world order where every girl's your daughter/
And priceless as ices and pearls fresh out the water/
For broader respective, I reached out to
a few colleagues and comrades whose responses were concise and cogentand worth
Edward Sunez Rodriguez is a Hip-Hop
veteran writer and thinker whose work has appeared in The Source, XXL, and VIBE.
Tony Muhammad is an educator
and Hip-Hop activist of Cuban origins who writes a regular column titled, Trials
of a Hip Hop Educator. As member of the Nation of Islam, he also works to
spread the teachings to Brown communities through its National Latino Ministry.
A bond of the highest measure can only
be strengthened by honoring the truth of its roots. Throughout Hip-Hop's years,
a profound truth promoted has been the similar oppression and common
oppressor(s) [of Black and Brown people]; we voice our reality and emotion and
despair against, and direct our talents and hopes and revelations towards, our
many barrio and ghetto residents. Yet, the deeper truth is that the
African-American and Latino are co-creators of Hip Hop culture in the most
With a common ancestry and blood line,
this culture reunites all of our journeys since separation into the countless
categories of ethnicity and race over past centuries: That the words of the MC
are as dominant in the Cuban soneros as the Last Poets' words; that the break
beat has isolated the swiftest dancer and cleverest of musicians in the freest
jazz and salsa's clave as clearly as reggae's roots; that graffiti's toughness
and beauty are deep like the ancient hieroglyphs of Kemet as they are present
in our Mexican brother Diego Rivera's murals of protest. When we search out
this truth once again, express it and share it with anger, love and swagger,
the bond between our peoples will strengthen naturally.
No culture of a people lives if its
ultimate truth is diluted, disregarded and categorized for profit and gain. As
it is now, we continue to think we are all different, but that illusion was
once let go to create our Hip-Hop
What is needed to bring about a sense
of unity between Black and Brown people is the establishment of
programs aimed at bridging the gap culturally, morally, politically and
spirituallybeginning with the Youth who hold the most potential but also
the greatest disappointment. In the process, knowing our combined histories is
very important, especially knowing where they have intersected.
If we know where we have been and how
we have strongly impacted each other throughout time, we would be able to
understand our present, shared condition. It is through our unity after
receiving the knowledge that we can grow and mature and learn how to work with
each other as one family, and work together to get out of the
negative circumstances that govern our communities, bodies, hearts and
Hip Hop music and culture is a perfect
avenue through which to express this need, as it has made a tremendous impact
on young people for over three decades. In fact, Hip Hop from the
very beginning, in the Bronx (mid-1970s), addressed the needs of young
people. It manufactured the option of street violence into peace, unity and having fun. After
a while, the youth began to cultivate their own identity through this new
medium of expression, guided by the wisdom of organizations such as The Universal
Zulu Nation, The Nation of Gods and Earth, and The Nation of Islam.
Those most affected were Black and
Latinoliving in the same environment, experiencing the same things,
influencing each other: musically and culturally. To begin effecting
change, the original essence of the movement needs to be updated and applied in
the classrooms, community centers, and community concerts.
Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on TheDailyVoice.com
and other online journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.