Healing Hip-Hop’s Racial Wounds—Between Blacks and Browns, That Is

  “Hip-Hop Kulture doesn’t recognize haters. Haters within a culture of love are traitors.” —KRS-One, The 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” […]


“Hip-Hop Kulture

doesn’t recognize haters.

Haters within a

culture of love are traitors.”

—KRS-One, The

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 Sosa—a 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

shades—especially Black ones—as 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


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

two face.” 

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



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


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 AllHipHop’s Latino/Latina readership, including one who

poignantly explained why Blacks who view Latin folk as outsiders aren’t 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

outlawed—an 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 don’t see those responses in any way

as an isolated incident—or 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, it’s critical to admit the tension

exists. It might not be explicit on the surface, but it exists nonetheless.

It’s evident in the number of Blacks usually found at a Latin Hip-Hop concert (and vice versa); it’s 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 Rappers”—rather 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 Anacaona—women 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. I’ve heard a lot of Blacks claim

Reggaeton is inferior to Hip-Hop or not musical

enough—as though these fools don’t 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

over—as it’s starting to—and wreaks far more havoc than intended. Immigration

raids are sweeping the country, separating

husband from wife and brother from sister, and some Blacks couldn’t be happier.

“Them Latinos are taking away our jobs, anyway,” I’ve heard some say.


little Lou Dobbs goes a long way.

It’s unclear whether the Black people

who have no—or so little—sympathy 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 against—second only to

Native American peoples—on 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

the trees!

What many Black Hip-Hop fans don’t

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 isn’t 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 doesn’t 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 it’s critical that Blacks come to terms with what prompts such

presuppositions—media-misinformation—and 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

rules—the 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**s—that’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 cogent—and 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

natural sense.

“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


—Edward Sunez

“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

spiritually—beginning 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

Latino—living 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.”

—Tony Muhammad


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.