During my first year of graduate school—1993 to be exact—I started writing about Latino rap and hip hop. At the time I continued to be inspired by Kid Frost’s anthem, “La Raza,” released three years earlier, for the way it galvanized me and many of my peers into radical thinking and political action.1 And although I was hard-pressed to find inspiration from other artists I learned about from perusing the musical offerings at swap meets and independent music shops like Ghetto Records in my hometown of Santa Ana, California, I continued to collect tapes by any and all Latino rap acts since I was intent on locating additional infectious anthems of collective empowerment. Yet I’ll never forget the moment when a friend who, upon learning about my obsession to collect these tapes, flatly declared that Latino hip hop was “booty.” I attempted to ignore him rather than address his “critique,” but his comment has stuck with me ever since. Did he consider Latino hip hop booty because it aesthetically failed in comparison to black hip hop (if invested in such a marked distinction)? Did it have to do with the fact that Latinos seemed too obsessed with identity affirmation (as journalists at the time claimed), thus signaling their inability to capture a widespread audience? Or was it simply because he thought Latino hip hop was bad and therefore embarrassing?2
I would venture to say that the answer to each of these questions is “yes.” However, I also want to focus on the word booty here because other than its then-common definition as “bad” or “lame,” its sexualized connotation as “ass” functions for me about how we might think of Latino hip hop with respect to queerness. Latino hip hop’s failure—a queer art of failure, as Judith Halberstam might put it—also has much to do with the fact that it has largely gone unacknowledged and unexamined, perhaps because its archive often appears both scant and unremarkable. And given my critical investment in categories such as “failure” and “ephemera,” central categories for many queer theorists, [End Page 140] I want to suggest that we might look for the queerness of hip hop—in general and in Latino contexts in particular—in unlikely places like gay pornography. To be sure, in a number of pornographic texts, one can trace what makes Latino hip hop booty. While the performances of Latino rap artists in gay porn can be quite bad—“failed” queer performances if you will—they also signify queer historical and sexual traces similar to what José Esteban Muñoz calls “ephemera as evidence.”
For Muñoz, “the notion of ephemera as evidence … is nothing like a smooth linkage.” To be sure, ephemera “is linked to alternative modes of textuality and narrativity like memory and performance: it is all of those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself. It does not rest on epistemological foundations but is instead interested in following traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things. It is important to note that ephemera is a mode of proofing and producing arguments often worked by minoritarian culture and criticism makers.” I want to argue here that Latino hip hop performances represented in gay pornography function as ephemera—or as traces, glimmers, residues, and specks—which signal the Latino embrace of hip hop culture in sexually nonnormative contexts. Although Latino hip hop may itself be a queer cultural phenomenon given its historical propensity for failure in its inability to generate money, cultivate a wide fan base, and deliver sophisticated enough products, Latino hip hop in gay pornography signals the lasting historical value of the performative act that may have never been taken seriously in the first place.
Indeed, the connection between Latino hip hop and gay porn is hardly “a smooth linkage.” Yet their linkage fittingly lies in the manifold layers of fantasy and power, enabling pornographic narratives and the multiple ambitions behind engaging hip hop as an expressive form in a homosexually explicit realm. And, if we think of...