- Chicano Rap Roots:Black-Brown Cultural Exchange and the Making of a Genre
In 1992, the 500th year of the European presence in the Americas, Mexico officially recognized Africa as the "third root" (el tercer raíz) of its hybrid (mestizo) society and culture. Meanwhile, throughout the Mexican diaspora in the United States, Chicanas and Chicanos carved out a new musical culture by borrowing from and transforming a new world African culture, hip hop. By 1992, Chicanas and Chicanos had been rapping, breakdancing, deejaying, and writing graffiti for a decade. In that year Kid Frost (later Frost), the godfather of Chicano rap, released his second compact disc, Eastside Story. The year prior, another important rap innovator, the group Cypress Hill, released its debut album, Cypress Hill. Much like in the sixteenth century, mixed-raced Amerindians (Chicanas/os) and new world Africans (U.S. blacks) live side by side as a result of a new economic and political order. Under Spanish colonial rule Africans and indigenous Americans remade cultures in diaspora and through mestizaje and mulataje (cultural or biological mixing involving Africans in the Americas). In the postindustrial, neocolonial new world order, Chicanas/os and African Americans borrow and transform aspects of their cultures to create hip hop on the West Coast.
This essay examines the roots of Chicano rap music. Chicano rap texts (music, lyrics, style, and interviews) illustrate a new millennial mestizaje/mulataje consisting of Mexican/Chicana/o, African (American) and European (American) elements. This new millennial mestizaje/mulataje is similar in circumstance and significance to that mixing of cultures that created Mexico and Mexicanness in the sixteenth century. Analysis of the work of Kid Frost, Cypress Hill, and South Park Mexican (SPM) reveals a complex encountering of cultures that made the genre, Chicano rap, and which signals a rapidly growing trend in United States society.
The concepts "diaspora," "mestizaje," "mulataje," and the "people of color" identity allow for important inquiry into the identity claims and culture of youth of Mexican descent in the postindustrial, postmodern United States. I examine the ways in which the multi-ethnic and multiracial world of rap offers a challenge to typical understandings of racial/ethnic identity, race relations, and identity politics. Additionally, for scholars, analysis of this "interracial" interaction found in much of youth culture provides opportunities to reassess and redefine such foundational concepts of Ethnic Studies as mestizaje and diaspora. Importantly, hip hop culture has created a situation in which youth of Mexican and African descent in the United States can overcome obstacles to interracial communication and develop interethnic alliances that challenge the ways we think about race, culture, and politics. [End Page 939]
New Millenial Mestizaje/Mulataje: Diaspora, Mixture, and People of Color
In his article, "Diasporacentrism and Black Aural Texts," Robert Fox points out that etymologically "diaspora" suggests "a scattering which is also a sowing"; the dispersion of a people, their implantation in a new land, and the harvesting of a new culture (Fox 369). Inasmuch as both African- and Mexican-American cultures result from such a process, they are diasporic. New African and Mexican cultures emerged as they dispersed throughout the United States. In response to their new surroundings, Mexicans and Africans developed cultures that relied on syncretism and hybridization (mestizaje/mulataje). These new African and Mexican cultures exhibit an aesthetics of reworlding (Fox 369). They are laden with Africanisms and Mexicanisms, yet they are uniquely American (United States-ian). They are rooted in the myriad cultures and traditions of Africa and the Americas, yet transform and transfigure them within the context of a multiracial and multiply racist United States of America. They have also adapted the technologies, values, worldviews, language, and economy of the neo-European U.S. culture to fit their needs and desires and, in turn, permanently altered the original cultures.
Mestizaje, a process of cultural and biological/racial hybridization, has characterized Mexican cultures for centuries 1 . Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla writes that the process of mestizaje results, in part, from continuous attacks on indigenous Mexican cultures 2 . The survival of Mexican people and their indigenous cultural roots is due to resistance to this cultural imperialism. Resistance to cultural destruction and appropriation...