When Guatemalan rapper Rebeca Lane began to perform her music, she noticed something different about the way other rappers spoke about her. They always referred to her as a “feminine rapper.”
“It’s not like they are calling themselves masculine rappers,” Lane said. “Then why should they call us feminine rappers? It’s because they would not think of us as equals.”
Sexism from their male counterparts is just one of the many challenges of being a female rapper, DJ, or B-girl in Latin America. These women also get far less media coverage and radio air time, experience backlash from their families, and are relegated to women-only battles and events.
Of course, Lane and her peers are not the first Latin American women breaking gender barriers as they search for success as hip-hop artists. Puerto Rican rapper Lisa M was one of the first Latina rappers to garner mainstream visibility with her 1988 and 1990 solo albums. Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux’s socially-conscious rhymes earned her a Sony Music Entertainment record deal with Makiza in 1999. It’s been more than 15 years since Mala Rodríguez shook up Spanish rap with Lujo Ibérico, her first solo album.
But Lane knew just how to respond.
“My rap isn’t feminine, but feminist,” she writes in her song “Bandera Negra,” which has more than 120,000 views on YouTube.
Now Lane not only opens her own shows, she headlines tours; she just embarked on the Somos Guerreras tour through Central America until April. After being awarded a grant from Astraea Foundation, Lane recruited feminist hip-hop artists Audry Funk, La Voz Nativa, and Nakury to join her for concerts and workshops all over the region, from Panama to Mexico.
“Somos Guerreras isn’t just a tour,” Lane says. “It’s a way of seeing hip-hop for women as a political movement.”
“My rap isn’t feminine, but feminist.”
This means talking about the real issues that women face, such as sexual violence, discrimination, and underrepresentation. Lane doesn’t shy away from these themes. Her rap reflects her background as an activist speaking out against social issues such as gender equality, poverty, and violence.
Nearly half of Latin American women say they have been victims of sexual assault. Rates of femicide in Latin America are so high that some have called the high rate of gender-motivated homicides a crisis. Latin America has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world and millions of women undergo unsafe abortions each year. In Lane’s home country of Guatemala, thousands of women under the age of 18 are married each year. Guatemala also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the region.
Music and television in Latin America don’t always reflect these realities. Young Guatemalan hip-hop heads are more likely to hear artists like Drake or Kendrick Lamar on the airwaves, rather than Latin American rappers. That’s why Lane creates hip-hop Guatemalan women can relate to.
“I would have loved to have this music when I was young, to be five years old and listening to a feminist song,” Lane says.
In 2014, MTV published a list of the best Latino rappers that included zero women; it did, however, include some videos with scantily-clad dancers. Lane and her peers seek to challenge much of the sexist and objectifying stereotypes found in mainstream hip-hop.
Tons of Latina rappers have challenged these stereotypes in the past. There’s Mare Adverterncia Lirika, who embraces her Zapoteca roots while rapping about indigenous rights, or Veronica Vega, who flexes her bad bitch persona. Each female rapper has the right to her own musical expression, and that doesn’t need to include a feminist label, according to Lane.
Through Lane’s music and tour organizing, she’s not just carving out a space in the genre and region for herself. She’s also changing the landscape of the male-dominated music industry for other female hip-hop artists and consumers. Lane strives to create a sustainable market in Latin American hip-hop for present and future female artists, regardless of whether they identify as a feminist.
“Another girl doing the same thing I’m doing is not my enemy,” Lane said. “She’s my friend and my sister and someone that I can build up with.”
For Lane, being labeled a feminist rapper was almost an accident. She began to write poetry after finally finding the strength to leave an abusive relationship. But just by speaking about the issues that were important to her, she was able to connect with an audience craving for music they could relate to.
“I never intended to make music to transform society,” Lane said. “It was just things that I needed to let out. Then I started to notice people identified with this music, specifically people like me who come from social struggles and feminism.”
“I never intended to make music to transform society. It was just things that I needed to let out.”
Lane’s parents were activists during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, when thousands were killed or disappeared for their political beliefs, including her aunt. At her recent concert in Guatemala City, Lane’s parents were among the other fans in the crowd. While the venue was not a sold-out stadium, it was full of fans singing along to her music. For now, that’s enough for Lane: a small, steady, and devoted audience for her music.
Lane dreams of being nominated for a Grammy in the future, like Ana Tijoux, one of her biggest musical influences. Award-nod or not, musicians like Lane and the artists on her tour expose their listeners to new hip-hop stories.
“Mujer Lunar,” one of Lane’s most popular songs, ends with these words: “Como en la montaña están las guerrilleras/Como en el micrófono hoy están las raperas/Sobrevivientes de violencia mamás solteras/Hermanas feministas del planeta tierra.”
Check out the tour poster below, and be sure to follow Rebeca Lane on Facebook for more updates.