Our communities can’t be categorized under one term, much less under one blanket of experiences. Even in the 2020s, people still tend to stereotype Spanish-speaking people or group them together as if our paths are similar. But that’s untrue. Though we might be connected through language, it doesn’t mean that our experiences are the same. After all, unless we’re from a specific region, it’s hard to understand their underground music movements and political climates. At Red Bull Batalla’s Miami Qualifier this year, we saw our communities’ richness and diversity highlighted. Over 900 fans united at SkateBird Miami, FL, on Aug. 26 to witness 16 freestylers compete against each other knockout-style in hopes of being the next regional champion.
The evening’s vibe was stimulating: full of highly-buzzing, masculine energy—notably, there were no rapera participants for this regional. It was also majorly competitive, but in an exciting, friendly way (the contestants would shake hands or acknowledge the bracket’s winner at the end). The MCs went head-to-head until the judges crowned the Venezuelan freestyler AdonysX, who will now take the next step to compete in the National Final in Dallas, TX (Nov. 11). After the National Final, comes the Red Bull Batalla World Final in Bogotá, Colombia (Dec. 2). But let us not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s first talk about the basics. What gets these individuals going? What creates the fire within them, resulting in their community rooting for them throughout the regionals, nationals, and world finals? Moreover, what makes their culture’s rap and hip-hop movements different than their counterparts?
To get a clearer idea of what goes on in their creative minds, we spoke to five MCs affiliated with Red Bull Batalla about their roots, their region’s in-depth rap and hip-hop movement — including the political aspect of it that never goes unnoticed — and what influences them before they head into battles.
Tamarac, FL, via Venezuela
How is Venezuela’s hip-hop/rap different from other regions?
I think that for Venezuelans — especially since Canserbero appeared — we all started to express ourselves in a way that people could identify with us. Since Canserbero, all of us who rapped who [were] inspired by him had that kind of flavor, that way of saying things that sound very raw, very real, and people identified with all of that. I think that’s what most Venezuelans do… [Also] because of him [Canserbero], all the other [rappers] were able to come to light.
What can you tell us about Venezuela’s rap battles?
There used to be [rap battles], but then they canceled them. There was never anything like Red Bull [Batalla]. It’s difficult with the government; a big company like Red Bull is not going to want to go to a country like Venezuela that is having so many problems, and there is not enough security for an event of that magnitude either. Venezuela deserves it, yes, but I don’t think it’s ready.
Who personally influences you?
Akapellah and Eladio Carrión.
North Bergen, NJ, via El Salvador
How is El Salvador’s hip-hop/rap different from other regions?
These types of activities, like hip-hop events, [used to be] seen as something bad by some people because they related it to gangs and criminal activity, but we use it as a weapon to prevent that violence and take young kids and make them stay away from gangs and make them develop and explore their talents. [Also to] navigate their own personality, what is it that they want to do in life? And that’s what hip-hop is all about for me: taking young people and making them develop their talents.
What can you tell us about El Salvador’s current underground movement?
Lately, it’s gotten better because the country’s situation has gotten a lot better. We have a lot of events. We have people in the big leagues like FMS [Caribe] or even Red Bull [Batalla]. We have Zaki — he’s probably the most influential artist right now in terms of rap. We also have Jafet [Conteras]. Personally, my favorite. These are two people that are very involved in hip-hop activity, but it’s a very small country. We don’t have a lot. But the ones that we have are there and are representing us.
How does El Salvador influence your rap verses?
It’s very much about making a difference because that’s the way that I grew up with the events that I had in my city. It was about making a difference in your community because you might be the one who a lot of people are going to look up to and those people are potential people that are going to join gangs because of the way that they’re raised. So you have the power to make a difference in your community. That’s how I see freestyle. That’s how I see hip-hop… The way I was raised is very much about making a difference and keeping your moral values.
Who personally influences you?
West Palm Beach, FL, via Cuba
How is Cuba’s hip-hop/rap different from other regions?
Rap is a really big thing in Cuba because when this dictatorship took place, there was this rap group called Los Aldeanos that did a social change. They made the whole people aware of what was going on. I’ve never seen rap or a rap song affect a country in such a big way… The main difference is that in Cuba, rap became social and cultural, something that went beyond music.
How does Cuba influence your rap verses?
It’s [about] the freedom of speech. My country has no freedom of speech. I’m from a country that’s like North Korea, it’s a dictatorship. You grew up with no internet, no rights, no anything. They are charging people and shit. So because of that, something that’s really cool about [hip-hop/rap] is that you can just grab a mic or record a song, and you can say whatever you want. Nobody can question it or say shit because it’s just a rap song. When I’m on stage, I get to say whatever I want, whatever I think, without nobody trying to change it.
Who personally influences you?
Al2 [from Los Aldeanos], Juice WRLD, and XXXTentacion.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
What can you tell us about Puerto Rico’s rap battles?
There is a festival called Express Your Skills, which is one of the most important hip-hop festivals. In Puerto Rico, we also create our own events, [and] obviously, I had the opportunity to create opportunities for other people. The generation that came after me, they also took the reins to start creating their own events to follow. And it expanded to what is happening now.
Puerto Rico’s hip-hop culture has grown, but it’s been slowly built, like everywhere else. There are no brands, there are no investors, and there is no promotion and popularity among the people. You have to do it as a community service. Almost all the events that exist [now] started like that: as community work that later grew possibilities and has kept developing since the ‘90s.
What can you tell us about Puerto Rico’s current underground movement?
Puerto Rico right now is in the process of getting out of the underground. The process has been very tedious because there is no support from brands or anything. When Red Bull came to Puerto Rico with Batalla de Gallos for the first time in 2005, that was seen as a big opportunity. [Many people thought] it meant that we have a sponsor who can contribute to the events, and that will help it grow more… [Now], there are already some events that are developed by the same people who grew through the community work that we did, who already have their events, who are already established, who were kids and are now entrepreneurs. People who are already seeing how they can turn this art into a business.
How has Puerto Rico helped shape rap in general?
Puerto Rico is a power that is going to rise. The global conversation about rap will involve us, the people who do rap in Puerto Rico. It goes beyond wanting to be within the industry because [the media] always talks about Puerto Rican rap; they always relate it to urbano, which is where reggaeton exists and where all these artists who do rap come out. But they have nothing to do with hip-hop culture. They are not militant. For example, René from Calle 13 is a guy who can be at the top, but René from Calle 13 has never done anything for Puerto Rico’s rap culture. [The media has started] to find [rappers] that are militant from way before, and also youngins with new offerings.
How is Spain’s hip-hop/rap different from other regions?
Rap is growing a lot in Spain right now. One of the good things is that, for example, like everywhere else, they’re mixing [rap] with other musical genres. For example, in Spanish rap lately, people from Oza, [Spain], mix it with Andalusian sounds, similar to flamenco. I recommend an artist, Cruz Cafuné, who is from the islands where I’m from. That guy is crazy.
What can you tell us about Spain’s current underground movement?
In Spain 10 years ago, for example, people dressed like rappers or listened to rappers all day long were still weird. It was like a more underground movement. It was more marginal, like metalheads or emos or different urban tribes. But for some time now, the industry has had no choice but to pay attention. For example, someone who started rapping, although he does many other things, is Rels B, who is Spanish [but has a lot of fans in] Mexico and all of Latin America. In the beginning, that guy was not played on the radio. But then he began to gain popularity on YouTube and Spotify that, in the end, there was no other choice. He’s in all the festivals now, and he even signed with a big record label and then started his own. He fought and fought and made the non-commercial become commercial.
How does it feel to represent women in Red Bull Batalla?
[I feel] a little bit of pressure. But in the end, you know that whether or not you leave [the competition] or get specific things, you have also done something that is not only for you. Because whether you want it or not, you are doing something for more people. Because it is representing something, it is representing someone. Or you may be inspiring a girl or many people to get on [the competition]. To be honest, I’m satisfied. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Who personally influences you?
Gata Cattana, Lauryn Hill, Trueno, and Duki.