Halfway through the video for Kap G’s slammer “Eddie Guerrero,” American music’s King Midas Pharrell Williams asks, in what can be interpreted as astonished surprise: “You’re taking this shit to South America?”. Disagreeing with Pharrell might not be the easiest thing in the world, but here he is simply mistaken; South America is bringing it to the USA — and doing it right from within their borders.
Latinos making hip-hop and urban music in the USA is nothing new, as evidenced by the tons of posts in REMEZCLA featuring Latino rappers, as well as famous forerunners like Big Pun, Fat Joe and Pitbull, among many others. But the scene has typically been dominated by artists of Latin-Caribbean descent – Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc. – the very same communities that helped set off the reggaeton revolution of the early aughts. Now, a new generation of artists that includes Kap G and Kali Uchis are expanding the Latino influences reflected in U.S. hip-hop. In their music we see a strong awareness of their social background as a generation of Latinos born in the U.S. — and mainstream hip-hop has not only taken note, they are invested in giving these artists a boost.
File sharing and internet culture have given people access to foreign sounds, both old and current, that were once only available to dedicated world music fans back when physical formats were the only option. In this post-Napster world we live in, a form of ancient folk music or current lower-class dance craze from halfway around the world is just a download or YouTube clip away. For people dedicated to beat-making, this is a lethal weapon as their resources grow to near limitless proportions. And once you reach a plateau where anything you dream of is possible, the next step is to get people who are in touch with this music to start working with you. Latino producers have worked with their American counterparts for quite some time — but now it’s the mouthpieces, instead of the instrumentalists; turn on the mic and they have a lot to say.
With his southern drawl and spooky synth-based beats, Kap G may sound at first listen like Three 6 Mafia’s new joint or even a regular trap mixtape. However, if you tune in closely to his rhymes, you’ll definitely hear something distinctive. Through his sing-song rapping, Kap talks about his Mexican identity as a citizen of the US; in Spanglish, he rhymes about his family, their traditions, the food he’s used to eating and even the Spanish language itself. His forthcoming mixtape is called Like a Mexican, for crying out loud.
Kap G was born and raised in Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood (where Outkast is from) to immigrant parents from Mexico. He doesn’t shy away from telling you all about it, as his song “Mexico Momma Came From” can attest. His rhymes often detail his mother’s immigrant status as well as his every-day life — equal parts barrio and hood — giving emphasis to everything that identifies him as a Mexican, a narrative he punctuates with familiar hedonistic hip-hop tropes. “I’m just showing 2 cultures,” he said in an interview for Soletron. “The side where I’m growing up in a Mexican household and the side where I hang out with my American homies, my Black homies.”
Like a Mexican will feature a Who’s Who in current hip-hop. Production duties are in the care of Pharrell, Bangladesh and Drumma Boy, while the featured guest list gets even bigger: Wiz Khalifa, Young Jeezy, Kiko Bangs, Fabolous, Chingo Bling, Spenzo and Young Dolph will all make appearances. Kap’s break came when he uploaded his track “Tatted Like Amigo,” which features infamous Chicago badass Chief Keef, to the popular WorldwideHipHop website. It immediately got noticed, and soon YouTube videos of his freestyle battles (mostly taped by his brother) were getting hits as well.
When asked by Soletron if he would like to be known as a Mexican-American rapper or a good rapper, his answer is simple: “I want to be known as both. At the end of the day that’s just me as a person. I just want to open doors for my Mexican people.”
Kali Uchis is someone who’s also informed by her heritage. Her Drunken Babble mixtape combines dreamy rapping and narcoleptic singing with a chillwave vibe. But amid the nineties references, you can also hear snippets of tropical air venting throughout the sound, as well as a strategic use of Spanish. Her laidback style has already claimed some heavyweight fans. Diplo has expressed admiration for her sound and look, and the Doggfather himself, Snoop Dogg, has compared her to sixties soul greats Brenton Wood and Mary Wells. She also has been seen in the studio with horror rap’s clown prince Tyler, The Creator.
Born in Virginia, she moved with her parents back to their native Colombia, but by the age of seven she was back in the U.S., having since spent time in LA and NY. Kali is the real deal if there ever was one. She rhymes, writes, produces, directs her own videos and does her own styling with great results on all fronts. Her aesthetic is a Tumblr wet dream, and her lyrics touch everything from her love for weed as well as the violence we are surrounded by every day. She name checks Billie Holiday as her idol and counts M.I.A. and Amy Winehouse as influences.
By the way, she’s only 19 years old and does all of this looking like Gwen Stefani (an acknowledged inspiration) cruising around the ghetto in a low-rider, straight outta a video from The Chronic.
Her forthcoming EP Por Vida has already sparked a ton of interest, on the strength of just a teaser trailer making the rounds. And while the world of hip-hop is looking right in her direction, she doesn’t shy away from her roots, as heard in her cover of the José Luis Perales-penned classic “Por qué te vas”.
Far from taking over like a fad, rap is embracing these Latino artists — not only because they have skills and drive, but also because they keep it real in their subject matter. They know the facts of their situation and surroundings, and they expressing them in rhyme without being explicitly sociopolitical. While other artists have showcased their roots only for freestyle flavor, this new generation doesn’t separate its heritage from its hip-hop. To them its all one, because that’s what they grew up on — it’s their reality. In return, the rap world is learning from them, getting a rich new line of ancestry and a shot in the arm.