WHAT IS CUBAN HIP HOP?


“Del Corazón al dentro, el sentimiento” / “The feeling from the heart inside”

—El Hombre de la Palabra

Initially, hip hop was viewed by many Cubans as yet another cultural invasion from the US. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the musical movement grew with the influence of young “moneros” who completely revolutionized hip hop into another outlet for social and political expression. In 1999, the Cuban government declared it as an authentic expression of Cuban Culture and started La Agencia Cubana de Rap (The Cuban Rap Agency). This state-run record label and hip-hop magazine supported a small annual Cuban Hip Hop festival where Cuban rappers could experiment with blending traditional Cuban music with the new and fresh beats of American hip hop. With the help of the government, this festival grew in popularity and influence. In a short while, hip hop on the island evolved into a genre all its own.

Young raperos use their music as an opportunity to speak out against problems within Cuba or on global issues including war, racism, and environmental justice. Cuban rap draws from a variety of influences. The strongest roots come from Afro-Cuban rhythms and U.S. rappers, but jazz, reggae, funk, soul and rock and roll also find their way onto tracks. These raperos thrived in the underground local house parties, called bonches, which soon grew to be too large for private homes. Local DJ Adalberto Jimenez founded La Moña, a venue that rejected commercial pressures and remained loyal to the underground scene. Progressive American rappers, disenchanted with the thug life persona hip hop had taken on in the United States, sought to bring more insightful and intellectually provocative music to Cuban shores. Nehanda Abiodun along with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement organized Black August benefit concerts in New York and Havana. During their time in Cuba, the travelers featured in Beautiful Me(s) saw hip hop performances and spent time with raperos in Havana.

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