Excerpt from the book “Prognosis: Decolonial Poetic Exhale"
Real, fake, fake, real: the dyad mantra that is seated at the crucial departure from the legitimization of a cultural movement that is in perpetual crisis. Their symbolic manifestos debate daily without reaching the boredom on a frenetic race to find public acceptance and recognition. Pyrrhic victories.
At root, we must recognize Hip Hop as a consequence of connected historical processes that transcended the official transcript that was being reproduced in a large part of the culturalist imaginary that understood Kool Herc as a kind of mythological creating force who “invented” a form that was exclusively artistic- minimizing the racial, social, and political conditions that ignited the mobilization of the oppressed body in order to exorcise the excesses of a community mired in isolation, marginalization and the dynamics of daily emergency brought on by systemic terrorism.
In truth, Kool Herc was the first personality to emerge visibly from this confluence of conditions that culminated in the affirmative political exercise we know as Hip Hop. However, it is crucial that we revisit a few decades much further in time.
How can it be said that the presentation given at Wattstax in 1972 isn’t a relevant experience in the series of instances that the cultural industry likes to label with precise birthdates? The same is said of jazz in the 30’s and even more so those old school oral traditions with clear rhythmic patterns, narratives, and aesthetics very similar to Hip Hop when we know they have actually nourished it.
This is how the first block party dances presented the body of the oppressed as vehicle that sprang up spontaneously transgressing the hegemony. On one end, while the narrow criteria of cultural elites was busy praising discursivity in the artistic process of politicization, a diasporic Caribbean conglomerate in South Bronx was yelling “presente!” and strengthening their desire for self- determination with only the movement of their asses in 4/4 time.
That humid summer in the projects, an acoustic guitar was passively sending notes full of messages about a bank, loudly vocalizing metaphors like: a symptom of white melancholy resulted in and continues to result in many barren people looking for a touch of melanin.
At the same time, south of the border, the culmination of historic ingredients was very similar. The era of Reaganomics had a domino effect on the neo-colonial economies that were economically dependent on the United States and morally dependent on Spain, France, or Germany. This was coupled with a slow process that involved years of authoritarianism, corruption, systemic racism, internalized colonialism, asymmetries produced by colonial pillaging, cacicazgo, and above all in afflictions of the psyche of every person of color who was made a citizen in the “republics of the underworld”.
In this particular case I am going to focus on Mexico; the republic of Criollo fortune, the economy of remittance, the baroque aesthetic, the narco-state, the 40 million people living in extreme poverty, thet housands of textures in the flux of transmigrant experience, and those beautiful people who resist, sometimes blindly, who confront and are critical of their subjective inclusion in the national project as though it were their worst enemy.
Recently someone sent us a link promoting a new rapper in the Mexican scene who, in an interview, explained that his nickname originated from the admiration he held for Adolph Hitler. More than the tremendous absurdity of this implication, there is also a perverse symbolic representation that highlights some very problematic situations that have not only been normalized within their own artistic or alternative communities but have also been legitimized in an argument for the supposed creative freedom that is implicit in Hip Hop.
In this moment, every direct, organic and inseparable relationship to Hip Hop as a fundamentally anti-racist and emancipatory experience is completely diluted and reimagined south of the border as a poor hybrid art form, with neither a head nor feet, that extols Hitler as much as a Zapata or Woody Allen and Hannibal Lecter in the same verse.
We are witnessing a grotesque spectacle; one filled with narratives of apathy and crude creative drive, with unclear competition, mediocre orality, poetry that is non-existent and coming from normalized ideologies; an unintentional burlesque.
A couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to give a concert in Madrid for the first time. It was a concert that we were paradoxically invited to by the Casa America via the Centro Cultural de España in Mexico, which functions as a physical space to bring various cultural activities that are mostly “free” with the clear agenda of setting a specific standard that is congruent with liberalism; Programs that promote plurality, tolerance, “progressive” movements, multiculturalism, sexual diversitysemantic praise-names given toexercises, meaning hierarchystratification in their performative roles, and cultured whites in positions of power and decision making, don’t have to cross the line into the “other exotic”, some sort of “symbolic reparations” program in the ex-colonies. We agreed to participate in the festival obviously for the opportunity to visit Spain and as part of a strategic position to present a project with a decolonial narrative through rap in within the matrix of Hispanidad and its vicissitudes.
Aside from the many details and experiences of the trip, the instance that caught my attention the most, was the ability to see a very peculiar phenomenon of cultural appropriation up close; white Spanish men exhibiting a profound, almost erotic, fascination with the gang culture of Chicanos and Mexicans from Southern California, to a level that clearly superceded mere glorification and gave birth to a perverse mimetic process that was completely out of context.
So you have these naïve members of a fake Sur 13 gang walking the narrow streets of central Madrid, stealing a model of forced oppression that can be turned on or off, as it is convenient, with the historical benefit of their mayoral blood. Low rider bikes, shirts with the number of their favorite California gang printed on the chest, I see them passing by what remains of imperial Iberia washing away their guilt in the most radical way possible; the great conqueror impersonating the conquered, in a place where the direct nephew of Cabeza de Vaca put forth his picturesque intent to modify his accent in the pronunciation of the marked “S” to that of the Chicano “ese” in Echo Park, decorating his body with flashy tattoos that emulated prison codes that would get you arrested on sight in any barrio in the United States...I have nothing but a tremendous amount of embarrassment (that they clearly aren’t feeling) for these people.
Those lovers of the gangster pantomime forgot to investigate what Cesar Chavez meant to the fathers of their idols in the campesino community, or what kinds of ethical and moral functions and responsibility to their community the “Mexican Mafia” or “Nuestra Familia” have at their origins, they forgot to appropriate the history lessons of George Jackson’s Soledad Brothers, and they will never know that Kid Frost’s “This is for la raza” was a political affirmation. The Zoot Suit Riots is not a Spanish sitcom.
In contrast to the merely antagonistic disposition of the aforementioned caricatures, the main triumph for consumer societies has emerged in the form of a rhyme, the middle class indoctrinated by the hegemonic cultural industry through cable television, pretentious Puritanism and complete desensitization to any kind of responsibility beyond grabbing a microphone, spitting some well executed rhymes, packaging them in the most attractive way, and starting an incessant campaign of indulgent self promotion where the primary objective is to consider oneself “the best of the best”. The redundancy is intentional both grammatically and in all possible senses of the word.
The light of the super-ego dims in the face of those titans of braggadocio.
Rap that talks about rap is for the “Hip Hop heads”, the preferred name of “the chosen ones”, and is really just an exercise in self-definition that tries to present itself as part of an elite circle of “experts” who, instead of generating an agenda that is directly in touch with the community, unknowingly express a position that is merely nihilistic, conservative, and ideologically flat.
Despite the serious irrelevancy these types of artistic projects will enjoy in the long run, it is possible to identify a measure of consistency inside of particular social spaces within the Spanish middle class, and in this way predicting that, in the worst case, we are looking at the creation of an industry that practically consumes itself on a regional level. Yes, it is unjust and impossible to make a categorical generalization. There are projects that act as the natural antithesis to those binary spectrums and do reach spaces with more visibility, in terms of impact, outside of Spain.
For the sake of this analysis, the part that is most problematic is when those aficionados of verbiage cross the continent and land in Latin America and are transformed into a new crop of colonial demigods, venerated by tens of thousands of people, who are re-establishing cultural codes as they move across the barriers of the pleasant streets of Seville to germinate and bear amorphous fruit in the barrios and peripheral zones on the left side of the map.
It would only be a small victory if the preferences and cultural aesthetics of consumers in Mexico completely disassociated from any permanent dependency relationships or colonial influence.
Perpetual self hate comes from the constant beating of systemic racism on indios and blacks and, during independence movements and revolutions in the past, it has come by way of a beneficial Criollo benefactor. The steady plans of “whitening” and “racial improvement” have permanently idealized this aspiration to drape oneself in “fine lines” imported from Paris or some Spanish duke, self hate comes from the same entities who have dictated every canon and mechanism for the appreciation of beauty, social disposition and moral matrix as a pillar in the foundation of Mexicanidad and its many myths.
Welcome to the concert. A couple thousand of inhabitants from the dark periphery are enthusiastically singing the “poetry” of melancholy and reflection from the Iberian suburb.
This phenomenon within Hip Hop is only one of the millions of consequences of primitive processes that is directly linked to race relations in Latin America, with all of its colonial despotism and specter of permanent subordination in the respectful socialization the new caciques who have the mindset of a rapper.
Recently, in a response during an interview for an Argentinean review, I touched on the theme of affinity and antagonism being at the root of a merely discursive position, and then commented that, in spite of the implied automatic nexus within the work of rappers in Spain who consider themselves militant (and for the most part defend orthodox Marxism or Anarchism in some cases), I had a much more solid and automatic connection with rappers like 50cent, with whom, despite the fact that he discursively represents much of capitalism’s worst vices, I could establish another type of connection based on the process of racial, historical, and cultural similarity with the inflection in our body language. Such that, at the end of the day, 50 cent’s personal development is not very different from my own, except that in my case, I had the privilege of access to certain non-hegemonic sources of information being applied to the transgression of power structures through art and activism, which in this framework represents a daily battle with an economic situation- it is here, where the “unfortunate one” is located in the majority, that we choose this route.
For 50cent, the privilege of having access to a large sum of money represents a direct compromise with cultural hegemonies and the large entertainment corporations, who in turn gave him a serious detriment: the nullification of his political power in the co-optation and diminution of his person in a commercial object.
Despite our radical departure in interests and the issues that could hypothetically arise from my imaginary relationship with 50cent, I brought up those fundamental ties to assert that, for me, there are many more relevant and important points of connection, including 50cent’s level of politico- symbolic potential, than the politico-symbolic figure of white Spaniards dressed up like Bolsheviks.
Miram Makeeba didn’t have to recite a political theory manifesto because her smile alone was a painful maxim to structures of power.
Meanwhile, in the southern backyard, that land two centimeters into Tijuana, the more they work to perfect the art of virtuous longing, the more any affirmation or political responsibility is diluted- especially within the new “kings of the game” and their circus of rhymes and subjective realities. Hypermasculinity manifests as the product of patriarchal doctrines and the mayoral lash as a symbol of success and honorability, it is faithfully reproduced in the Hip Hop community as a sad extension of colonial metastasis. Macho-real-power- respect. All of it is subjective, I repeat, all of is subjective. The four elements.
I take my attention now to the recurrent obsession with the idea of man-man anal penetration as a synonym, blunt and humiliating, of oppressive victory, that the language of rap translates through predictable allegories within those competitive spaces that are so en vogue, resulting in a vile, regressive performative act that is incoherent with the most basic and elemental definition of rap as an act of empowerment for oppressed people around the world.
More than a critical exhale, the intent of this text is to articulate and expound in some way upon a series of basic conflicts in a way where it is possible to replicate discourses that can help establish a much more coherent, serious, transgressive, and productive criteria of affirmation and legitimization in collective and community space.
Particularly in Mexico and in many other Latin American countries, this constant lynching goes against they type of Hip Hop that tries to open doors within academic spaces, and it is left flat and inauthentic in an act of self-flagellation.
The sycophantic praise of that fantastic abstraction called “the streets” ,where symbols of virility are the only platforms of validation used to “prove” to other members of the Hip Hop community, becomes even more problematic and suspect in a society that in the last 7 years has lost almost 100,000 people to violence.
When we talk about academic space, it must be emphasized that we are making clear reference to the reclamation of a critical pedagogy that is strengthened by rap’s own natural history, a reclamation that redefines space that has historically omitted marginalized people of color, in this way multiplying and sharing access to sources of information that question the mono-cultural system of knowledge itself.
Co-optation and normalization have already begun- clear examples abound. The burlesque has already sold the good slave on prime time television, and the corporate world has begun to explore the possibility of capitalizing on tiny investments that serve as the perfect mirage to create a bubble of subjective success in the minds of the dispossessed. Rap from the underworld will never have access to oil money because subjugation has reduced it to the scale of local economy. It takes 13 pesos to buy a 1 dollar.
Understanding Hip Hop beyond the memorization of its watersheds requires understanding the series of historical, cultural, and political dispositions that are unalienable and necessarily germane to its body, which are the key to activating, as a measure of exigency, personal dignity and collective responsibility.
This is an adult game where age doesn’t matter, cause’ some use a beard but only spit lullabies decolonial love in the third grade so you can relax, I left that Napoleon mask at the colonial masquerade.
We went to the mother and didn’t find land.We talked to the Atlantic and it told us that the diaspora is strongwe knew how to escape their vacuum,that sucked up humanity under the pretext of aid Use your dance to fight, your victory is their dismay, if you are not free, I include you in this work as well, it is not narcissistic, if you do not feel beautiful and brilliant,they will not put you on the list, ask questions when you hear that history has already spoken for conquest. Colonization, Conquista.