One of the ways that the USA has influenced Latin America and the rest of the world is through its music.
It’s true that US culture has flooded other parts of the world more than they have flooded each other in the last century, but music is rarely adopted without adding local flavor. Musical hybridization is nothing new, and in my book it is one of the more enjoyable results of globalization.
I was riding a bus in Mexico City the other day when a couple of young guys got on board and addressed the passengers. They announced that they were rappers from Iztapalapa (a poor neighborhood in the Federal District) and started to explain the role of improvisation in freestyle hip hop.
“Someone pick a word,” one of them said. “Any word. We’ll rhyme off of it so you know we’re really making the lyrics up on the spot. C’mon.”
A passenger finally volunteered “cabra.” Goat. Awesome.
“The word is goat!” says one of the musician. “We’ll try to do something with that, and see what happens. Let’s get this show started.”
The duo turned on their stereo and started rapping to the beat. When they were done, they collected a few coins, chatted with the bus driver, and went on their way. “If you don’t have any spare change, don’t worry,” they said. “We know they’ve raised the fare. Just give us a smile.”
I happened to have my audio recorder on me, so click play below to hear the show. Below is a transcription and translation of some of their lyrics.
Hay quien cree que el rap está lleno de groserías
Yo soy la evidencia de que es pura poesía
Oye mira que saco las melodías
De las buenas y las malas yo vengo a alegrarles, yeah!
(There are those who think that rap is full of vulgarity
I’m proof that it’s pure poetry
Listen up! Look, I’ve got melodies
Of the good and the bad, and I’m hear to cheer you up, yeah!)
Hip hop, sinónimo de grosería
Raggaetón, sinónimo de misoginia
Así es como lo tengo, mira ¿cómo lo adivinaste?
No hay quién me detenga no porque lo freestyle ya es un arte
(Hip hop, synonym of vulgarity
Raggaetón, synonym of misogyny
That’s how I am, look, how did you guess?
There’s nobody can stop me, no, because freestyle is an art)
Este es un arte que viene constante
estilo elegante que imparte las frases
Sabes que de ese lado sacan el celular
Con el que me pueden grabar para oírme en su auricular
(This is an art that flows constantly
Elegant style that shares the phrases
You know, over here they’re getting out their cell phones
With which they can record me and listen to me with headphones)
Por allá atrás mi amiga, creo que viene pensando
Pensando que soy muy bueno cuando vengo improvisando
lo que vengo soltando si tú lo analísas
No soy un payaso, pero hasta le saco una sonrisa
(Back there is my friend, I think she’s thinking
Thinking I’m good when I come around improvising
What I’m letting loose, if you analyze it
I’m no clown, but I even get her to smile)
Le saca la sonrisa, mira que él no es payaso
Porque no está maquillado como el presidente al mando
Así es como lo tengo, me sigo hasta adelante
no hay quien me detenga, no, por eso no voy a devaluarme.
(He gets her to smile, look he isn’t a clown
Because he doesn’t wear makeup, like the president in charge
This is what I’ve got, I keep pushing on,
Nobody can stop me, no, that’s why)
Keep in mind that they’re not the only ones spinning rhymes in Mexico. Pat Boy, for example, raps in his native Mayan language from the Yucatán as well as Spanish.