Small Change or a Smile: Freestyling in Mexico City

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.

Pat Boy raps in Mayan and Spanish. Photo from
Pat Boy raps in Mayan and Spanish. Photo from


  1. Michelle · · Reply

    What happened to the cabra?

  2. Haha, it’s there! The part about the cabra was just harder to translate.

    If you listen to the recording you can hear it!

    Here’s a bit of it:

    “… yo vengo proveniente de Iztapalapa
    En Iztapalapa se cree que abunda la lacra
    Algo algo no sé qué… peor que una cabra!”

    (I come from Iztapalapa
    People think that Iztapalapa is full of hoodlums
    Something-or-other… worse than a goat!)

    “Así es cómo lo veo, voy a sacar los cuernos
    Seguro son las cabras que salieron en movimientos”

    (That’s how I see it, I’m going to get out the horns
    It must be the goats that started moving)

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