Christian Rap’s Latino Minority Quickly Becoming a Major Force
This article was originally on Rapzilla.com here.
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, one of your favorite Christian rappers might be Latino. Now, more than ever, Hispanic influence has taken root in the genre and it may never be the same.
One of the most beautiful aspects of hip-hop is the way it brings communities together. It also tells a variation of the same story throughout. In the early days of hip-hop in New York City, emcees represented neighborhoods. There were Bronx rappers, Queens rappers, Brooklyn rappers, and so on and so forth. Every rapper’s region had a uniquely different story but with the same hard times struggle sprinkled in.
Hip-Hop was sort of on equal footing between African Americans and Latinos from the 70s to mid-80s. After those early years where Hip-Hop groups had multiple members, the Hispanic influence began to thin out. The White culture had rock & roll and the angsty punk rock and Black culture had jazz and R&B. Yet, somewhere in the middle (disco and funk), the music clashed and created hip-hop. It wasn’t until the Beastie Boys and then, unfortunately, Vanilla Ice, that White culture started mingling in a major way.
African American’s have dominated since. Sure, there are Eminem’s, Mac Miller’s, Macklemore’s, and a whole slew of indie guys sprinkled throughout, but still it’s pretty Black dominated.
Surprisingly enough, the second largest ethnic minority in the U.S. (Hispanics), have been noticeably absent from mainstream success. They had B-Real of Cypress Hill, Big Pun, and Fat Joe, but Latino’s are a minority in mainstream hip-hop and it doesn’t seem to be getting anymore diverse. Rappers Fabolous, Lloyd Banks, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana are are half Latino. There are plenty of musical hybrids like Pitbull and Daddy Yankee, but there aren’t enough Joell Ortiz’s.
In these same neighborhoods that hip-hop was being bred in, Latino’s also came from that era. The whole Bronx is burning 70s affected the many minority groups that called it their home. Yet, still, their stories haven’t really shown up on wax.
In the 80s there was the West Coast’s Kid Frost holding it down as one of the first Latino’s of hip-hop notoriety. Prince Whipper Whip and Prince Markie Dee were others, but success was limited.
There is, however, one place where the Latino population seems to be growing and thriving, and that’s Christian Hip-Hop.
Apologies to any artists missed on this list, but there are a lot of Hispanic artists currently shaping and moving the culture forward. By all means, if you’re reading this and see someone noteworthy that is active today, not included, shout the name out in the comments.
In no particular order, here are the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, Dominicans, Central and South Americans that are repping Christian hip-hop’s Hispanic culture in various ways whether rapping, producing, or being creative. Some are half white, some are half of two Hispanic cultures, some are half black, and some can trace their roots to indigenous people of the “New World.”
Butta P and Juan Love (Rhema Soul), Lawren, Mogli the Iceburg, Eric Heron, Oscar Urbina, Social Club Misfits (Marty and Fern), GAWVI, DJ Mykael V, WHATUPRG, Gerry Skrillz, GordonBeats, OnBeatMusic, Joey Jewish, Double ATL, Ray Rock, Alex Medina, Datin, Angie Rose, Manwell Reyes (Group1Crew), Th3 Saga, Loso, Bryann Trejo, Hector Dominguez, Tragic Hero, Skrip, and Tee-Wyla.
Of course, Christian Hip-Hop pioneers such as D-Boy, T-Bone, New Breed, the Tunnel Rats, Unity Klan, and Geno V helped paved the way for Latinos in Christian Hip-Hop, but the artists listed above are making relevant moves in the culture every day to carry on the next generation.
Rapzilla spoke to a number of artists to get their take on Latino’s in Christian hip-hop and in hip-hop in general.
Datin carries himself with the posture of a Godfather. He is someone who when they speak, everyone listens because he has something important to say. He shared a bit of his personal story as a young rapper trying to make it and offered some insight.
“Once upon a time back in the late 90s and early 2000s, there were many roadblocks for Latino artists in hip-hop. Aside from Big Pun and Fat Joe, Latino artists were mostly not accepted and in mainstream Hip-Hop,” said Datin. “Back then, I was in my teens battle rapping and even though I was better than most of my peers, I was not awarded the same opportunities that most black and even white emcees got. But throughout time the color line has been blurred in Hip-Hop and I honestly feel like any male artist (they still hate on the ladies) of any ethnicity can make an impact in this game.”
Datin believes these color lines have disappeared in CHH as well. He said the biggest example of that is having a gang of saved Latino’s representing the kingdom with their gifts.
“I think Latinos are thriving in this genre due to the heavy support system we have. Not to mention the level of skill & talent we bring to the table can match with the best of them. There are probably a few million professing Christian Latinos that are proud of their heritage and in that pride, they support their own. Most CHH artist don’t consider their Latino fan base but look at cats like Andy and Lecrae with the “Uno Uno Seis” joint they did. It was genius! They were aware and catered to that side of their fan base and had a smash because of it.”
He continued, “As long as Latino CHH emcees continue bringing the same level of skill to the table and the Latino fan base keeps supporting like they do, CHH Latino emcees ain’t going nowhere unless God removes us.”
Cuban/Puerto Rican Lawren took his thoughts back to the formation of hip-hop, highlighting the importance of Hispanic people in its creation.
“Puerto Ricans in the Bronx had a significant impact on early Hip-Hop culture. Hip-Hop is made from urban and minority communities and consumed heavily by all ethnicities and social backgrounds.”
He shared that growing up, every Hispanic person he knew loved Hip-Hop and lived the culture. Admittedly, he can’t put his finger on why the sudden influx of Latino artists but he wishes they would be represented more in pop culture in general.
“The stumbling blocks are that being a Latino, people can stereotype us because they want us to speak or rap in Spanish. Which can lead to being typecast like actors do and only make Spanish or Reggaeton. Pitbull is a huge example albeit it was intentional as well on his part,” said Lawren. “We have to fight to be solely Hip-Hop. In the same, way, Lecrae has to fight the Gospel label, we have to fight the ‘Latino Label’ because we just want to be artists and not ‘Latino artists’.”
Lawren has steadily been climbing the ranks of prominence among new school artists and is making a name for himself lyrically and for his faith. He does interject his heritage and throws in some Spanish every once in a while. He also told an important story.
The song “Castro” is one of a kind as it documents the flight of his father from the Cuban regime. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” was the first rap track to really detail the urban decay and conditions of Black people in New York. Lawren’s “Castro” has that same anthemic punch realization about Cubans.
Ultimately, among Black, White, and Hispanic, Lawren thinks Latino people have it the hardest as far as breaking through in music without falling on creating “Latin” music.
“It’s easy for white rappers because whites are huge consumers of Hip-Hop in the sense that they really spend money,” he said. “Who do you see at shows? A huge amount of white kids from the suburbs. They see white rappers and automatically identify with them. Minority kids usually don’t have the money to go to shows. It’s harder in that sense.”
Now, what happens if you are both White and Hispanic (Mexican)? Well, then you get Mogli the Iceburg, who has documented his struggle with race in his song, “You Can’t Me Down.” In it, he dissects never being Hispanic enough, never being White enough, and constantly being stereotyped for a race that he isn’t.
Mogli the Iceburg:
This never being Hispanic enough even pertains to whether you speak the language or not, Mogli said. It even sometimes comes down to what type of Latino you are.
“I think the biggest roadblock with Latinos as a whole is Latinos. Mexicans mess with Mexicans super heavy, Puerto Ricans mess with Puerto Ricans heavy, but sometimes it can be hard for Latinos to just support each other it seems,” he revealed.
His statement about Latinos supporting other countries of their origin appears to ring true in some sense. Look at the seemingly forever feud of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York City, going as far as calling each other Goyas (PR) and Platanos (DR). There is always this rivalry going on even though many share the same background. There is also the lesser degree of tension between Indigenous Mexicans and Spanish (Spain) Mexicans.
“I think that Latinos are super vital to racial reconciliation in America as a whole. Our very existence and diversity challenges ideas of racial purity, supremacy, and even the concept of race itself,” he said. “We are a hybrid people that show that human beings can’t just be classified by arbitrary social constructs such as racial categories. I think that idea is key to improving race relations for all people.”
Mogli is hopeful for Latinos in hip-hop and feels the “market is wide open” for them now, especially with the changing demographics in the country. He also cites CHH hotspots such as Texas and Florida have huge Latino communities.
“I would hope that part of the reason is that real Christians are more likely to support a diverse representation of the body and that we are able to see Jesus through ethnic and cultural lines better than mainstream,” he said.
DJ Mykael V, not privy to any of the other conversations actually touched on things Lawren and Mogli said.
Whereas Lawren wasn’t sure why Latinos are moving now, Mykael thinks they are thriving because they are starting to embrace the overall Latin culture within the hip-hop world.
Mogli spoke to how Latinos may have division amongst each other, Mykael believes, at least in CHH, they are together.
“The face of Hip-Hop and the mainstream aspect of Hip-Hop that rose to the top was predominantly Black. It was marketed as a ‘Black thing’ when in actuality Hispanics played an equal role in the architectural side of Hip-Hop,” he stated. “I just feel like nowadays we’re underrepresented and stereotyped a lot.”
He said in a lot of people’s eyes, there are no Hispanic rappers. There are Don Omar’s Daddy Yankees’, and Pitbull’s.
“They try to associate us with what’s traditional to our culture but not with Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is this taboo space for Spanish people in America’s eyes. So I think we’re finally breaking the stereotypes of traditional Spanish culture to some people but they don’t know we’ve always been here,” said Mykael V. “And I think that now the Caribbean and Reggaeton/Dembow beats that Drake has used in his most recent projects make islander music more attractive essentially making us look better as a culture but also we’re breaking that mold of what ‘people’ think Hispanics and Hip-Hop should look like. So I just think we’re making better art and taking more pride in our culture.”
While there may always be barriers in music concerning ethnicity, there is another hurdle that many have to jump over — being a female.
Butta P is known for her hard jabbing rhymes and flows as one of Christian hip-hop’s top female emcees. She has two things to contend with, being a woman and being a Latina.
“I think with anything there’s going to be roadblocks or difficulties but you can’t let it hinder you,” she said. “I’ve had to embrace my identity, I am a woman, a Latina, a Christian, and I’m hip-hop.”
Butta P believes the difficulties come when you try to maneuver in only one of those identities. She said you have to learn how to take all those pieces and understand that all of it makes up who you are and be confident in it.
“I know for myself it’s still something I’m learning how to grow in, and I think that’s the best part about being an artist, you get to evolve and grow and embrace each piece of who you are. If you allow it to be a genuine piece of your art, people will see that, embrace it and begin to fall in love with who you are, with what you do and the music you make.”
The femcee believes Latinos are finally getting their due in music because they are following the wave of what’s hot. “The success and popularity happen in waves.” Hopefully, this is a trend that keeps coming as Hispanic artists lend their talents to change how we perceive rap.
“Latinos have often been part of hip-hop culture. If you look at the communities that hip-hop culture is targeting and marketing to, Latinos are there,” she said, before reflecting on her upbringing. “Growing up in a Spanish home, I grew up listening to all types of music. I grew up of course with Spanish music listening to salsa, merengue, bachata, you name it. But I also grew up listening to hip-hop and I was raised in the hip-hop culture but I was also raised in a Latino culture so I know for me it’s been a goal and desire to really fuse the two together because they both represent who I am as a Latina in the hip-hop culture.”
She continued, “I love what we’ve been able to contribute to music. And I believe that this is just the beginning, we’re going to see a lot more coming down the pike and that’s exciting for me.”
On the other hand, Gerry Skrillz, whose family immigrated from Mexico, doesn’t feel that Latinos are having any more success than they always had.
“I personally don’t feel the success that Latinos are having in CHH is any different than the success we have had in every other genre,” he admitted. “Latinos have been trailblazing and influencing music culture for decades. Jennifer Lopez, Big Pun, Cypress, Hill, P.O.D., Romeo Santos, Tony Touch, and many more have had great success in pop, rock, hip-hop, and R&B.”
Skrillz has also never experienced any roadblocks when it’s come to his craft and doesn’t think the hindrances that manifest are any different than what someone else who has to go through.
“We share the same obstacles as any other hip-hop artist. I truly believe that if the craft is developed well and the work to properly promote the brand and artist is successful, in time the artist will receive their due recognition. We live in an era where social media and technology have changed the dynamics of the music industry.”
Skrillz thinks that in many cases the social economic and socially oppressive obstacles that many Hispanic people have to overcome give birth to the art they create.
“My grandmother worked in the fields with Cesar Chavez and my mom would help her pick grapes as a young girl. The conditions were bad and I wish they didn’t have to live through that but I am proud of my roots and they will forever influence the art I create,” he revealed.
At the end of the day, he enjoys being someone who can influence his culture and be a “voice for the people.”
“I believe that the impact we will have on CHH and hip-hop as a whole is going to continue to increase and we are gonna make some dope music!”
Aside from all the talent mentioned here, three of Christian hip-hop’s top names are leading the pack for their culture, Social Club Misfits, and GAWVI.
Social Club Misfits’ Marty (Half Puerto Rican) and Fern (Puerto Rican), are packing out shows all over the country. When their latest album, The Misadventures of Fern & Marty dropped, they hit number one on the iTunes albums sales charts for rap.
On their previous tour, they brought along GAWVI, who is signed to CHH’s biggest label, Reach Records. Besides being a top producer for his label mates and the man behind the beats for Rhema Soul, GAWVI has his own unique blend of music that touches on his Latin roots, hip-hop, and dance. He is one of those “hybrid” guys mentioned before.
Marty was asked his thoughts on this, and he admitted that he never gave it any thought before. “But then again I don’t see color. I judge a man by their character,” he said. This further pushes the idea that he and Fern shared with Rapzilla a few months ago that in Miami, it’s so diverse, that no one pays attention to race. Read about that here.
Lastly, a major factor in perhaps why Hispanic people are making Christian rap is religion. Many Latino families observe strict religious backgrounds with the majority being Catholic or Presbyterian. God has always been part of the fabric of their upbringing. As this last generation grew up, Christian rap, in general, began to get more and more accepted by the church. Hispanic religious families were now ok with rap. As these young people looked for someone to cling on to, their choices were very limited. These kids and teens grew up to be the Latino artists we have today.
So what are your thoughts? Have you noticed that Christian hip-hop’s Hispanic artists are showing up more and more? That above list speaks for itself. Every one of these artists has a unique cultural story to tell and most of them let it shine in their music.