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Chicano Rap vs. Gangster Rap
Chicano Rap is directly related to West Coast Rap movement of the late 1980s and the early 90s. The nature of Rap in itself is that it was a reflection of real life, rappers were average people that anyone could relate to. During its formation, Chicano rappers didn't recognize themselves as "Chicano Rappers" specifically, as Kid Frost says, he was just making music along with the rest of the movement. However, Chicano music took on its own vibe, it's own language even. Calo is the language used by Chicano rappers: it's a mixture between Spanish and English, sometimes combining indigenous languages as well.
The video to the left is by Oakland Latinos United, an organization that works to serve as an outlet for the Latino voice in the Bay Area. The narrator knows a lot about Chicano rap as he likely grew up listening to it and expiriencing it's creation first hand. However, he is very against rappers who advocate for any sort of gang violence, showing that pop culture doesn't affect the entire Chicano population.
Kid Frost, "La Raza"— 1991
"Yo soy chingon ese, like Al Capone ese
Controlo a todos solo never try to swept me
Some of you don't know what's happening 'que pasa'
It's not for you anyway 'cos this is for the Raza"
I'm that big shot, like that Al Capone
I control everyone alone never try to swept me
Some of you don't know what's happening "what's up?"
It's not for you anyway 'cos this is for The Race
Kid Frost is a Mexican American rapper from Windsor, California. He began his rap career during the 1980s West Coast rap movement. He signed with Virgin Records in 1990 and released his debut album Hispanic Causing Panic in 1991. "La Raza" is his most popular song because it's essentially an anthem on Chicano pride. The music video shows lowriders, Chicano graffiti, zoot suits, chola dress and makeup, and Aztec-like art, all aspects of Chicano culture that were looked down upon by other Americans. "La Raza" melds the 1960s Chicano Movement with the 1980s rap movement. Additionally, it shows the transformation of what it means to be Chicano in California society. In the 1960s, a Chicano was an activist, someone who stood up for La Raza. "La Raza" contains elements of that— the very title is "La Raza", showing it's ode to the 1960s Chicano Movement. However, "La Raza" also shows the transformation of the Chicano movement from being about brown power to gang violence— "Yo Soy Chingon ese, like Al Capone ese". Kid Frost compares himself to Al Capone, a romanticized image of gang violence in American culture. Chicano culture, as well as American culture, idealizes Al Capone, showing that Chicano culture has made a transition from being about political empowerment to relating to gang violence.
Funky Aztecs, "Chicano Blues"— 1992
Cause he aint Chicano
In that barrio, no one's good
Just merciless in that sloped out hood
No Law no order so what to do
Hang with the gang and bang if you're true
Insane to the brain so loco is the name
Nominated to the street like game
The Funky Aztecs are a Chicano rap group hailing from Vallejo, California. The Funky Aztecs are evidence of the remnants of the 1960s Chicano Movement in California society— their songs advocate for the uplift of La Raza, condemning gang violence. They identify themselves as Chicano rappers and use the term "Chicano" frequently in their songs. The cover art for the album Chicano Blues symbolizes Norteños and Sureños bringing peace:, the two sides of the picture are nearly identical. The sky on the left side is blue, representing the Sureños, while the sky on the right side is red, representing the Norteños. The gang members are dressed in the same way, and there is an even distribution of Norteños and Sureños in order to represent equality and a shared balance of power. Additionally, it's unclear whether their meeting is taking place at sunset or sunrise. Sunset could represent the end of an era of hate between Sureños and Norteños, while sunrise could represent the dawn of a new era where all Chicanos get along. The sun also spans the entire image, showing that Norteños and Sureños live under the same sun so it's foolish that they can't get along. "Chicano Blues" shows the reaction to the gang references in songs like "La Raza". The Funky Aztecs represents Chicanos who are frustrated with gang violence in their culture.
Barrio= slang for neighborhood, generally refers to a poorer neighborhood
Darkroom Familia, "Norteños y Norteñas" (2000s)
Darkroom Familia is a Chicano gangster rap group from Northern California. Darkroom Familia exemplifies the transition of the Chicano movement from political activism to gang violence. Record labels were never interested in signing Darkroom Familia due to their involvement in gang culture. Their music spread on the street through word of mouth, the same way gang information is spread, showing that Darkroom Familia's music reflects Chicano street culture rather than the highly publicized political activist version. Additionally, Darkroom Familia members have admitted their ties to the Norteños 14 gang and the closely affiliated Nuestra Familia gang— much like their music, Darkroom Familia themselves is closely tied with gang culture. "Norteños y Norteñas" clearly reflects this trend— it's about young Chicanos who were dragged into the Norteño gang by their family and by the pressures of the society around them. "Norteños hasta la muerte", or "Norteños until death" represents the cycle of violence Chicano kids are exposed to— everyone they know is a Norteño, so they get dragged into the cycle. However, once you become a Norteño, you are a Norteño "for life. Por Vida", so there is no way to escape the cycle of violence even if you've since realized it was the wrong choice to make. Darkroom Familia represents the increased importance of gang violence in Chicano culture: in the early 90s, they rapped about La Raza like Kid Frost, but in the 2000s they rap about violence, guns and gangs.
Norteños hasta la muerte
Coming to Papa yo you better have a cuete
"Norteños hasta la muerte" means Norteños until death
"Cuete" is Calo slang for pistol
Food For Thought
Look at the samplings of lyrics from "La Raza", "Chicano Blues" and "Norteños y Norteñas". What do you notice about each artist's use of Spanish? For example, I notice that both Kid Frost and Darkroom Familia use Spanish to express the more violent, powerful lyrics of their songs while the Funky Aztecs use hardly any Spanish. What does this say about the meaning of the Spanish language in Chicano music culture?