Academic journal article Western Folklore

Musical Trafficking: Urban Youth and the Narcocorrido-Hardcore Rap Nexus

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Musical Trafficking: Urban Youth and the Narcocorrido-Hardcore Rap Nexus

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Beginning in the 1980s, ballads about the illicit drug trade known as narcocorridos became hugely popular in both Mexico and the U.S., where they continue to receive extensive airplay on Spanish-language radio stations. Most discussions of the narcocorrido phenomenon-whether academic, journalistic, or fan-generated-make some passing reference to the style's affinity with "gangsta" rap, yet without elaborating upon the two genres' fundamentally similar aesthetic and sociological underpinnings. The following article takes up this comparative project, arguing narcocorridos and hardcore rap are more than just analogous pop trends on either side of the Rio Grande. In an era of permeable borders and transnational identities, the two musical styles evince shared motifs and overlapping fanbases; one is just as likely to hear the bombastic sounds of narcocorridos as the funky "jeep beats" of hip-hop on the streets of U.S. inner cities-spaces that have increasingly become black and Latino contact zones. By examining the intersection of these two musical forms that are immensely popular with African-American and Chicano urban youth, this article explores the ways both respond to, contest, mythologize, and capitalize on their shared structural conditions of existence: namely, hegemonic neoliberalism that facilitates "flexible" accumulation for multinational corporations while attenuating joblessness and blight in U.S. cities and the economic dispossession of rural Mexicans. It frames these texts, with their emphasis upon poverty and its relation to the narcotics trade within the Americas, as localized responses to global forces. Finally, the article highlights how these songs, because they exist as commodity forms, are riven with contradictions, the primary one being that they are inevitably contained and shaped by the very economic system they often contest; they simultaneously exist as a voice of the subaltern and a vehicle by which corporate elites profit.

BLACK AND TAN REALITY

Songs about drugs, guns, womanizing . . . these are subjects destined to raise the ire of bourgeois moral authorities in any society. Currently two musical styles highlighting such subjects have reignited "culturewar" debates over public decency and the limits of artistic expression in both the U.S. and Mexico: gangsta rap (referred to today more often as hardcore or "thug" rap) and narcocorridos. The former is an American form - a subgenre of rap music and part of a larger hip-hop cultural phenomenon now 30 years old. The latter emanates from the mountainous Mexican state of Sinaloa, where the agricultural peasantry adopted the time-honored corrido ballad to suit their regional context. Yet they are more than just analogous phenomena on either side of the Rio Grande. In an era of permeable borders and transnational identities particularly within the Americas - hardcore rap and narcocorridos travel similar circuits of distribution, affect overlapping fan bases and share numerous motifs. Their confluence becomes particularly concentrated in the music-industry capital of Los Angeles, the birthplace of gangsta rap and the newly established center of narcocorrido production.

Today both the funky "jeep beats" of hardcore rap and the bombastic sounds of banda and norteño music - the instrumental styles accompanying narcocorrido songs - are heard thumping from the car speakers of young residents of L.A.'s so-called ghettos and barrios. As a result of recent demographic shifts, narcocorridos achieve widespread popularity far beyond the historically Hispanic neighborhoods of East L.A., Boyle Heights and Pico Union; Latinos now account for the majority of the population in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Region, creating what many refer to as an alternate, nonwhite dominant reality within "Nuevo L.A." (Davis 2000:2). Chicanos and Latin-American immigrants occupy inner-city spaces in South Central L.A. that have traditionally been associated with the city's African-American working- and "under"-class, such as Compton, Watts, Inglewood, and South Park. …

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