Hip-Hop, Puerto Ricans, and
Ethnoracial Identities in New York
Raquel Z. Rivera
Word Up magazine did an article where they mentioned me and it was called “The Latinos in Hip-Hop.” What's wack about that is that they have to separate us [Latinos] [from blacks]. And I hated that. I was in the same article as Kid Frost, you know, [who did the song] “La Raza.” And I was like, come on, man, what do I have to do with Kid Frost? It's just totally different things and they're trying to funnel us all together. You never hear an article called “The Blacks in Hip-Hop.”
The above is a fragment of a conversation I had in 1995 with Q-Unique, a skilled and feisty MC who is a member of the Arsonists (a popular New York underground rap group that released its debut album, As the World Burns, in August 1999 with Matador Records) and the Rock Steady Crew (the legendary hip-hop organization better known for its contributions to the dance form known as breaking). A self-described hip-hop 1 activist committed to nourishing a socially responsible, historically grounded, holistic hip-hop creativity, Q. deeply resents being segregated, as a Puerto Rican, from a hip-hop cultural core that is assumed to be African American.
The problem that Q. describes is two-fold. First, hip-hop is ahistorically taken to be an African American expressive culture. Latinos (Puerto Ricans included) are thus excised from the hip-hop core on the basis of a racialized panethnicity. Second, as Latino population numbers and visibility increase in the United States, a variety of national-origin groups (Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Dominicans, and so on) with different experiences of colonization, annexation, and/or immigration to the United States, as well as different histories of structural incorporation and racialization, are lumped under the Latino panethnic banner (Flores 1996a; Oboler 1995). This wider social phenomenon manifests itself within the hip-hop realm when Latinos are grouped together on the hip-hop margins under the presumed commonalties shared by Latino hip-hoppers.
What does a New York Puerto Rican MC like Q. have in common with a West Coast Chicano artist like Kid Frost? According to Q., the answer is,