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  • 09Apr

    On Los Rakas and the growing power of Latin heritage in the American mainstream

    Panamanian-American hip hop duo Los Rakas are the next great Latino hip-hop stars. However, their success, to use an oft quoted Dead Prez lyric, is so much “bigger than hip hop.”

    The ability to cross over for serious minority artists into the American mainstream comes at a steep price. Due to US history setting a precedent for the creation of comfortable ethnic stereotypes wrapped in the most terrible of racist notions, it places non-Caucasian performers in a strange space. Either limit your success to ethnic enclaves, or allow your heritage to fall prey to the base level stereotyping that is pervasive at the highest levels of pop stardom. However, space now exists in the world where success is defined by the wildest of new socio-political styles.

    The election of Barack Obama and the recent successes of the gay rights movement established a new American standard for a wildly different generation. Stereotypes that once existed have been exploded, opening new avenues for minority artists to create while exploring their ethnic traditions in the mainstream with a greater modicum of respect. The trickle down effect of the ascendancy of blacks and gays to the top of the table? The space where Los Rakas rise to excellence.

    Oakland, California residing cousins Raka Rich and Raka Dun don’t break the hip hop mold. While they largely rap solely in Spanish and deal with issues endemic to their cultural roots, that’s not their space. Their “Panabay” style is best heard as an a) technically and aurally solid and b) heavily Latin influenced take on urban existence. This isn’t Don Omar’s “Reggaeton Latino” advocating for civil rights, nor is it Kid Frost, Fat Joe and so many others ensuring that rap music doesn’t forget its Latin roots. Given recent American developments, it’s a sound and style that exists and excels in a space that presupposes you’re already aware that Latin culture is a dominant American social force and are interested in seeing just how far that power extends in the new world order.

    As to be expected of a duo well aware of their next-level importance, they’ve stayed unusually busy with co-signs from all of the expected progressive sources. 2010′s “Abrazame” was remixed into a cumbia champion sound by Uproot Andy and garnered considerable mainstream airplay. 2011′s Chancletas Y Camisetas Bordada EP? If you heard it, with it’s plethora of honest takes on reclaiming and preserving Latin roots in American cultural spaces, you’re immediately a fan, and if Washington Post columnist Chris Richards, you’d state that the release proved that “some of the most exciting dance music on the planet is still coursing through the Afro-Latin diaspora.” Is 2012 their year? Quite possibly. Amidst the oft-maligned din that was SXSW, the duo recorded tracks alongside The Flexican with Diplo as the producer. As always, it’s a pairing that makes sense with their dominant position in a generation where progressive ideals are par for the course.

    Blacks and gays have cracked open the door to direct access to the controlling notions for America’s future. Walking through that opening? Most likely Latinos. Census data shows the Hispanic population’s growth, and with that level of influence, once the American public views the explosive power of Latino empowerment as a statement that is par for the course and not a strange new concept, Los Rakas stand to be the beneficiary.

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