Blog post

Sujatha Fernandes profiles Cuban rap in the New York Times

Jessica Turner 8 August 2011

Sujatha Fernandes, author of the forthcoming Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation, reports on Cuba's vibrant hip hop scene for the New York Times, detailing its origins in 1990s American rap music:

Rap was originally an import. In the early '90s, young Cubans built antennas from wire coat hangers and dangled their radios out of their windows to catch 2 Live Crew and Naughty by Nature on Miami's 99 Jamz. Aspiring Cuban M.C.'s rapping at house parties and in small local venues crassly mimicked their American counterparts.

In large part due to their isolation from the United States, however,  Cuban rappers began to develop a unique hip hop culture. Says Fernandes:

The embargo...kept out the key tools of background beats - samplers, mixers and albums - so Cuban rappers instead drew on a rich heritage of traditional local music, recreating the rhythmic pulse of hip-hop with instruments like the melodic Batá drums, typically used in ceremonies of the Afro-Cuban Santería religion. In the tradition of Cuban a cappella groups like Vocal Sampling - which conjured up full salsa orchestras solely through their voices - Cuban rappers made up for the lack of digital technology by developing the human beat box, mimicking not just drum machines but congas, trumpets and even song samples.

Out of scarcity, Cuba's emcees have fashioned beats, rhymes and a lyrical style that both gives credit to hip hop's roots in the United States, and is a testament to the island's dynamic traditions.

Visit the the New York Times to read the article in full.