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Dominican Rap: The latest youth movement
A new musical sub-genre, Rap Dominicano, is coming out of the Dominican barrios and taking its place right next to Merengue or Bachata as a popular form of Dominican music. In its meteoric rise Rap Dominicano is even displacing popular genres like reggaeton or American rap. Only six months ago Daddy Yankee was the hottest sound blaring out of radios and now we take a listen and a guy by the name of El Lapiz Conciente is spitting rapid-fire rhymes to the delight of kids, the disgust of parents and community leaders, and the confusion of music executives. Dominican rappers’ music was privy only to the ears of barrio inhabitants and the stigma associated with the music would ensure that their sounds would only be played in local barrio colmados or at clubs dedicated to this type of music. But now Dominican rap is the latest sound that is blasting through the airwaves in the DR and has become the most popular genre with Dominican youth in the US. These artists are taking this once underground genre to the mainstream and are unapologetic about their roots and their sound.

Challenge is not new for any of these artists; it’s been a part of life growing up in some of the country’s most impoverished neighborhoods. It is part of their musical repertoire and in the face of the highly polished and pristine image that some Dominicans would like to portray outwardly, Dominican rappers are challenging the image and letting the rest of the country know that they are a part of a society that has to be heard. These rappers are bringing barrio talk and barrio issues with them as they ascend into the spotlight, but will their message be heard?

In a previous DR1 article on music and youth, reggaeton was mentioned as the vehicle through which young people were able to express themselves, but Dominican rap is taking one step further by providing a specific genre of music that is not only modern and detailed, but is also home grown and organic and specific to Dominican youth. Though not as acceptable as reggaeton has become or as “Dominican” as Bachata, Dominican rap’s interest and popularity is growing because many young people feel a connection with the music. The lyrical slang used by these raperos is that of the barrios where they come from. These artists’ popularity is then multiplied because they are so local it seems that every Dominican tells a story about someone in the barrio who knows them. Moreover, Dominican rap’s new-found prominence in the sub-genre of youth music is gaining young Dominicans, especially musicians, international respect and recognition in a genre that has been heavily dominated by neighboring Puerto Rican artists.

Dominican rap has its roots in the large migration trends of the early and mid 1990s. Most Dominican immigrants found their way to New York City, the Mecca of hip-hop culture. The children of those first Dominicans, while maintaining their connection to musical styles like Bachata and Merengue, were heavily influenced by the rap and hip-hop cultures that were flourishing in the five Boroughs of New York. This first generation of Dominicans was blasting Biggie Smalls and Wu-Tang Clan beats and composing their own lyrics, as opposed to the melancholy sounds of Dominican Bachata that their parents were finding comfort in. As Dominicans began to travel back to the DR on vacations or move back permanently they brought back this urban musical style and thus imported the foundations of what we now call Dominican rap.

The rap that is now popular among Dominicans bears some resemblance to that original taste of the music that was brought in the mid 1990s, but its divergence in styles and the ability of the Dominican artists to make the genre theirs was what has helped the genre shine. By most accounts, although no definite history exists that chronicled its development, Dominican rap began to make a name for itself around 1996, but it was a very domestic and local movement of “crews” who would rap and freestyle in their neighborhoods. You must remember that in 1996, urban music was still relatively new to the DR and therefore largely unaccepted by society at large. As immigration and remittances, both financial and cultural, started to increase, so did rap in the Dominican Republic. Groups like Perfecto Clan and artists like Villano Sam, Adroide, Eric Clan Cadafy, Abalon, Camelo, El Proyecto “Charles Family” and Pitufo then became some of the pioneering voices of Rap Dominicano.

Adding to the development of the genre in the country is the rise in accessibility of the Internet and the country’s telecommunications system. As the Internet has grown and has allowed families to keep in touch, it has also enabled different cultures that were once thousands of miles away, to be at the fingertips and a click away for anyone who has a computer. Websites like MUNDORD.com, rapdominicano.com, flowhot.net are now all catering for the genre. Credit for the popularity of urban music and culture can also be attributed to TV vee-jay Charlie Valens and his show “100% Urbano,” which has continuously showcased the country’s up-and-coming artists and provided a platform for artists. The show, which has been on the air for about a year now, has grown in parallel with the genre and the success of one cannot be spoken about without mentioning the other. Valens’ influence on the DR music scene was highlighted when he was recently signed to promote the Ecko brand of clothing, which has been a staple of urban wear in the US for many years now. Is this a sign that Dominican music, and rap in particular have staying power and economic viability on the US market? Valens’ signing, along with reports that El Lapiz will also sign with Ecko point to this and also demonstrates that Dominicans have buying power in the US and beyond, and that marketers want to take advantage of this.
 
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