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Dominican Rap: The latest youth movement
Leading the rise of Dominican rap is a collection of artists who have spent the last year lyrically battling each other on their way to the limelight. To most rap fans the “battle” - a lyrical sparring match where an opponent tries to use witty lyrical retorts to embarrass an adversary - is the best way to gain quick fame and sell a lot of records, and Dominican artists have become masters of this art. In hip-hop the battle has been one way for a rapper to prove his supremacy, gain a large fan base, sell records and remain in the public eye. Although the rap battle can at times be used as a PR strategy, with the artists involved knowingly jibing at each other to increase their visibility, it has made Dominican rap artists the talk of the town.

El Lapiz Conciente, Vakero, Joa, Toxic Crow, Punto Rojo and R1 are the six artists at the top of the genre so far. El Lapiz, a native of Los Mina, is the man with the target on his back and the guy who has been designated the face of the genre. El Lapiz, who was a seventh semester accounting student at the UASD, gained most of his early exposure through a variety of videos that started appearing on You Tube in late 2006 and early 2007. His first notable track was “Las Menores.” Gradually, the young artist, who is now signed to the Top Dollar Entertainment label, started to achieve fame and with it came the challenge from up-and-coming artists. Some say that a comment by El Lapiz, alluding to the fact that he was being signed to a major recording deal and getting a visa to tour the US, sparked the whole thing. Eventually artists like Vakero started questioning El Lapiz’s comments through “diss” records, or “tiraera” which forced El Lapiz to respond. And this is where it all began. Vakero responded with his classic track “No me de cotorra” (don’t give me any lip) and another classic “Otra vez se paltio el Lapiz” (The pencil has been broken again.) The lyrical battles continued, and as the fame and popularity continued other artists were brought into the mix. Rapper Joa was mentioned in rhymes and released the track “Pa mi gente”, Toxic Crow then went ahead and released the track “Bazura” and “Te rompi tu dema, ” which then catapulted that rapper to more local fame. El Lapiz, who hasn’t been shy about the challenges, has released the series “Atento a mi” where he has made jabs at all comers. As the battling continued fans have only wanted more, and radio stations have responded to the growing demand. Although urban radio stations, some of which had only recently adapted to take advantage of the popularity of urban music, had been playing rap for some time, the mainstream radio stations in the DR and the US began promoting these artists and their songs on a regular basis, in a sense consolidating the fact that the genre had arrived.

Media response to the rise of Dominicans rap hasn’t all been positive. Just as critics did when reggaeton began its rise, critics are now condemning Rap Dominicano as misogynistic, violent, homophobic and promoting drug use, specifically marijuana, but these rappers claim that they are only rapping about what they see. They say their rhymes reflect the lives of people who have been ignored for far too long. National Drug Control Department director Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira recently stated that he is against songs that promote drug use and wants them taken off the airwaves. His comments were echoed by the National Drug Council and the Children and Young People's Advisor at the Attorney General's Office, but El Lapiz, who is currently charging RD$100,000 per concert appearance, says that as a response Dominican rappers must unite and deal with these issues. Also El Lapiz, speaking in a recent interview in Hoy says that the topics that appear in most songs are reflecting life in the barrios. Rapper Joa, who says he doesn’t swear or use drugs, supported El Lapiz’s comments and added that society should reflect on what has caused these rappers to say what they say.

These rappers in their own way have stepped up and challenged social groups and critics to take a deeper look at the society that has created the situation where young men and women act and behave in certain ways. At times, the violence can be viewed as gratuitous and sometimes just a scheme to sell more records and gain more popularity, as so many on the US rap scene have done, but the reality of Dominican rappers is that the violence, drug use or overall behavior they speak of is unfortunately closer to reality than some would like you to believe.

What has separated Dominican Rap from any genre that speaks to urban youth at the moment is the fact that it hasn’t strayed too far away from its roots. Although Rap is an imported genre and the sounds blasting from speakers don’t resemble the typical sounds of the DR, the artists have managed to include the sounds of Bachata and Merengue into their productions. Also, these artists have included Dominican slang, or “Tigueraje Dominicano”, so much into their sounds that high class Dominicans are now being educated in a language that was only miles away in the physical sense but culturally distant. Artist Toxic Crow released a track called “El tigueraje dominicano” which catalogs the various uses of Dominican slang in replacement of ordinary terms. A perfect example of this is the use of the term “tu ta cloro instead of saying “you are correct.” This term, formerly used specifically in the barrios, is now being uttered by schoolchildren in all parts of the DR and the US. El Lapiz says that the largest difference between these genres is that Dominican rap is a way of life and that reggaeton is just a fad.

The effects of this sub-genre are more far-reaching than anyone could have ever imagined. For many years the trademark Dominican musical genres outside the US were Merengue and Bachata. For many Dominicans these genres were the perfect vehicles for expressing their “Dominicanness”. But lost in this gap were Dominican children who grew up in the US who didn’t like Bachata, preferring urban sounds, or young people in the DR who felt that the musical landscape was leaving them out of the conversation. With this developing genre, Dominican urbanites across the world have found what they have been waiting for. Those in the States now have their own urban genre that is representative of the “Dominicanness” they so proudly cheer on. Kids in the DR now have a sound that they can use to be heard and are now part of the conversation.

Where will this genre be in 5, 10 or 15 years remains to be seen. Next year the Cassandra Awards might create a new category for best rap song, album or artist of the year. We could be on the verge of a social revolution where cultural and musical conventions are discarded, to be replaced by newer and flashier sounds. Or we could just be witnessing another shooting star on the music scene that will have burned out before the year is over. Who knows? One thing that we can be certain of is this: Dominican artists are making strides both locally and internationally.
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