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Latin Cypher: 20 Spanish-Language MCs Everyone Should Hear

Words By Isabela Raygoza 

At no time since the hip-hop explosion of the 1970s in the US did it matter more than it does today – that is, in the romance language of Español. This fresh form of hip-hop arguably first emerged in the Caribbean and Central America with heavyweight Spanish lyricists like Puerto Rico’s Vico C and Panama’s El General. They are both considered to be the founding fathers of reggaetón who later went on to pave the way for the development of Spanish language hip-hop itself. Today, we have icons such as Tego Calderón, La Mala Rodríguez, and Calle 13, with young bloods grabbing the mic like Peru’s Las Damas, Spain’s Matador Rockers, and Venezuela’s Apache.

On this list, we introduce to you a short yet comprehensive list of rappers who in some ways have and are currently molding the landscape of Spanish language hip-hop. We attempt to cover as many artists in the field as possible from a variety of Latin countries (including Spain), but impossible to get them all for the sake of time and space limitations. By no means is this a competition between countries, but more of a unification of countries. So without further ado, here’s your starting point to 20 hip-hop artists, in alphabetical order:

ALIKA & NUEVA ALIANZA (Argentina/Uruguay)

Back during the mid ’90s, Alicia dal Monte made up one half of the Argentine female rap duo Actitud María Marta. Since her departure from AMM, this one-woman act went on to become the mistress of reggae-dancehall of South America. The Uruguay-birthed, Argentina-raised MC has experimented with several genres including cumbia, and has collaborated with the likes of Jamaican reggae queen Dawn Penn and Mexican rapper Akil Ammar. Alika incorporates a Rastafarian philosophy into her powerful and conscious flow, and keeps paving the way for other Latin female rappers to come. Check out her candid video for “Jengibre.”

ANA TIJOUX (Chile/France)

Born in France to a French mother and a Chilean father who fled his country into political exile, Anita Tijoux picked up French hip-hop influences and began making conscious music as the female voice of Chile’s rap quartet Makiza. She then stopped using the diminutive in her name, now going by Ana, and went on to gain international fame releasing two solo albums, 1977 and La Bala. Packed with social and political awareness mixing in old school hip-hop roots, Ana’s lyrics are fierce, poetic, and smooth as silk.

BACTERIA SOUNDSYSTEM CREW (Guatemala)

Reared from Guatemala City, the five-piece outfit is a group of social narrators who represent their hood and people with pride. Each member also comes from an extensive and well-known solo trajectory either from Guatemala’s reggae, hip-hop, and dancehall scenes. Currently and collectively, BSC dubs classic American gangster rap beats, as well as their own original ones, and flow over them with some funky attitude. Sometimes they even rap/sing as fast as members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Their latest 2012 EP is up for grabs as a free download.

BARRIO 593 (Ecuador)

What do you get when a bunch of fiercely skilled rappers bred in the same neighborhood somewhere in Quito, Ecuador get together to form ill rhymes? Only some badass Ecuadorian hip-hop from a crew called Barrio 593. Truth be told, there hasn’t been much coverage about Ecuadorian hip-hop on this side of the border, like ever. But it’s not because there wasn’t a scene happening. In fact, hip-hop there is burgeoning (Chango and Sick Gaterrmo are other standouts). This track/video, aptly titled “Hip-Hop Ecuador,” by Barrio 593 pretty much gives ya the essence of it and it’s available as a free download here.

BELONA MC (Chile)

Cindy López, a 20 something-year-old, is a jack-of-all-trades: a painter, a writer, an artisan, and a dance student. Among all of her talents, she is also a master of the mic. Going by the alias of Belona MC, this lady is one of the frankest rappers to come out of South America. Hailing from Santiago, Chile, a city that’s too familiar with social and political havoc, she represents the classless and voiceless population via her linguistic abilities. In 2011, Belona MC released her debut album Libres Salvajes and it has two uncompromising singles titled “Apertura” and “Alzo mi Voz.”

BOCAFLOJA (Mexico)

Mexican poet/rapper Bocafloja (aka Aldo Villejas) first drew inspiration towards hip-hop culture at a young age via spoken word by observing all the gruesome shit that went down with US-Mexico relations and immigration. Today, he’s a lyrical and pedagogic rapper that addresses issues of socio-political oppression and institutionalized racism. He has an extensive and compelling discography, and his latest work is his 2012 album, Patalogías del Invisible Incómodo (Pathologies of the invisible uncomfortable). Check it out below:

CALLE 13 (Puerto Rico)

I’ll admit, when Calle 13 appeared on the scene in 2005 with their self-titled debut, I thought about them as just another potty-mouth, reggaetón group out of Puerto Rico with a chauvinistic hit single. But boy, was I wrong (and everyone else who thought similarly!). From a flippant reggaetón duo to champions of Latin music and advocates of Latin America, Calle 13 is still all of that and vice versa, which leads me to — fact: Calle 13 is one of the most outspoken, ingenious, diverse, and original groups in the urban Latin music scene and on the face of this earth. More to be said? I don’t think so.

DANAY SUÁREZ (Cuba)

We were first introduced to Cuba’s hip-hop poetess Danay Suárez two years ago when she released “Yo Aprendí” (I learned), a beautiful, downtempo track about morality. The singer/rapper, who came out of Cuba’s progressive hip-hop milieu, recently garnered more buzz outside of Havana. Interestingly, this was largely because she responded (via her track below) to Jay Z’s recent visit to Cuba and his track “Open Letter,” where he raps about Cuba-US foreign policies. He seemed to be sort of confused by the embedded politics, so Danay lays it down simple and sweet for him. There is no doubt she’s got that lyrical sophistication.

GABYLONIA (Venezuela)

Having a duet with one of the most notorious MCs of Cuba, Los Aldeanos, in her CV, Venezuela’s Gabylonia does no less when it comes to political contestations. Breaking many stereotypes with a cool boyish swagger, she’s one of the first female rappers to come out of Caracas’ mostly male hip-hop scene. Gabylonia’s lyrics touch on conscious topics that fall outside of conventional themes like drugs for leisure or violence as justification. “Abuso de poder” is her most eminent track up to date, and it’s a call to rise up against the governmental abuse that goes on throughout Latin America.

HACHE ST (Dominican Republic)

Born and raised in DR, NY-based Hache St sheds light on subjects of identity and “Dominican-ness.” In his bio, he explains that for the Haitian-Dominican population, this issue has been a longstanding one the island. Hache St recently released a promising new record, Zafra, which contain his hardest hitting versus yet. It’s an album that pays homage to notable figures like Sebastian Lemba, who led the black anti-slave movement. Music-wise, there are some soulful beat breaks as well as influences from Haitian percussion known as gaga.

ILLYA KURYAKI & THE VALDERRAMAS (Argentina)

Argentine duo Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas has got to be one of the most imaginative and energetic rapping groups on the planet. They got the funky moves and swag you wish you had, and those irresistible flows and beats that make it difficult to leave the dance floor. These masters of funk rap made their comeback in 2012 after a 10 year hiatus with their album Chances. IKV went as big as to appeal to US major conglomerates by having their music star in this commercial. As they would say: the funk is back muthaf**kers.

KIÑO (Colombia)

Sure, it’s pretty cool when one can gain some sort of subaltern knowledge and get empowered via conscious rap like the majority of the rappers on this list. But sometimes it’s even cooler when there’s music one can kick back to and smoke a spliff. Kiño comes all the way from Medellin, Colombia, and he brings to light funny moments in pop culture in a playful yet edgy manner. This one’s about a previous fad with Colombian supermodels who pretended to speak English during interviews but failed hard, from his mixtape, Método de Relajación:

LAS DAMAS (Peru)

Two of the fiercest female rappers of Peru go by the names of Sky Sapiens (née Carmen Llaque) and La Prinz (née Claudia Ivett Morales). Together they are known as Las Damas, who hailed onto the scene in 2010 performing in underground gigs throughout Lima. Lyrically, the feminist duo advocates topics of empowerment towards women while promoting equality for all classes. They have already shared stages with hip-hop legends such as Tego Calderón, Vico C, El Chojin, among others. Check out their recent track feat. Negro HP:

LATEJAPRIDE* (Uruguay)

Previously known as La Teja Pride, nowadays the group doesn’t use spaces and include an asterisk to symbolize there is something more to them than there was back in their days. The crew hails from a neighborhood called La Teja in Uruguay (hence their moniker), and they are one of the most respected crews of its underground hip-hop scene. Aptly calling themselves a “concrete post-funk soundsystem micro crew,” latejapride* uses elements of trip hop, funk, electronic, and lots of bass to add a heavier ambience to their flow. Here’s a remix they did of Campo’s really successful tune, “La Marcha Tropical”:

LOS RAKAS (Panama)

Panama-birthed and Oakland-based, Rich and Dun have come a long way in the hip-hop scene since their 2006 debut, Panabay Twist. With several worthy collabos from R&B songstress Goapele to heavyweight rapper E-40, including their latest best record yet Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada (2011), Los Rakas are an unstoppable force. Mixing dancehall, hip-hop, and reggae, these cousins spit bilingual rhymes that you can’t resist to rock your body to.

MATADOR ROCKERS (Spain)

Matador Rockers is one of those groups who like to push the envelope of Spanish hip-hop, by not being afraid to be unconventional. The Barcelona-based foursome comes packed with creativity and a different agenda in their lyrical content. Take their lyrically revealing track “Spoilers” as an example; they don’t give a shit if they ruin your movie experience by giving away the ending to some pop culture movies…but then, you probably already knew that the kid from The 6th Sense sees dead people.

MALA RODRÍGUEZ (Spain)

Mala Rodríguez (AKA La Mala) comes to us from Spain’s southernmost municipality with a deadly cool attitude, sexy swag, and mad lyrical skills. We were first introduced to her in 2000 when she dropped her fire-selling debut, Lujo Iberico, and became the next “it” chick in Spanish hip-hop, paving the way for the likes of Ana Tijoux and Niña Dioz. With every album, La Mala reinvents herself, showcasing her true talents as a multifaceted rapper switching from melodic rap to hardcore. The 33-year-old hangs at the top of her game with her recently released album Bruja.

NIÑA DIOZ (Mexico)

After releasing a number of dope mixtapes that set her on the platform of Mexican hip-hop, the lovely Niña Dioz (née Carla Reyna) resumes to kick ass through her verbal dexterities. A few months ago she launched her first full-length LP, Indestructible, and without losing any of her trademark MC swagger, Niña Dioz continues to impress via her rhyming prowess. Rare to many rap artists, she united with a pop songstress, no one less than Ximena Sariñana, in the title-track “Indestructible” and the results are superb.

REYES DEL BAJO MUNDO (El Salvador)

Reyes Del Bajo Mundo (translating to Kings of the Under World) are fundamental players in Salvadoran hip-hop. In fact, they are considered its originators. Now based in NYC, we were first introduced to them in the late ’90s when they debuted Stilo Imperial. What they do best is hardcore rap in a conscious mode that goes beyond the immigrant struggle. Already having been billed along heavyweights like Orishas, Mala Rodriguez, Control Machete, and others, RDBM took the Spanish language rap world by storm when they released this little ditty.

TEGO CALDERÓN (Puerto Rico)

Puerto Rican icon Tego Calderón isn’t dubbed the king of reggaetón for no reason. His music displays versatility and a gift for experimentation that sets him apart in the reggaetón world. The original urban rapper continues to hold his monumental title as he continues to impress the minds of the next generation with his eclectic influences (he used to be a heavy metal drummer!), socially conscious lyrics, and cool confidence. With a new album out, Original Gallo del País – O.G. El Mixtape, this Boricua demonstrates how to do hip-hop the right way.

UKAMAU Y KÉ (Bolivia) 

At the start of the millennium, a new rap scene in El Alto, Bolivia, (pretty much the highest major city of the world) boomed out of the earth’s tallest mountains and key players dubbed it “Wayna Rap” (wayna meaning “young” in Aymara). Rappers of the scene also call their music “an instrument of struggle” as it aims to preserve their indigenous culture and resist against marginalization. Perhaps one of their most well-known and influential groups up to date is Ukamau Y Ké (meaning “That’s How It Is And What?” in Aymara), led by Abraham Bojorquez, who unfortunately passed away in 2009. Using folkloric instrumentation, Ukamau Y Ké’s lyrics are in both Aymara and Spanish, and touch on topics of governmental corruption and media lies.

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