What can the Chican@ Hip Hop Nation add to the remix of the United States of America? For Chicago State University professor Pancho McFarland, the question is more than worthy of examining and he does just that in his latest book, The Chican@ Hip Hop Nation: Politics of a New Millennial Mestizaje. As a self-described anarchist hip-hop head, McFarland, an Irish Chicano, takes a look at what raza rappers are and aren't saying on the mic about themselves and the world around them. He's principally preoccupied with the music's expressions of identity, potential for liberation politics, and limitations–mainly its sexist mindsets. McFarland teaches hip-hop in his sociology classes and sees it as an avenue to engage students in a form that's responsive to their interests.
The Weekly thinks profe Pancho is on to something. As Orange County has its raza rap enthusiasts–count this writer among them–we asked him to speak on five key artists featured in his new book and what they mean to the Chican@ Hip Hop Nation.
5. Los Nativos
Pancho McFarland: “I begin with the sonido indígena chapter because this trope of indigenousness as part of the Chicano/Mexicano identity flows through most of what we see in Chicano hip-hop and out in our communities. People often understand themselves often to be indigenous or a mix of indigenous and Spanish heritage. Los Nativos are indicative of how young people understand themselves and what they're going through. They are interesting in that way, in part, because their music is really good. They have a good understanding of rhythm, elements and hip-hop. Los Nativos also understand their indigeneity not so much as this 'romantic Indian' but more of what it means to be contemporarily a Native Mexican person. That's their major contribution. They are indicative of the best of what hip-hop can be and the best what we can be as indigenous-identified people.”
“Akwid represents that 1.5 generation that is so important today to a lot of the political discussion about immigration. Akwid are those people born in Mexico but came over at a relatively young age. When we look at the debates on DREAM Act or immigration legislation, we don't get into these detailed stories about what it means to be a person born in Mexico living in the U.S. today. If we had that, the conversation would change quite a bit. Akwid is so good at being descriptive at telling stories in an entertaining way. The music is a hip-hop banda fusion of those two sounds that goes together so well. It shows the 1.5 generation: Mexican-based banda with U.S.-based hip-hop coming together. That's the experience. They help us understand it as good organic intellectuals do.”
3. Kemo the Blaxican
“I look at the relationship between African-origin peoples and Mexican-origin peoples and how that culminates today in hip-hop. It points to the not very well-known secret about who we are as Mexicans and the real importance of the African population to Mexican culture and history. We have such a legacy that was left by our African ancestors from son jarocho to other Caribbean music like cumbia that becomes popular. Not understanding that we have that interaction, we get to a place today where we have struggles between Black and Mexican communities in LA and Chicago. When I look at Kemo, he literally embodies this bigger issue. He's both Black and Mexican. He embodies it in his style, language use and music. He shows us that there's this natural affinity between these two communities that are seen often as separate and antagonistic. We haven't recognized that. If we did, it could affect us in profound ways. We could build a politics of liberation around that.”
2. Sick Symphonies
“On the surface, street hop has the most potential for emancipatory politics. Sick Symphonies are all about that. After Big Duke got shot and partially paralyzed, Psycho Realm morphed continuing the legacy of telling street stories. It's not gangsta rap. There's violence in it, but there's stories about people's emotions, why there's guns and poverty. It's not exploitation of the barrio. They're really analyzing the situation saying what's going on in the community. They will give the reasons pointing to the government and corporations. And they'll say these are the solutions we want to present; this whole notion of the Sick Side army coming together around these ideas. We have this hypermasculine gangster mentality, which I critique, but we also have this sophisticated political analysis at the same time. I think there's flaws, but I think in dialogue with the revolutionary Left, they can be sharpened and our analysis in the barrios can be sharpened. We can learn from them. That's the point of the book.”
1. Thief Sicario
“'Amerika' is key. I've been using that song in my classrooms for a number of years. The very existence of the Chicano calls into question the myth about what America is or who Americans are. If we can make the Chicano and the Native person invisible in the United State, then we can tell these stories of “progress.” When confronted with a person of Mexican or indigenous descent, then the story has to change. When Thief comes out with 'Amerika,' he begins the song not in the U.S. but elsewhere saying this is all America. He points out the challenge that people of Mexican descent have to the mythology of America. He goes and talks about all the complexities. We have this ideal image, but Thief tears it apart. He says we're all these contradictions. We're colonialism, violence, as well as some of the more positive things that are said. He doesn't let us forget that Native folks were here first. I find that song indicative of everything that I'm trying to do.”
Now that the five-point lesson has been served up, go and buy the book to learn more!