AN EVOLVING IMPACT
Hip Hop & the Cuban Revolution
WW commentary, part 1
Published Sep 23, 2007 9:29 PM
Hip Hop culture is again being attacked by the major news outlets, which of
late began with Don Imus, when his virulent racism was spotlighted after his
hateful remarks against a college basketball team made up mostly of Black
women. However, some capitalist news outlets appear to have embraced Hip Hop in
It’s not that this should be a confusing turn, not for those who’ve
been in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. Nor should it be for people
struggling against racism and oppression in the U.S.
When FIST, a revolutionary youth group, visited Cuba this July, the youth had
an opportunity to meet with the head of the Cuban Rap Agency and several Cuban
rap artists. The artists explained what the music means to them, how they first
came in contact with Hip Hop culture, and how it is viewed by the
A New York Times article written last December entitled, “Cuba’s
Rap Vanguard Reaches Beyond the Party Line,” attempts to assert that
youth in Cuba are at odds with the revolutionary leadership and that these
tensions are evident in the burgeoning Hip Hop culture there.
The writer claims that “many” of the five million people under the
age of 30 question the system. It is not to suggest that Cubans are not
critical. Perhaps the greatest criticism comes from Fidel, but criticism itself
is not a bad thing. In an ever changing world there are always new questions
and problems and healthy criticisms are part of deepening socialism, especially
with the contradictions of a global capitalist market.
While many of the emerging leaders on the island were not alive during the
revolutionary armed struggle, they came of age during one of the most difficult
and challenging periods of the Cuban revolution. That period is known on the
island as the Special Period, and the Cuban economy is just recovering from the
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its largest trading partner.
Eighty percent of Cuban trade was with the Soviet Union and the socialist camp
in Eastern Europe.
While perhaps some can look at the counterrevolutionary reforms of Perestroika
under Gorbachev as a warning sign, it was not expected that trade would stop
immediately, but it did.
The U.S. and many in the imperialist West expected that the Cuban revolution
would fail, but history and the resolve of the Cuban people were the best
weapons to ensure that this did not happen.
The Cuban people experienced a significant reduction in caloric intake. Food
had to be rationed. Temporary market reforms were put in place. Cuba promoted
tourism on the island as its primary way of securing hard currency with which
to trade on the international market.
Only a person who lived through it can truly attest to the difficulties, but
regardless of the hardship, not one hospital or school closed. But neither did
antagonism from the U.S. government cease.
It was during this period that Cubans began to really get exposed to Hip Hop
culture. While rap music started being broadcast from Southern Florida in the
late 1980s, it was in the 1990s—during the Special Period—when this
culture and music began to take hold with youth on the island.
If one were to listen to this music from the late 1980s and early 1990s, known
as the “Golden Age of Hip Hop,” what is clear is that the music was
the pulse of oppressed Black and Latin@ youth, that the rhythms and the lyrics
expressed the frustration and anger of youth living under the reactionary
If the musical explosion that emanated from the South Bronx in the late 1970s
was a manifestation of “a dream deferred,” then the evolution of
the music to what it became in the late 1980s and early 1990s can best be
described as the chain reaction in urban centers across the U.S.
Though Cuban youth may not have fully understood each and every word, the angry
sentiment towards oppression is easily translated.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was felt hardest by underdeveloped nations.
The Soviet Union, even with its many internal contradictions, was the buffer
that held U.S. imperialism at bay and was supportive of liberation movements
around the world.
The fact that Cuba was undergoing such a crisis as the Special Period, and that
Hip Hop culture, rap music and its energy and break dancing, caught on during
this time symbolizes the difficulty of the times and the draw of the
The writer is a leader of FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together—youth group and was a member of its
delegation that traveled to Cuba in July.
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