AN EVOLVING IMPACT
Hip Hop & the Cuban Revolution
WW commentary, part 2
Published Oct 8, 2007 9:02 PM
During the Golden Age of Hip Hop in the United States, from the 1980s to the
early 1990s, the music was stealth. It is not that it flew under the radar. How
could it, when it resonated around the country in oppressed communities?
However, because of pure racism it was not seen as an art form but as a
fleeting expression of the righteous anger of the oppressed.
It was a logical evolution in a time of the decline of the great social
movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also the beginning of
deindustrialization, the reintroduction of the death penalty, the booming
growth of the prison-industrial complex and Reaganomics.
Hip Hop was at its most creative, its most enlightening, its most explosive and
to the U.S. ruling class, its most dangerous point.
In Cuba, that period was one of great anxiety, but the revolution triumphed in
spite of the hardships and Hip Hop has since helped reinvigorate youth on the
It was Harry Belafonte who first had a conversation with Fidel Castro and
Minister of Culture Abel Prieto about the many Hip Hop artists in which he
explained the culture to Commander Fidel.
Belafonte said of the meeting, “I wasn’t surprised that there were
Cuban rappers, because I don’t care where you go in the world ... rappers
seem to be everywhere. But I was surprised at how many there were and how
uninformed the hierarchy in Cuban cultural circles was of the whole culture of
“After meeting with the hip-hop artists in Havana about seven or eight
years ago, I met with Abel Prieto at a luncheon that Fidel Castro had, and we
got to talking about hip-hop culture. When I went back to Havana a couple of
years later, the people in the hip-hop community came to see me and we hung out
for a bit. They thanked me profusely and I said, ‘Why?’ and they
said, ‘Because, your little conversation with Fidel and the Minister of
Culture on hip-hop led to there being a special division within the ministry
and we’ve got our own studio.’”
Since then, Fidel has called rap the “vanguard of the
Culture is protected in Cuba. In the U.S., Hip Hop, like all things under
capitalism, has become a commodity. However, more than just that, both the
attacks on Hip Hop and the co-optation of the culture are part of the racism
endemic to the system.
Hip Hop is seen as a threat to the U.S. ruling elite and as a threat to white
supremacy. The Hip Hop generation of today is a multi-national generation of
youth who have seen through the lies of the system and understand much more
deeply than their forebears the attempts to divide the multi-national working
class, though not in those words.
Hip Hop is like the coded language of the slave in the fields; the blues of an
era where the objective reality of U.S. capital is one of crisis and more wars.
It is the “CNN of the Ghetto,” as Chuck D says. It also is the
barometer of the people’s willingness to openly struggle, as was evident
in the music before the great Los Angeles rebellion, when the Black masses in
South Central L.A., tired of the repressive conditions, rose up.
Cuba, however, sees the now global phenomenon and the power it holds. Like with
the early Hip Hop musicians in the U.S., the culture arrived at a time when
artists had to improvise. In the U.S. turntables became instruments; beat
boxing, making music with one’s mouth, drove impromptu
ciphers—freestyle circles. In Cuba, early artists used typewriters to
bang out beats.
The difference, though, is how this culture flourished in two diametrically
opposed social systems, one run by a small exploitative class, the other by a
workers’ government with the task to provide for all of society and solve
the problems of an ever-changing world.
One is an anarchic system, the other is a planned economy.
The approach to culture is rooted in each system’s approach to humanity.
The capitalist system has out-used its usefulness. It came into the world
dripping in blood from head to toe, and as is evident in the rise of the U.S.
military juggernaut, will go out of this world covered in blood.
While Fidel says, “Within the revolution, everything,” the U.S.
rulers see little value in a thing that does not produce profit or cannot be
used for subterfuge.
In 2002, Cuba opened the Cuban Rap Agency and from the agency came the magazine
La Fabri-K and a record label.
Capitalist media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN and a few artists in
the U.S.—like Pitbull of the song “Culo” and
“independent” film producers—try to use the culture against
the Cuban revolution.
One need only look at the source of the criticism. Pitbull also wrote a song
called, “Ya Se Acabó,” joining in the clamor with other
right-wing Miami Cubans and U.S. politicians when Castro had to undergo surgery
and then stepped down because of his illness.
Pitbull is part of the ignominiously named “Guerilla Radio: The Hip Hop
Struggle Under Castro,” a documentary made by filmmakers associated with
CNN and Mountain View Group Ltd. According to its web site, Mountain View has
“created award-winning corporate communications campaigns, educational
programs, TV commercials and sales tools for over 200 clients, including
Fortune 500 companies.”
One of the filmmakers who worked for CNN, Tom Nybo, was “embedded”
with the occupation forces in Iraq. A report from the School of Journalism at
the University of Montana said that before Nybo went to Iraq in 2003, “he
received two weeks of military training–one organized by CNN and the
other by the Pentagon.”
In Cuba, culture flourishes and the Cuban Rap Agency will see that it is not
used by outside forces to try to destabilize the revolution, but rather is used
to deepen the consciousness of youth on the island in the service of deepening
As Belafonte said, “What I think was important is how open the leadership
was to this thing called hip-hop, whereas in the United States we do so much to
demonize the culture, and we don’t even have a Ministry of Culture in
this country. But here we have Cuba, with a new form of music that came from
another place, from the United States of America, and they were open to giving
it assistance, to help develop hip-hop music in Cuba.”
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