Los Raperos: rap, race, and social transformation in contemporary Cuba

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Perry, Marc David

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This dissertation explores the emergent movimiento de hip hop cubano (the Cuban hip hop movement) as a critical site to examine the interplay of race and social transformation in contemporary Cuba. Following Cuba’s post-1990 economic crisis know as the “special period,” the ethnographic investigation centers on the ways young Afro-Cubans are utilizing the expressive cultural space of rap music and broader hip hop “culture” to performatively fashion new kinds of transnationally engaged black identity and related race-based social critique. The author suggest that through such transnationally informed identity processes a new generation of Afro-Cuban youth are positioning themselves in strategic response to the shifting dynamics of race and class in a socialist Cuba increasingly shaped by the interpenetration of global capital and related free-market transformations. In a post-“utopian” Cuba characterized by economic dollarization, expanding tourism, rising social stratification, and – significantly – resurgent levels of racial inequality, the author’s analysis seeks to understand how these emergent subjectivities and the social critiques they invoke pose challenges to, as well as contribute to a current reconfiguring of nationally-bounded constructions of race and corresponding ideologies of national non-racialism. He additionally draws attention to the evolving negotiated relationship between Cuban hip hop as a new, potentially oppositional identity-based social phenomenon, and the Cuban state as it attempts to institutionalize hip hop within a prescriptive, socially homogenizing frame of revolutionary national culture. In turn, Cuban rap has come to occupy a unique site of racially-positioned critique within revolutionary Cuba, serving as a key actor in an evolving black public sphere predicated on the assertion of black political difference within a previously configured non-racial Cuban national imaginary. The author proposes that Cuban hip hop in this capacity represents a critical manifestation of, as well as an active social agent within the shifting transnational complexities of national racial formation in Cuba today.