Trap music dominates in rap right now, regardless of language, and each month Cultura explores the Latin side of hip-hop's hottest sound.
The murder of Kevin Fret, self-described as the first openly gay Latin trapero, demands attention. Occurring in Santurce, scarcely a half hour’s drive from the Puerto Rican tourist haven of Old San Juan, his death prompted more media coverage than his art had while alive, with the story going beyond the Spanish-language media and plugged-in music press to receive mainstream and international recognition. Some such outlets used Fret’s killing as a lens through which to view a perceived epidemic of violence on the island, bringing out the usual misunderstandings of the root causes of such violence.
On a comparatively more superficial side, the reporting, particularly from a musical and cultural perspective, provided a dark counterpoint to the celebratory conversation surrounding Bad Bunny’s Nochebuena surprise, the release of his emotionally powerful full-length debut X100PRE. While the “I Like It” star had been widely praised for bucking the hypermasculine tropes of música urbana, Fret was walking the walk, out and proud in a fiercely heteronormative scene. In the particularly contentious and insular world of Latin trap, he existed on the defensive, even when he wasn’t a primary target. Such was the case with last year’s Anuel AA vs. Cosculluela beef. He found himself crudely caught in the crossfire between by way of the former’s homophobia-laden tiraera (read: diss track) against the latter. The accusation that Coscu had engaged in sexual activity with Fret, along with the song’s other slurs and insinuations, created an almost instantaneous backlash, resulting in a major homecoming concert cancellation for Anuel and threatening, however briefly or superficially, to derail his subsequent tour. His swift if obligatory apology seemed to satisfy enough listeners, even as he continued to associate with the deeply problematic 6ix9ine.
Ultimately, the cisgendered traperos prospered, as often seems the case when rappers clash on record, with Anuel going on to sell out multiple American dates and Coscu gaining more attention for his Bad Bunny collaboration “Madura.” By the start of 2019, both men had freshly featured on respective remixes of the immensely popular urbano single “Te Boté.” Conversely, Fret remained relegated to a referential footnote in their squabble, garnering nowhere near the ink or attention afforded to his straight peers in the scene. Only in tragic and untimely death did the music press truly wake up to his potential, now forever lost.
Even prior to Fret’s as-yet unsolved murder, a number of Puerto Rico’s urbano artists were feeling the pressure to denounce the violence in their communities. Farruko appeared to spearhead some of this with recent Instagram posts denoting PAZ. While that soon proved part of a promotion strategy for a single of the same name with Cuban reggaetonero El Micha, others like Ñejo and the legendary DJ Nelson followed suit with similar sincere sentiments in their social feeds, no doubt deeply attuned to the troubles of a country with poverty woes that have only heightened in the prolonged aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Anyone who follows hip-hop long enough has seen this before, rappers whose works speak bluntly of illicit and illegal activity doing an apparent about-face to call for peace. Though some might be quick to chastise such flawed activists for hypocrisy—and several folks in these artists’ Instagram comments certainly did—the dichotomy between rapping about violence and speaking out against violence shares undeniable common ground. Wanting things to get better, desiring an improved quality of life, mourning those suffer from the circumstances of their environments—all of these are congruous with rap as warts-and-all truth. So-called gangsta rappers in the 1990s defended their jarring lyricism as honesty about their surroundings and their survival.
Where hip-hop has fallen short historically is the level of inclusiveness in such calls, at least in practice. Trap artists like Offset got rightfully called out last year for homophobic gaffes, with iffy apologies that left many unconvinced. Even as the international press shines a light, albeit briefly, on Fret’s murder, few traperos with roots, homes, or business relationships in Puerto Rico have used their social accounts to explicitly condemn the killing or otherwise signal opposition to violence against LGBTQ people.
That collective silence on a fundamentally vital online platform highlights an ongoing concern in trap music that Spanish-language practitioners share with their English-language counterparts. Seeing how Anuel, a tremendously popular artist riding a wave of fan love following his release from federal prison, experienced fallout from his hateful tiraera, one would hope his fellow rappers and producers at urbano’s highly visible forefront come to their senses and raise their voices for Fret and the countless others like him in their communities worthy of allyship.
Los Favoritos Del Mes:
Bad Bunny - Solo De Mi
Empowering and anthemic, El Conejo Malo’s potent lyrics jibe well with its unflinching video, all elements coming together to deliver a great message about overcoming abuse and putting your health and well being first—at a perfect time to do so.
Mr. Perez - Pastillas
Newly established as Carbon Fiber Music’s dedicated trapero, the young spitter capped his 2018 run for the label with another narcotized celebration of hedonism befitting the broader genre’s origins.
Ratchetón - Cállate
Over a woozy beat by Durdy Costello, a producer known for his work with Atlanta artists like Hoodrich Pablo Juan and OG Maco, this Salvadorian-Californian newcomer bluntly confronts a lying lover.
Villanosam - Yo Si Soy Trap 1.0
Sporting a predominantly Dominican crew, including Lito Kirino and Tivi Gunz, this producer-led posse cut makes a clear statement from the street level point of view in Latin trap.
Miky Woodz and Alex Rose - Na’ Personal
Returning the favor after appearing on singer Rose’s epic “Darte” remix, rapper Woodz doesn’t exactly let his one-night stands down gently on this dismissive yet quite catchy bop.