Trap music dominates in rap right now, regardless of language, and each month Cultura explores the Latin side of hip-hop's hottest sound.
As usual, it started with Instagram.
In late July, not long after Anuel AA’s mid-month release from federal prison after serving 30 months on gun charges, two clips surfaced there of the Latin trap favorite in the studio with none other than Daniel “6ix9ine” Hernandez. In them, the face-tatted latter is seen with the freshly freed former working on music together. Roughly a month later, one of the results from that session emerged as “Bebe,” a Spanish-language single driven by the signature reggaeton dembow rhythm and saturated with auto-tuned vocals from them both.
From one perspective, “Bebe” is the ideal match-up—and not because of the artists’ shared Latinidad. As Latin trap made considerable strides over the past couple of years in its ascent as a formidable force in hip-hop, Anuel’s incarceration made him a limited participant in that success, largely via previously recorded verses and prison phone features. Still, as Bad Bunny, Farruko, and others were logging Billboard chart hits, that involuntary absence swelled his reputation to the point where, once freed, he had the coveted attention of genre devotees and industry watchers alike.
Having once been publicly affiliated with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, collaborations outside of Anuel’s pre-existing comfort zone seemed inevitable. Thus, pairing him with a young viral American like 6ix9ine provides him entrée into the broader rap music marketplace. With all that juice behind them, “Bebe” became an instant hit, debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 30 and No. 14 on the all-genre Streaming Songs. Within two weeks, it logged some four million SoundCloud plays and nearly seven million Spotify streams just in the U.S.
Still, those early gains for “Bebe” come with one hell of an asterisk attached. Despite RIAA-certified gold and platinum singles like “Gummo” and “Kooda,” 6ix9ine’s career remains rightfully clouded by his criminal past, specifically his felony participation in the use of a child in a sexual performance, to which he plead guilty in 2015. The particularly young age of the victim, a 13-year-old girl, is one of several details of the crime he either glossed over or otherwise dodged in a one-sided, rambling video interview with Internet personality and frequent 6ix9ine booster DJ Akademiks. With a plea agreement almost certainly nullified by his subsequent arrests on unrelated charges and the failure to obtain his G.E.D., the long-delayed sentencing hearing scheduled for next month may finally lead to jail time.
How much Anuel and his camp knew about 6ix9ine’s unsettling history prior to recording “Bebe” remains unclear. As I’ve written elsewhere, Spanish-language media has been especially poor about reporting on the story, even after the Manhattan District Attorney's Office recommended as many as three years behind bars in a pre-sentencing court appearance this summer. Still, the move to work with him in light of the details of his sex crime already seems to have eroded a considerable amount of the goodwill banked during Anuel’s time away. The situation was complicated even further by a homophobic tiraera (read: diss track) against fellow Puerto Rican artist Cosculluela, which led to immediate criticism from media and fans as well as the cancellation of a highly-anticipated, and undoubtedly lucrative, comeback concert in San Juan. Anuel has since apologized for his offending verses, but not about his offensive collaborator.
But 6ix9ine’s problematic foray into Spanish-language hip-hop doesn’t end there. Studio footage exists with Arcángel dating back to even earlier this year, and a recent XXL interview with urbano superstar and Anuel bestie Ozuna revealed that they too had recorded music together. A picture of Bad Bunny and 6ix9ine began circulating as well, though the former later stated that the photo op didn’t necessarily mean that any work had occurred. One hopes he got the news that his peers failed to receive or accept.
Of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to Latin trap. Ahead of her Queen album release, Nicki Minaj siphoned some controversial clout off the 6ix9ine collab “Fefe” and saw huge charting success in return, while erstwhile tri-state hip-hop heroes 50 Cent and Fetty Wap have made short term gains on their respective would-be journeys out of musical obsolescence. Based on photos recently shared online, Kanye West appears poised to follow suit. Conversely, others like Chief Keef and YG continue to regrettably entangle themselves in social media fueled beefs with him, giving both dubious rap blogs and prestige music media outlets alike the sort of tabloid-level back-and-forth coverage that assuredly benefits all quarreling parties and their careers.
One of the biggest criticisms levied against Latin trap, by both English and Spanish language media alike, is its oft-explicit sexual themes and lyrics, a censure familiar to English-language rap fans. One difference in the #metoo era is that longstanding cultural ideas about machismo and masculinity in Latin America require dismantling in addition to the misogyny of the anglo world. As a societal norm, however, the sexual exploitation of children remains a fairly universal taboo, one that 6ix9ine admitted to breaking in accepting his plea agreement. Though the dissemination of information around his crimes, which were videotaped and shared to social media, has been inconsistent, it will prove harder to avoid if the upcoming sentencing leads to his imprisonment, a conclusion that will give moral critics of the genre even more solid footing in their condemnation of it.
From there, artists like Anuel, Arcángel, and Ozuna will likely have to go on record and explain the rationale behind working with 6ix9ine. All three have followings here in the U.S. and are actively pursuing bigger stateside audiences, which opens them up to the inquiries of an English-language media less familiar with their discographies. Furthermore, with few exceptions, most music and entertainment publications have largely shied away from positive coverage of 6ix9ine or silently boycotted him altogether precisely because of what we know about what transpired between him and his 13-year-old victim. Given the opportunity, few journalists would pass up the chance to ask these urbano stars about their association with him. When that happens, all their clout chasing might backfire, and in the case of Anuel, it may already have.
That said, there may be no real consequences at all. As the continuing success of “Fefe” shows, Minaj hasn’t exactly ruined her career by reaffirming her support for 6ix9ine even as Barbz and critics alike fingerwag in her direction. If that ultimately extends to Latin trap and artists come through their sketchy collabs largely unscathed and richer for it, it will add to the existential woes of Latin trap rather than its commercial prospects.
Los Favoritos Del Mes:
Bad Bunny, Ñejo, and PJ Sin Suela - ¿Cuál es tu plan?
Reggaeton pioneer DJ Nelson connects the Broke And Famous urbano veteran with two of Puerto Rican rap’s most notable twentysomethings—El Conejo Malo and Residente’s mentee—for a breezy single that sways quite close to the Latin pop scene.
Karol G. and Anuel AA - Culpables
Teased on Instagram for weeks as a potential real life love connection between the two vocalists, this joint single brings the typically explicit trap spitter into the genre’s glossier side with the help of one of its most popular singers.
Mr. Pérez - Guaguas Negras
Swiftly following up his coke rap summer single “El Cartero,” the Carbon Fiber newbie eschews humor and goes straight for the jugular with bars on bars on bars of threats and violence for those altogether tired of crossover.
Sou$a and Álvaro Díaz - OK
Clearly wary of halfway crooks in the game, the two Puerto Rican rappers cast their skeptical gazes onto wannabe gangstas, hustling loudmouths, and all manner of comemierdas with a perfectly delivered sarcastic refrain.
Miky Woodz - No Hay Limite
A formidable entry into the archetypal come-up rap canon, the red-bearded phenom reflects on past, present, and future with cocksure swagger meant to keep his enemies from all timelines at bay.
Gary Suarez is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.