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Unifying Música Urbana With American Trap Comes With Growing Pains

While YG's Hot 100 hit "Go Loko" gives a deserved boost to the trapero Jon Z, the video's mariachi imagery is inelegant and superficial.

by Gary Suarez
Jun 3 2019, 3:12pm

Via the "Go Loko" video on Youtube

Trap music dominates in rap right now, regardless of language, and each month Cultura explores the Latin side of hip-hop's hottest sound.

Decked out in a bright red ensemble with intricate detailing depicting barbed wire and plantlife, YG looks pretty good as a mariachi bandleader. In the music video for his recent single “Go Loko,” the Compton hitmaker also lounges in crisp denim during a garage gathering with an assortment of neighborhood vatos and chicanos, poses with his top button buttoned in front of a throbbing lowrider sporting Mexican and Puerto Rican flags, and even lets Tyga get away with some cosplay of his own. Roughly two-and-a-half minutes into this spectacle, which garnered some 15 million YouTube views in less than two weeks time, San Juan trapero Jon Z mercifully appears, soon delivering a comparatively gravely verse while a big-headed mascot of himself inexplicably vamps at his side.

Putting aside the unfortunate optics of conflating Mexican / Mexican-American sombero stereotypes with the presence of a rapping boriqua, the Mustard co-production “Go Loko” nonetheless marks a considerable win for Latin trap. After all, Jon Z now officially has a Hot 100 hit single to his credit as a trapero, a distinction that separates him from the reggaeton-pop crossover narrative faced by so many of his contemporaries who perform primarily in Spanish. The feature even landed him on American television as he spat his verse live for Jimmy Kimmel’s late night audience, estimated that week to run about 1.6 million viewers strong.

Romanticizing Latin American culture is nothing new in hip-hop. Ever since the genre’s dawning in the Bronx, following the legendary 1971 Hoe Avenue meeting that made unprecedented peace among an uptown jumble of warring Black and Latinx gang factions, rap remained tethered to the Spanish speakers and descendants both in its rank and file as well as in its community, a status that holds to this day. For proof of that endurance, one need only look at the success of Cardi B’s “I Like It,” its catchy beat derived directly from a boogaloo sound with overt Nuyorican origins. No one needs reminding of how ubiquitous that track became during its 51 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, nor what it did for the stateside profiles and continuing careers of her guests Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

What outsiders fail to understand about urbano is just how much it genuinely reps hip-hop, often eschewing Latin American cultural signifiers in favor of more universally understood and emblematic rap aesthetics. Like so many predictable video clips and clumsy bars that preceded it from non-Latinx rappers over the years, the regressive “Go Loko” reminds us that most who dip into this culture typical do so inelegantly and superficially. YG may deserve a pass, given his proximity to Mexican-American communities, but Latinx viewers nonetheless might reasonably find his choices in this video tiresome or even triggering. Similarly disconcerting is Maluma’s guest appearance on XXXtentacion’s posthumous “Arms Around You,” which was positioned as the controversial rapper’s Spanish crossover moment. Instead, the Medellín star finds himself relegated to fourth place behind Lil Pump and Swae Lee on a watered down version of a track he’d assuredly have executed better on his own. Considering how reluctant American rappers have been to properly embrace a thriving and prolific urbano scene just a click away on streaming apps, such growing pains are perhaps to be expected.

That said, we could do far worse than having Jon Z serve as the face of Latin trap for American audiences. Followers of música urbana no doubt recognize the San Juan twentysomething for his signature curly mop top as much as his music. While no stranger to reggaetón, the darker and harder material on last year’s Super Saiyan Flow mixtape with Ele A El Dominio or the swaggy stoner themed 420 EP suggest he’s well suited to lead as others who once pushed the genre ahead like Farruko and El Conejo Malo explore dancehall reggae and global pop formats.

Z’s recent output indicates how far he’s come from the promise of 2015’s The Game Is About To Change, which hedged its bets with dembow fare. He now seems to most excel is in full trapero mode. His latest solo single “Ice” flows with sacrilegious bars about flexing like Jesus Christ himself in the luxe locale of modern day Dubai. That one comes comes hot on the heels of “Después Que Te Perdí” with pop icon Enrique Iglesias, who makes his trap debut on the track. And while the world waits to see if Lil Nas X will drop a Spanish remix of “Old Town Road,” Z jumped the gun with an unofficial remix alongside his Chosen Few Emerald Entertainment labelmate Eladio Carrión.

As a featured spitter on crowded posse cuts, he frequently shines and sometimes outshines his peers, dazzling on packed 2019 bangers like “Mentirte (Remix),” “Te Trancamos El Kiosko,” and “Yo Tengo Una Gata.” For Bryant Myers’ new single “Acapella,” a return to trap after dabbling successfully in reggae with “Tanta Falta” last year, Z fends off Dominican dembow sensation El Alfa as well as Almighty and Myke Towers with rapidfire rhymes. In its video, he shows off as the more playful one in the bunch, cracking up the rest with goofy dancing and background mugging for the camera. It’s his sense of humor that helps set him apart here, something that will bode well going forward.

Los Favoritos Del Mes:

Amenazzy and Noriel featuring Arcángel and De La Ghetto - "Dios Bendiga (Remix)"

This posse cut showcases everything great about the infectious original with added verses from a reunited pair of veteran reggaetoneros turned versatile traperos.

Arham, Chacka, and Xtassy - "Diario"

A frequent collaborator with New York metro area rappers like Lito Kirino, Messiah, and Tali Goya, Arham comes through with a darker hued follow-up to last year’s “No Muevo Gramas.”

Wisin y Yandel featuring Miky Woodz - "Mi Intención"

Continuing his robust year of potent singles, the redbearded rapper joins his Puerto Rican countrymen for a slickly produced cut of adults-only romantic trap.

YSY A featuring Duki and Neo Pistea - "Vuelta A La Luna"

The Argentinian Modo Diablo trio rep for their home country’s trap scene hard on this ethereal narcotized club banger.

Zyron featuring Lyan - "Volar"

This R&B-tinged trap jam promises the objects of its protagonist’s desires alluring new heights to be reached.