Can Latin Trap Go Mainstream Without Sacrificing Authenticity?

Even as Bad Bunny and J Balvin cozy up to English-language acts, there’s plenty of room for others to mine the darker, druggier corners of the genre.

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Nov 19 2018, 7:00pm

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

Even as trap provided Latin artists with even more opportunities to shine, the allure of crossover remains undeniably strong. Bad Bunny and J Balvin saw their stateside stars rise when Cardi B’s boogaloo banger “I Like It” topped the Hot 100, the Billboard all-genre chart that also housed a notable number of Spanish-language singles this year. While rising Atlanta rappers like Gunna and Lil Baby shot onto that very same ranking without having to compromise lyrically or conform sonically, urbano rappers keep cropping up in relatively sunny reggaeton numbers instead of nighttime bangers. At times, the narrowing definition of success for this music often looks regressively similar to the millennial days of the so-called Latin Explosion, when stars like Ricky Martin and Shakira took American audiences by proverbial storm with their studio-crafted pop hooks.

Take, for example, Lary Over. The green-haired and neck-tatted Carbon Fiber Music rapper dropped his album debut El Wason BB back in March. Coming off a string of successful group singles including “Tu Me Enamoraste” with Anuel AA and Bryant Myers, the record leaned heavily on Latin trap with standouts like “Henny” with Rvssian (of CFM label boss Farruko’s “Krippy Kush”) and “Sola.” A timely entry given the burgeoning discussion of Spanish-language hip-hop music at the time, it debuted on Billboard’s Latin Albums chart at a respectable No. 18, ultimately spending 6 consecutive weeks there. Those with even limited familiarity with Over’s discography may have been surprised to hear “Subete,” a bright dembow-driven dancehall cut with Lírico En La Casa that dropped in early September. Based on the more than 60 million YouTube views alone, it’s proven one of his biggest singles ever, despite being roughly two months old.

Of course, diversification of this sort is hardly a new thing. Indicative of the accepted subgenre fluidity within the greater urbano fandom, reggaetoneros have made solid entries into trap and vice versa. Look no further than Farruko, who spent the past couple years of his nearly decade-long career making hits in both sectors. While his 2015 full-length Visionary skewed largely towards reggaeton, its prescient 2017 follow-up pivoted decidedly into trapero territory. Similarly, his generational peers like Arcángel and Cosculluela parlayed their Spanish-language hip-hop bonafides into trap’s present moment without missing a beat. Still, this state of affairs puts Latin trap in a tight spot, especially when it comes to connecting with English-speaking audiences heretofore unfamiliar with urbano’s existing stars.

Fortunately, there’s a fervent strain bubbling just barely beneath the glossier fare. On the freshly delivered “Rascabicho,” Ponce’s seasoned reggaetonero Ñejo leads a parade of righteously uncompromising spitters including Jamby El Favo, while Guaynabo upstart Mr. Perez partners with Ele A El Dominio and producer Yecko for the ominous coke rap key bump “La Receta.” Straight outta Paterson, New Jersey, Vasquez La Pesa continues in the tradition of tri-state area traperos like Messiah and Lito Kirino with his hustler’s mantra on “Quiero Josiar.” These fairly recent additions to the Latin trap canon skew closer to the criminally minded core of the genre’s English side, replete with the type of bars one might expect from a Datpiff-based tape hosted by DJ Holiday.

With governments like that of the Dominican Republic absurdly banning Latin trap of even the more commercial bent from their precious airwaves, the underground nature of tracks like these keeps the genre’s authenticity intact. There’s levels to this shit, as Meek Mill put it so well, and even as Anuel and Bad Bunny cozy up to English-language acts, there’s plenty of room for others to mine the darker, druggier corners.

Los Favoritos Del Mes:

Jhay Cortez and Almighty - Costear

Mere months after the Puerto Rican singer’s mini-album showcased a range of current urbano styles, Cortez returns with his “Se Supone” remix guest for another reliably smooth collaboration.

Álvaro Díaz - Asiento De Atrás

Fresh off his invigorating “OK” collab with Sousa, the major label spitter takes some cues from some of modern hip-hop’s English-language hitmakers for a slightly woozy partystarter showcasing his sung-rap flow.

DJ Luian and Mambo Kingz featuring Anuel AA, Becky G, and Prince Royce - Bubalu

The production team behind multiple Bad Bunny hits including the recent Drake feature “MIA” work their studio magic behind three proven urbano stars for this collective romantic trap plea.

Ele A El Dominio - No Te Atiende

The deathly monotone flow expected from this contentious Ñengo Flow associate perfectly suits his frequent production partner Yecko’s understated yet grim trap beat.

Jennifer Lopez & Bad Bunny - Te Guste

Jenny From The Block brings back that Terror Squad era energy with her El Conejo Malo team-up, a pop-wise banger that effortlessly blends their shared hip-hop and R&B bonafides.

Gary Suarez is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.