This interview, in addition to its interesting focus, was conducted by a student who spent a semester studying in Madrid in a program I directed and for whom I have a lot of affection, Isabelia Herrera. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the complete interview below. Enjoy. 

In the last decade, hip-hop’s regional and national distinctions have crumbled. From A$AP Rocky’s love affair with Southern rap to the worldwide commercial rise of trap music, examples of the internet’s role in generating styles of hip-hop that upend expectations abound. In international hip-hop communities in particular, accelerated online communication has broken down barriers that often delayed the arrival of new sounds.

Enter Whitest Taino Alive. With even a name that riffs on influences as disparate as Norwegian indie rock band The Whitest Boy Alive and the Arawak indigenous group native to the Dominican Republic, the Dominican hip-hop trio perfectly reflects these collapsed boundaries. Comprised of producer DaBeat Ortiz and rappers Jon Blon Jovi and Dominicanye West (a rap name to end all rap names), they’re one of the few voices in independent hip-hop on the island.

While Dominicans worked with Puerto Rican rappers and produced their own music in the DR in the 90s, Dominican artists generally lacked the visibility and infrastructure that Puerto Rico’s scene enjoyed through its connections and resources as a U.S. territory. Today, hip-hop remains a niche genre. Dance-friendly music like merengue and bachata, along with the newer, more electronic genres of reggaeton and dembow, dominate the Dominican market. However, services like Soundcloud offer Whitest Taino Alive the opportunity to cultivate their sound in underground spaces.

DaBeat Ortiz creates tropical, breezy trap beats that evoke avant-garde collective Future Brown while drawing upon cloud rap and the minimalism of Flying Lotus. Top this off with screwed down vocals and a drop that roughly translates to “refined ratchetness” (chopería fina), and you’ve got the recipe for The Most 2015 Sound Ever. It’s also the perfect soundtrack for the group’s funny, free associative lyrics, which are full of sly references in Spanish and English to Dominican and American pop culture. On last year’s album ¿Dónde Jugarán Los Cueros?, they cite Sammy Sosa, Yoko Ono, Heisenberg, Chuck Norris, A-Rod—the list goes on and on. They rap “about anything:” driving down Santo Domingo’s boulevards, smoking weed, chilling withleathers (hoes), and drinking mamajuana. They’re fond of “rap game” jokes but with a Dominican flow: “Rap game Junot / I’m not a rapper or a producer / I’m a loser / This is how I lose her.” This is music for nerdy kids who grew up with merengue and a high-speed internet connection (*looks left* *looks right* *whispers* it me).

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