“I’m from the varrio – East Los – Aztlán”: Place, Space & Identity in L.A. Chicano Rap

Mausfeld, Dianne Violeta (4 October 2019). “I’m from the varrio – East Los – Aztlán”: Place, Space & Identity in L.A. Chicano Rap (Unpublished). In: Music and Society in the Americas/ Música y sociedad en Latino America. Universität Bern. 04. - 05.10.2019.

As FORMAN argues “hip-hop culture has always maintained fiercely defended local ties and a built-in element of competition waged through hip-hop’s cultural forms of rap, break-dancing and graffiti” (2002: 178). This is especially evident in Los Angeles, a city stricken by gang violence in the 1980s and 1990s, where hip-hop culture merged with gang culture. Many of the up and coming artists were gang members and their music was informed by their neighborhoods and the respective gang violence; breakdancers, rappers and DJs were crossing enemy lines to perform at shows, while ‘tag bangers’ were writing their names on walls and crossing off the names of their rivals. Focusing on Mexican-American artists, this paper aims to show how space and identity is being conveyed in ‘Chicano Rap’ in L.A.
‘Chicano Rap’ emerged as in the late 1980s and early 1990s a subgenre within West Coast hip-hop. As (Black) Gangsta Rap clustered primarily in Compton, Southcentral and Long Beach, Mexican-American artists came from all over L.A. county: Proper Dos from Santa Monica, (Kid) Frost from East L.A., Conejo from West Adams, Psycho Realm from Pico Union, Brownside from Southcentral, Lawless from Wilmington and Lighter Shade of Brown from Riverside. Uniquely combining ‘Oldie’ (R’n’B) and Latin Rock samples with hip-hop baselines and rapping in ‘Spanglish’, they created a brand-new sound that soon became popular in the whole Southwest. Their lyrics talked about gang violence, police brutality, and daily life in the varrio (‘hood) and entailed local signifiers like area codes (i.e. ‘213’ for L.A.), neighborhoods (i.e. ‘East Los’ for East L.A.) and street names. While strongly identifying with L.A. neighborhoods, Mexico is omnipresent as a space of cultural rooting as well as Aztlán, the mythical homeland of the Chicanos. Hereby, Chicano rappers forge “extreme local” (FORMAN) identities on the one hand and pan-Chicano pride and self-determination across city-, state- and country borders, on the other. This paper pursues the distinct forms of spatial identification within ‘Chicano Rap’, whether gang related or not, yet always in accordance with hip-hop’s turf mentality.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for Global Studies (CGS)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Institute of History, Iberian and Latin American History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Musicology

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Humanities (GSH)

UniBE Contributor:

Mausfeld, Dianne Violeta


700 Arts > 780 Music
900 History > 970 History of North America


[42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds




Dianne Violeta Mausfeld

Date Deposited:

28 May 2020 12:32

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:38

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