Chicano rap is a subgenre of hip hop, Latin hip hop and gangsta rap that embodies aspects of Southwest and Midwest Mexican American (Chicano) culture and is typically performed by American or Australian rappers and musicians of Mexican descent.
The first widely recognized Chicano rap artist was former electro musician Kid Frost, whose 1990 debut album Hispanic Causing Panic driven by the hit single "La Raza" brought new attention to Chicano rappers on the West Coast. Cuban-American artist Mellow Man Ace was the first Latino artist to have a major bilingual single attached to his 1989 debut. Although Mellow Man often used Chicano slang as a result of his East Los Angeles upbringing, Kid Frost receives the credit as the first major Chicano rapper given Mellow Man's Cuban descent. Mellow Man, referred to as the "Godfather of Latin Rap", brought mainstream attention to Spanglish rhyming with his platinum single "Mentirosa", which was based on a riff from the song "Evil Ways" by Chicano rock musician Carlos Santana. In 1991, Kid Frost, Mellow Man, A.L.T. and several other Latin rappers formed the group Latin Alliance and released a self-titled album which featured the hit "Lowrider (On the Boulevard)". In 1990, A.L.T. released the album Another Latin Timebomb, featuring his hit remake of the song "Tequila". In 1990, the Chicano hip hop group A Lighter Shade of Brown released their album Brown & Proud, which included hits "On a Sunday Afternoon" (a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Latin Active". Cypress Hill, of which Mellow Man Ace was a member before going solo, is sometimes considered Chicano rap due to their use of popular Chicano slang and because they often reference Chicano culture in their music and videos, along with the fact that the lead rapper, B-Real, is of half Mexican descent. They were the first Latino rap group to reach platinum status, with Big Pun credited as the first Latino solo artist to reach platinum sales for an LP. Cypress Hill has also collaborated with another Chicano group, Psycho Realm, which is led by brothers Sick Jacken (Joaquin Gonzalez) and Big Duke (Gustavo Gonzalez). Chicano rap derives from American rap which bases its music on drum beats, jazz music, and bass amongst others. Chicano can differentiate itself by sometimes having acoustic guitars playing Spanish melodies in the background or intros with mexican regional music beats. Chicano Rap can be distinguished by sometimes having both English and Spanish verses. Some of the common themes within Chicano rap include but are not limited to: Love, experiences of being Mexican in the United States of America, Political problems, inequality, but also drug usage and money.
In the mid-1990s, Eazy-E formed the group Brownside as a Chicano version of the rap group N.W.AJonny Z, a Chicano rapper from San Diego, is considered to be a pioneer of Latin hip-hop, due to him being one of the first Latinos combining Spanglish lyrics and bass music with salsa, mambo and regional Mexican banda. He scored four Billboard Hot Dance singles between 1993-1997, including one of the greatest Miami bass songs of all time, "Shake Shake (Shake That Culo)". Besides bass music, he also recorded the Chicano anthem "Orale". The Oxford encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States Volume 2, Page 301 states: "A new style of Latina and Latino hip-hop was created in Miami and Texas by the bass rappers DJ Laz and Jonny Z, who mixed Latin styles with bass music." During the 1990s, some Chicano rappers such as Sinful of the Mexicanz began using influences from Mexican music in their beats and delivery, although this subgenre of music is sometimes referred to today as "urban regional" and not always representative of Chicano rap. The hip hop group Akwid also combines traditional Mexican regional music with hip hop vocals.
One of the most widely recognized Chicano rappers today is Lil Rob of San Diego, whose single "Summer Nights" was considered a major crossover and received heavy rotation on radio stations and video programs not directly related to Chicano rap music.
Another widely known Chicano rapper is Serio of Los Angeles, with his 2012 single "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Mexican" featuring Proper Dos and Conejo, a controversial song that made a serious statement designed to put pressure on the current administration to develop an equitable, just approach to immigration reform.
Many Chicano rappers have been heavily influenced by Mexican history, including many themes relevant to the Mexican and Chicano people living in the United States and Mexico. Chicano rap is mainly enjoyed by hip hop listeners in the United States; and has established a cult fan base in Australia, although its main audience consists of Hispanics/Latinos living on the West Coast, the Southwest and the Midwest. Its ability to reach large audiences without mainstream airplay or media promotion is due largely in part to nationwide lowrider car tours and their accompanying concerts headlined by Chicano rappers. This environment allows Chicano rap artists to earn significant incomes through independent label releases while promoting directly to a target audience. Present day Chicano rappers such as Conivan, have taken on their own identity, often fusing oldies with new school beats and drums to create another level to the genre. The art continues to develop further with these innovators.
Due to the relatively high population of Latinos in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and European countries with high Latin migration (Spain, Sweden, Austria), Chicano rap has been gaining popularity in Australia, through Australian artists of Hispanic descent such as Mana De Gangeros, Ese Nacho, Lobo Lowx and other local artists.