Issue 22: Radiant

Nancy Rojas

Reading time: 9 minutes



Liminal Sovereignty: Trap as a Contemporary “Popular” Artform

On the border, between the Great Outside and the Great Inside there are fissures that detonate fixed categories, Nancy Rojas addresses these liminal spaces within language from the transforming insurgency of trap.

(…) they [the Guaraní] know that the embryos of words emerge from the fertilization of the air of time in our bodies in their condition of living and that, in this case, and only in this case, the words have soul, the soul of the present worlds or in seeds that inhabit us in this condition of ours.[1]

Suely Rolnik

My art is going to kill you and you know that terrifies you.[2]

MC Humver

A multicolored atmosphere emerges from the background of a landscape both near to and far from our gaze. It reveals an irradiant and cuir natural world, whose tonal diversity is projected in the cultural plurality of this northern space. Trap artist B Yami raps. Like the rhapsodes of Ancient Greece, she tries to generate vibrations in the horizon so her words may reach the lost ears of that land which is this same land—our land, to allow us to glimpse the sweeping power of her undulating style. Locas, tortas, travas, trans, marronas, copleras, singers, pianists, and experimental noisemakers listen attentively, forging a web of glances that amalgamate in the complicity granted by the night. To dissident sounds, spaces of incantation.

Thus, in Terminal norte (2021) Lucrecia Martel portrays a group of voices that embody music that crystallizes a certain state of liminality[3] through borderline styles and approaches. Of the genres that appear there, only one currently connects strongly with the youngest generations: trap, a music style that is today defined as a subgenre of rap rooted in so-called hip hop culture. Like other cultural practices, it was born in the heart of the Great Outdoors, i.e. the street. It was there, out in the open, that the first freestyle meetings and rap competitions were held.

It’s not a coincidence that trap has come to occupy a central space in the current cultural fabric, even peeking its way into the interstices of the artworld. A few years ago, I remember seeing some of the rap tours of the Bellos Jueves cycle, curated in Buenos Aires by Santiago Villanueva at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in 2014 and 2015. The event was unusual because viewers were able to experience the performance inside a museum—an institution that epitomizes colonial capitalism, the “Great Indoors” par excellence. But this exchange of the outside for the inside was meaningful because it transformed the institution; for a brief period of time, the museum ceased to be a silent space accessible only to a few. Hip-hop artists like Alex Heduvan proclaimed their views within its nineteenth century galleries. The latter did so intermittently  next to iconic works such as Reinaldo Giúdici’s La sopa de los pobres (1884), Ernesto de la Cárcova’s Sin pan y sin trabajo (1894), and Ángel Della Valle’s La vuelta del malón (1892). Heduvan denounced hunger and unemployment in Argentina, echoing the critical impulse behind these images, these works of art.

It was precisely around the years of this exhibition that trap began to gain popularity in Latin America. It did so thanks to some shared principles: the fact of performing in the streets and the creation of spaces of belonging through these performances, and the impetus to generate community in neighborhoods that generated shared identities whose definition was not limited to the normative family unit.

Speaking—which is also believing, —and therefore believing, bursting out in opposition to what is normal or normalizing,

and liberating language seem to be some of the enunciative principles of trap in its preliminary state, which is also its liminal moment.

It is a kind of music that perfectly understands the flow between art and life, that grew, genealogically speaking, out of the underground and/or from life at the margins. Thus, it is at its root a subgenre that, like all expressions that are generated from the subsoil of language, evokes emancipation. It is also a genre that exists apart from the other genres that originated in the nineties in the southern United States, one that has mutated—and this is a hypothesis—to become, paradoxically, one of the most popular modes for cultural expression in South American countries. This paradoxical view is based on a question that will probably remain pertinent for several years: why talk about trap as a latent figure of popular culture at a time when it has been voraciously consumed by the mainstream music industry? Could it not be that mainstream culture has historically made use of the popular fabric to disseminate new phenomena?

These questions arise within the framework of a conviction: one that sees this transgeographic and cross-border practice as the offspring of a performative culture that has been able to persist, like so few others, as a space for disobedience and expression.

In the face of a system that has absorbed the genre and transformed it into one of the predominant styles of mass culture[4]—a situation that has its origins in the media revolution in which social networks, sponsors, and the reinvented image of success play a fundamental role—there are sectors of urban and rural youth that make a micropolitical use of this practice. In this way, they support the notions of public culture and popular culture beyond monopolistic systems and even beyond state policies. In the current era of the inexhaustible “war of images,” the underground generates its own forms of resistance—that is to say, of producing and reproducing itself in language, confronting the condition of systematization through certain more anomalous and elusive strategies of collective subjectivation.

Therefore, the drive of this text lies in staging some of the legitimate qualities of this phenomenon, those that manage to resituate the performative dimension of contemporary popular culture: its political power, its liminal and mestizo condition, and its hierarchizing impulse of the inherited languages considering that, beneath each rhythmic vocalization, lies the elaboration of a manifesto in process. We are talking then about a cultural movement that reveals the processes of colonial oppression at the same time that it exposes their very weakness in their failed attempt to capture what as Suely Rolnik calls the vital force. It is a movement that pushes for difference, for if it is “life itself” that capitalism [5] appropriates, there is no better fight than the one that can be fought by pondering “speech acts” and, moreover, mobilizing living languages. I am referring here to the work of such groups as Brô MC’s, a pioneer group of indigenous rappers in Brazil that denounces the violence that the Guaraní community have faced and continue to face in their villages in the center-west of the country. Or the Wechekeche Ni Trawun collective made up of Chilean Mapuches who sing both in Spanish and their native language to point out the abuses the Mapuche people suffer and make visible their claim to rights.

In different Latin American countries, groups of Aymara, Quechua, Mapuche, Kaiowá, Kokama, and Quom youths have emerged, declaring a socio-political claim for their vernacular languages. As Victoria Beiras del Carril and Paola Cúneo point out, the “emergence of these rap groups formed by young people who identify as indigenous is situated in a larger global movement that has seen the dissemination of hip-hop culture throughout the world through its ability to connect with the diverse local realities and, through them, transform into manifestations of cultural hybridity that constitute instruments of contestation and struggle against different forms of oppression and marginalization.”[6]

Beyond the requirements of “metrics” and “flow” or the millions of reproductions, it is important to escape from the circuits that have popularized freestyle and look to those radically counterhegemonic examples that exist within this subgenre. I am referring to those groups that, like the aforementioned referents, use rap and its derivative trap as tools for fighting against patriarchal, colonialist, racist, and capitalist subjugation. As  MC Humver, an Afro-Paraguayan transmasculine composer and singer does when he announces in his single Calentura: “I am more dangerous than a white man with a tie. I am the plague, I am the virus, the poetry that kills kills kills, the least loved person in Christianity. When my language attacks, the greatest isms emerge.” Or Nata Ly aka N. L. Y. from Santiago, Argentina, who confronts human trafficking with her lyrics in songs like Esclavas del silencio. Or B Yami, who takes on masculinity with feminist jargon derived from their experiences in the Limache neighborhood of Salta. Or collectives like the Artesanos de la verdad, a group formed by four brothers who launched their raw rap in Rosario a few years ago, rapping primarily in Qom and drawing from biographical and social stories to forge a severe criticism of the political class and the ways in which resources are managed and distributed in the country.

Taking our lead from Ticio Escobar’s view that it is the production of different rural, urban, or suburban groups that are capable of translating their collective character into alternative forms[7] that is considered popular, we can affirm that all these cases are highly representative of contemporary popular culture.

They constitute a matrix of thought and action that can be read in the light of the new processes of anti-colonial struggle.

In them, colonialism is understood as a fact that involves not only economic exploitation and political domination but also and fundamentally the desire for enlightened supremacy on the part of the sectors that position themselves as dominant in an attempt to generate cultural dependence.

Trap and rap reveal, in a way, a rupture with the limits of the polarity of dominant-dominated.

These leaks constitute the promise of spaces of third thirdnesses determined by plural and subaltern realities. Like the rituals of years past, their performances, in their most prolific state of liminality, are taken up as “dynamic dramatizations of collective experience.”[8] And on this level, we can interpret them as authentic incantations of the present, as acts of transition, or as bordering expressions that gravitate, deploying one of the most relevant poetics of communal embodiment.


Suggested playlist:


Brô Mc’s, Kunumi Mc, OZ Guarani: Resistência Nativa –

Bro Mc’s: Eju Orendive 

Artesanos de la verdad: Realidad Fe 

Wechekeche ñi Trawün: Mapudungufinge

Alex Heduvan: La sopa de los pobres

Ciclo Bellos Jueves, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 25 de junio de 2015. Curaduría general: Santiago Villanueva. Curaduría musical: Villa Diamante.

Alex Heduvan: La vuelta del malón

Ciclo Bellos Jueves, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 25 de junio de 2015. Curaduría general: Santiago Villanueva. Curaduría musical: Villa Diamante.

Alex Heduvan: Sin pan y sin trabajo

Ciclo Bellos Jueves, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 25 de junio de 2015. Curaduría general: Santiago Villanueva. Curaduría musical: Villa Diamante.

Nata Ly: Esclavas del silencio

Nata Ly: Del Estero

Nata Ly: Verde lucha

B Yami: Te queres matar 

B Yami: Toa la gata 

Mc Humver: Calentura


  1. Suely Rolnik, Esferas de la insurrección. Apuntes para descolonizar el insconsciente (Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2019), 22.

  2. From the song Calentura, by Afro-Paraguayan transmasculine artist, composer and singer MC Humver, released in April 2021.

  3. Liminality connotes the threshold, the border, that which seems constant but is not. “For years I have understood the liminal to be the emergence of a mode that makes it possible to inhabit the world in a poetic and authentic way, albeit ephemerally. Liminality is inevitably linked to communitas, to the unhierarchized proximity to others, to the unregulated but vital encounter, to doing for oneself and for others, to desiring subjectivities, to the politics of desire. To what Félix Guattari called “micropolitics.” In the liminal register, the threshold is a space of transformation and encounter, and implies a certain belief, a certain disposition of spirit, a certain idea that something has to change for the better? Ileana Diéguez, Escenarios liminales. Teatralidades, Performatividades, Políticas (México: Paso de Gato, 2014), 13.

  4. Mass culture “transcends frontiers and invades remote regions like a warm current that advances, standardizing and sweetening, promising inaccessible worlds and sowing promiscuous dreams. Made by the great economic corporations and produced by “specialized executors,” it descends to the majorities and distracts them with its transparent messages and its easy beauty, with models impossible to be referred to any concrete experience or converted into an indication of other truths.” Ticio Escobar, El mito del arte y el mito del pueblo. Cuestiones sobre arte popular (Buenos Aires: Ariel, 2014), 103.

  5. Suely Rolnik, op. cit., 28.

  6. Victoria Beiras del Carril and Paola Cúneo, “Haciendo un freestyle con los qompas: juegos verbales y recontextualización de géneros discursivos en el rap qom,m” Journal de la Société des américanistes (2020): 133.

  7. Ticio Escobar, op. cit., 109-110.

  8. Cf. Néstor García Canclini, “La puesta en escena de lo popular” in Culturas híbridas. Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad (Buenos Aires, Paidos, 2001), 206.


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