As Lil Pump's unlikely rise to the top of the charts continues with his single "Gucci Gang" (currently sitting pretty at No. 4), one author takes pause to reflect on the problematic way in which the rapper's use of the n-word addresses a broader discussion of Latino identity in hip-hop.
Lil Pump grew up as Gazzy Garcia in the Miami area of South Florida; his fans claim he was born to a Cuban father and a Mexican mother. Over time, he tamed his fluffy curls into bleached blonde and hot pink dreads. Tattoos blossomed across his cheeks and couture embroidery threaded itself through his clothes even as his teeth remained spangled with braces.
The 17-year-old Wingstop aficionado and Smokepurpp affliate has received criticism before, most notably for the way he speaks to and about women. However, critique of his fairly frequent use of the n-word has been largely absent from the discussion of the music that’s propelled him into mainstream success.
Lil Pump’s single “Gucci Gang” hit the Billboard Hot 100 fueled by Nielsen Music streaming data and a teenage audience that can score under the table Xanax more easily than over the counter Bud Light. He’s managed to parlay the viral popularity of songs like “D. Rose” and “Flex like Ouu” into a debut full-length album with features from the upper echelon of hip-hop establishment (Gucci Mane, Chief Keef, Rick Ross and 2 Chainz) and a number three spot on the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart upon its debut.
Even as the music media has attacked his manufactured contrivance and inability to personally live up to his improbable public persona (he once claimed to put 500 pills inside a Xanax-shaped cake), the ramifications of his casual use of the n-word have remained largely unexamined.
It’s important to note that Cuban and Mexican lineage doesn’t necessarily, in and of itself, preclude having Afro-Latino heritage. Lil Pump’s racial ambiguity, and the fact he isn’t white, has allowed him to sidestep accusations of racism that have dogged other artists who drop the n-word, like Post Malone. However, as a non-black (or non-black-passing) person of color, Lil Pump hasn’t experienced the specific form of racism known as anti-blackness. That alone is enough to make a powerful argument that he has no right to use an anti-black slur; but the debate over whether Latino hip-hop artists can use the n-word was raging years before he hit puberty.
Chart topper Cardi B has sometimes come under fire for her language (from people who forget being Afro-Latina is a thing). In a video interview, DJ Vlad once asked the Dominican and Trinidadian artist her opinion on J.Lo’s controversial use of the n-word on the Ja Rule penned single “I’m Real (Murder Remix).”
“It’s just, it’s something like, that’s like, it’s just something that’s just like a lingo,” she answered. “If it comes to the fact that she’s Latina, my parents, my father’s side, we’re Spanish, we’re Hispanic and everything... What am I considered? At the end of the day, Latinos, they are considered a minority. Like you think white folks see Hispanic and Black people like, ‘Oh, ok, they’re Hispanic, they’re black.’ No. We are all considered the same to them.”
When Complex interviewed the Puerto Rican head of Terror Squad, Fat Joe offered a different explanation for the line “Now who's gonna tell me that I can't say n****?” on the opening track to "The Elephant in the Room." “Blacks and Latinos, anywhere you go in any hood, any ghetto, we’re right beside each other, and with each other all the time, especially in New York City. They’ve been calling me ‘that n****’ my whole life. It’s a term of endearment.”
Television show Black-ish famously joked about the dichotomy in an episode titled “THE Word,” where two African-American characters broke the rules down to their coworkers:
“Mexicans can’t say the n-word, but Dominicans are ok?”
“Exactly. Puerto Ricans are cool too. Unless you a J.Lo Puerto Rican.”
“Look, it’s simple. Big Pun, Fat Joe, ok. Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, no bueno.”
“See, basically, the whole Terror Squad can say it. But not Menuedo.”
There are glaring issues with light-skinned Latinos using a word loaded with hundreds of years of oppression and a direct lineage to slavery, no matter what neighborhood they grew up in — and Latinos working in hip-hop continue to land themselves in hot water for using racial slurs.
For example, Julieanna “YesJulz” Goddard rose to the ranks of Def Jam A&R rep and highly paid professional influencer on clout built from trap playlists and luxurious Snapchats. While certainly never exempt from criticism regarding cultural appropriation, attention became focused on her when she tweeted a T-shirt with a racial slur on it. From there, people uncovered footage of her clearly saying the same racial slur in a video.
The backlash was swift and merciless. Women and nonbinary people participating in music are often seen as disingenuous and inauthentic, and YesJulz had long been seen as an interloper; Lil Pump’s credentials as an underground SoundCloud artist, racial ambiguity, and gender may have allowed him to escape the repercussions she received for using the exact same language. That doesn’t mean we needed to give YesJulz a pass; it means that Lil Pump should be receiving more scrutiny for using a word that, in his mouth, sounds just as clunky as when his peers use it with harsher repercussions.
It means Latinos need to start thinking about how anti-blackness in our communities contributes to real issues like police violence against African-Americans and the erasure of Afro-Latinos. It means we need to take responsibility for our role in upholding oppression, and dedicate ourselves to dismantling the power structure that so many suffer under. It’s not just lingo; it’s complicity, and reinforcement of, white supremacy. And it’s completely unnecessary. Latin trap artists like Ozuna and Bad Bunny are proving that you can make compelling music without needing to use the n-word. Rappers like Queen of the South actress Snow tha Product and Bronx Boricua Princess Nokia are showing that you can make songs that build upon your heritage without exploiting anyone else’s.
After receiving bad press for dropping the n-word on songs like Travis Scott’s “Beibs in the Trap,” Toronto musician and Metro Boomin collaborator Nav omitted it from his full-length project Perfect Timing and vowed never to use it again. Maybe, with time, Lil Pump will reach a similar realization.