Pancho McFarland’s Toward a Chican@ Hip Hop Anti-colonialism is the second volume in the Routledge Focus on Latina/o Popular Culture book series, which provides brief introductions to key issues that intersect Latina/o and pop culture today. McFarland’s focus is on the political possibilities of what he calls “Xican@ hip hop” and “Chican@ street hop,” the actual politics of current Xican@ hip hop and Chican@ street hop artists, and the gaps between them. Through five short chapters, McFarland surveys current trends in anti-colonial theory and, through discussion of a select group of Chican@ hip hop texts, offers a framework for a more meaningful and effective Xican@ hip hop/Chican@ street hop anti-colonial praxis.
In the opening chapter, McFarland situates his discussion of Chican@ hip hop within the context of “the current colonial capitalist crises facing Chican@s” (2017, p. 2). Specifically, he identifies the criminalization of people of Mexican descent through the War on Drugs and other colonialist/capitalist tactics, the use of mass media and public education to normalize “the racist capitalist status quo” (ibid., p. 2), and gendered colonial practices that sow divisions between groups along lines of gender and sexuality, effectively undermining all people of Mexican descent.
Next, McFarland lays out his theoretical framework and analyzes Xican@ hip hop and Chican@ street hop, and argues that Xican@/Chican@ hip hop artists should aspire to achieve an anti-colonial praxis. He defines his political theory as: anti-authoritarian, drawing from anarchist and autonomous Marxist traditions; anti-colonial, specifically informed by transnational feminism; and alterNative, which recognizes that those of Mexican descent “are not simply the colonized, but, also, and more importantly, we are native” (ibid., p. 16).
In Chapter Three, McFarland presents his analysis of Xican@ (indigenous-identified people of Mexican descent) hip hop through discussion of “maíz narratives.” Noting the historical and continued importance of maíz (corn) in the religion, philosophy, and social organization of indigenous Mexican and Central American societies, he positions Xican@ hip hop as a continuation of a millennia-long maíz narrative, or, “an alterNative history of Xican@ people” (ibid., 28). Using the examples of artists such as Kinto Sol, Tolteka, Olmeca, and Rain Flowa, McFarland praises the ability of Xican@ hip hop to transmit indigenous identity and perspectives, and to reterritorialize the spaces in which Xican@s/Chican@s reside. At the same time, he contends that Xican@ hip hop could benefit from increased attention to issues of gender and sexuality, noting that its “underdeveloped gender analysis and little room for la jotería limits its liberatory potential” (ibid., 44).
McFarland transitions in Chapter Four to an analysis of the “new pinto poetics” of Chican@ street hop, connecting Chican@ street hop artists to the tradition of the “pinto” as an outlaw figure, and specifically to the pinto poetry of Chicano prisoners in the 1960s and 1970s. Citing the lyrics of artists such as Thief Sicario, Juan Zarate, and Psycho Realm, he argues that Chican@ street hop offers a critique of Chican@s’ subaltern status through images of life in the calle (street) and encounters with the carceral state. Noting the predominance of men in Chican@ street hop, he contends that Chicana street hop artists Tenochtitlan and TopDime “provide a defiant woman-centeredeness that sees women outside of patriarchal expectations and the male gaze and offers a third space within hip hop to develop a 21st-century Chican@ identity” (ibid., 53). He concludes, that in order to increase its political efficacy Chican@ street hop, like Xican@ hip hop, must make room for female and GLBTQ2 identities and perspectives. He further notes the need for Chican@ street hop artists to align themselves with the politically active members of their communities.
In his concluding chapter, McFarland highlights the importance of examining “how we define ourselves and how we are defined by others” (ibid., p. 56). While the stories told by Xican@ hip hop and Chican@ street hop artists offer a counter-narrative to the ways by which Chican@ communities are defined by those in power, the question, McFarland contends, is how “these identities and the politics that accompany them contribute to a liberatory praxis” (ibid., p. 56). To this end, he argues that a Chican@ hip hop anti-colonialism must embrace a pan-indigenous transnationalism by connecting to the pan-indigenous movement developing among indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and worldwide. He again stresses the importance of including “a decolonization of gender and sexuality and a third space for Xican@s” (ibid., p. 60) in Chican@ hip hop anti-colonial praxis.
McFarland’s book is an engaging read with regard to the political possibilities of Chicana/o and Latina/o popular culture, hip-hop music, and popular music generally. His analysis of Xican@ hip hop and Chican@ street hop texts offers insight into the resistant politics of music scenes that rarely register in academic discussions of hip-hop or in the popular music press. At the same time, he provides a framework for anti-colonial praxis that challenges attempts by the dominant culture to sow divisions between groups or to co-opt resistant cultural practices, which is useful not only for the Chican@ hip hop artists he discusses, but for all musicians and artists working to advance anti-colonialism.
At only 66 pages, though, the book suffers from being so short. McFarland often uses terms that readers not familiar with the subject matter may find difficult to understand, and the length of the book leaves him little room to define his concepts. For instance, the distinction he draws between “Xican@” and “Chican@” is only gleaned through a parenthetical mention of indigenous identity, and the distinction between “hip hop” and “street hop” only becomes clear in the fourth chapter of the book.
Likewise, his discussion in Chapter Two of the role of the mass media in promoting dominant ideologies, which bears similarities to Louis Althusser’s concept of Ideological State Apparatuses, is too brief to present a nuanced reading of power relations in the production and consumption of media and reads as totalizing. Additionally, his discussion of the music itself is brief and largely confined to Chapters Three and Four. One hopes McFarland will extend this work into a longer book where he can expand upon the ideas put forth here.