Fat Joe Tried But Ultimately Missed The Mark On Discussing Black Latinos

An op-ed on Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe’s blanket commentary on Afro-Latinidad.

Last week, Fat Joe stopped by Hot 97 in New York City to chat with Ebro Darden, Peter Rosenberg and Laura Stylez on their popular morning radio show, Ebro In The Morning. There, Joe took it upon himself to use his platform to address topics such as Afro-Latinidad and Yoruba. He said to Ebro and company, “Latinos are Black. In Cuba, at one time, there was eight million Cubans. Five million, unfortunately, were slaves. Three million were actual Cubans, and they integrated and had babies.” 

At first listen, I was eager to celebrate Fat Joe’s personal testimony as well as his attempt at broadening and bringing forth the conversation to an audience of thousands. I thought, “Let me be proud that he even brought it up,” but on second-thought is that really enough? At this point in the conversation about Black Latinidad and spirituality, are we willing to settle for a well intended rant? 

It started with his  misinformed statistic on the population of enslaved Africans in Cuba (600,000 is a more accurate estimation), and then came his insulting remark about “actual Cubans” — like, WTF is an “actual Cuban”? Cubans, like many Latinos, are a fusion and blending of African and Indigenous bloodlines and cultures. His carefree blanket statement that “Latinos are Black” is rooted in the assumption that Latinos are a monolith, erasing the unique struggles of Black Latinos (for instance, it waters down the plight of those who are never greeted as Black while also being Latino) and insinuating that white Latinos share the same hardships and experiences as their Black Latino counterparts.

Now, let's keep it real, was I really expecting Joey Crack to bestow upon us a thoroughly researched statement on what it is to be Latino? Yes, I was. This is an artist who has existed in hip-hop for over 20 years; this is not his first attempted discourse on the nuances of being Black and Latino and it is irresponsible for him to use Latinidad as an umbrella term. His response came across more as a flustered attempt at seeking validation from the Black or so-called African-American gaze. 

This is a line of thinking, I might add, that many Black Latinos fall victim to. As a friend of mine, spoken word artist and educator of Jamaican descent, Jive Poetic once said: “We are conditioned to view Blackness as synonymous with African-American” and therefore we neglect those who are children of the diaspora—those who share African blood but may not reside in North America or Africa. The discourse behind Black Latinidad must be more informed and nuanced in order for us to ultimately broaden the historical context of our identities.  

As the interview progressed, they touched upon Fat Joe’s new single “Yes,” featuring Cardi B and Puerto Rican recording artist Anuel AA. In it, he samples one of Hector Lavoe’s most famous songs “Aguanile.” For many, “Aguanile” is a song of spiritual praise. The word aguanile, loosely translated, means “cleaning of your home or cleaning of your earthly possessions.” As the sample drops, it is immediately followed by the chorus:

Ass up, face down (Aguanile, face down, face down).

Insert infinite side-eyes here, because obviously a patriarchal frame of reference was the best way to honor the legendary Hector Lavoe and do justice to a song that is so deeply entrenched in the relinquishing of carnal and temporal desires.

Ebro goes on to explain, “Well, what he’s speaking to is African ancestral heritage… the record, the original, is a very spiritual song… make sure to respect the Yoruba,” to which Fat Joe responds by saying, “We put elements of that in the video… it might be a disrespectful sample…,” acknowledging the potential for outrage. 

Yet, the former Terror Squad member does nothing to assume responsibility for the track with lyrics that do little to uphold the cultural reverence of the original Lavoe song. Simultaneously, he dismisses any future critique by stating “I get it” in reference to the inevitable backlash.

The discussion ultimately becomes a matter of expectations and whether or not we should hold certain celebrities to a higher standard. Fat Joe, in several different interviews and panels, has prompted the conversation on race politics, asserting the importance of navigating and understanding Black Latinidad. To approach said discussion from an “Introduction to What is a Black Latino’’ rhetoric is played out. Minimizing the experiences of Black Latinos by suggesting that all Latinos are Black further perpetuates the misguided notion that Latinos do not know and understand their history, and silences the experiences of those who constantly have to defend their own identity. 

If he is to come from the basics of Black Latinidad than it would be in the best interest of everyone who does live that narrative for him to actively push the discussion and shed light on the ways in which a demographic of people—for example, those who are of darker tone—are excluded and erased entirely from the community. But it probably wouldn’t matter to be exact and accurate within this dialogue, because after all, he is Fat Joe. 

Venessa M Marco is a writer and educator by way of Santurce, Puerto Rico y La Habana, Cuba. She currently resides in Harlem, New York.

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