Havana hip-hop is a continuation of the century-long musical conversation between Cuba and the United States, which began when soneros brought Cuban rhythms to Harlem jazz clubs. Throughout the 1950’s, musicians traveled extensively between the Havana and New York, exchanging styles and band members with regularity. While the Cuban revolution of 1958 and the United States’ subsequent dissolution of political relations interrupted the flow of exchange, in the late 20th century the international collaboration would return full-force with Cuban hip hop.

When Florida radio stations, accessible from the eastern part of the island, brought Cubans the latest and greatest of NYC’s hip-hop beats, the style was enthusiastically received by a new generation of men and women just as dissatisfied with the political and social status quo as their African-American counterparts. By the late ’90’s Havana had developed a thriving hip hop scene. Adding their own flavor and perspectives to the American style, Cubanrappers represented a new artistic guard determined to speak their piece. Soon they attracted the attention of Black August, an international hip hop collective of socially conscious artists. New York and Havana once again began collaborating musically as Black August organized concerts in both cities, featuring performances by Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Les Nubians, along with Cuban artists such as the rap duo Los Aldeanos. Today the island’s popular music is heavily dominated by reggaeton, but hip hop continues to hold its own, giving voice to the realities of life in the ever-shifting political atmosphere of modern-day Cuba.