Usually, I don’t make too much of a distinction between the two, but when you search the 1980s for rap but explicitly not for hip-hop in a foreign language, chances are you’ll still be told about various nascent local hip-hop scenes, the first mid-to-late ’80s recordings (not to be taken too seriously, experts insist) and then all the attention is reserved for the ’90s breakthrough and crossover artists who elevated the respective country’s rap scene to commercially viable levels.
Well, guess what. Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop also focuses on commercial releases, at least most of them might have had something like that in mind. This ain’t underground hip-hop. It’s pop rap before the term existed. From a time even when hip-hop was called rap (but rap wasn’t always hip-hop), in any case. And in that filthy, corrupt, commercial corner of the music industry we’re looking for – to use a little bit of irony – unsung rap pioneers, who, that is also clear, in most cases should not even think about walking around calling themselves pioneers.
This is all to say that rapping outside of the familiar hip-hop context is twice as hard to spot in a market you’re not familiar with. Or rather than using the business term ‘market’ we should say culture, and in this specific case a country’s youth culture and pop culture. That’s why today’s edition of Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop concentrates on Spain without attempting to reach out to Latin America (or neighboring Portugal).
We can only glean second-hand indications of the important role pop music played in Spain in the second half of the ’70s and the first half of the ’80s. It has, to a considerable degree, to do with politics. I guess you had to be there. Or be able to inform yourself about the era extensively. What is clear is that we’re looking at an extraordinary historical situation that renders the following list interesting in its own way.
In regards to what you and I understand to be ‘rap’, we get once more the impression of a carefree climate in which a newly emerging form of expression such as rap could be experimented with. As confirmed by Phil Da Groove (known as El Maese KDS in hip-hop) of Madrid’s Da Groove Brothers, who on the occasion of the third installment of their “¡Es Hora De Bailar!” mixtape from ’21 writes:
‘The mix is still anchored in groups of the ’80s singing in Spanish but this time focused on proto-rap, that is, rap made by non-rappers and strictly before what we all consider the cornerstone of rap in Spain: “Madrid Hip Hop” (1989). It’s a joy to see how these groups, with hardly any references or respective culture, approach rapping from a much more naive, innocent, broad point of view, far from the corsets and rules imposed by rap as a culture.’
My sentiments exactly.
1) Susana Estrada – “¡Quítate El Sosten!” (1981)
Like the Sugarhill Gang two years earlier, Susana Estrada nabbed Chic‘s “Good Times” for her “rappin’ to the beat” on “Mi Chico Favorito”. Not leaving it at that, she decided to indulge in (or feign, in order to make her point) some moments of sexual pleasure. (Which, come to think of it, adds a special meaning to the phrase ‘rapper’s delight’…)
Erotic sounds had been part of the repertoire of popular music at least since the late ’60s. Spanish singer Sara Montiel also did it in ’75 on “Touch Me”. But female rapping and moaning might have met here for the very first time. (At the same time there’s a good chance that a number of soul ladies did exactly that during the ’70s. But obviously not styled after rap music’s big bang – the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”.)
This was no coincidence. Susana Estrada was at the forefront of the sexual revolution in the years following the Franco regime when Spain transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy. She was the first woman to present herself completely naked on stage in post-Franco Spain, posed in men’s magazines, wrote sex-ed columns, took part in blockbuster softcore movies (who also served as a form of sex education) and recorded a string of confident and outspoken disco/boogie tunes. It’s easy to imagine her being a vocal crusader for sexual liberation in the public arena. Which of course was but one part of the greater issue of emancipation – but might have also held major significance of its own in a society used to rigorous censorship.
The same album that contained “Mi Chico Favorito” also featured “¡Quítate El Sosten!” (‘Take Off Your Bra!’), another mostly rapped track that has to be considered as nothing less than history’s first feminist rap.
In recognizing not wearing a bra as an act of liberation, the well written “¡Quítate El Sosten!” is able to address female emancipation in a catchy context:
“La hora de las chicas
Ha llegado ya
Si el hombre no lo entiende
Lo tienes que apartar
No debes discutir
Razonar ni pelear
Tan solo caminar
Y vivir en libertad
Nos hicieron las esclavas
De su virilidad
Metieron en sostenes
[‘The era of the girls
Has already come
If the man doesn’t get it
You’ve got to push him away
You don’t have to argue
Reason or fight
Just go ahead
And live in freedom
They made us the slaves
Of their virility
They restrain our freedom
Susana Estrada’s ’81 debut featured a third track with rapping, “Un Sitio Bajo el Sol”, which makes one more individual in our series who made rapping (at least partially) part of their musical identity, see also Gérard Vincent in France and Pino D’Angiò in Italy.
2) Objetivo Birmania – “Telegrama (¿Cómo Se Va?)” (1983) / “No Te Aguanto Más” (1984)
In the boundless online digging for unexpected rap deposits, this is the kind of paydirt you’re hoping to come upon. Unconstrained (but also focused), extensive rapping by various individuals across multiple tunes. Catchy tunes!
After Spain’s longtime ruler Franco died in ’75, the young generation was eager to shake off the oppressive atmosphere that had accumulated during decades of dictatorship. Their campaign, starting in Madrid, was called la movida madrileña, with punk rock and synth-pop being part of their expression. Even acclaimed contemporary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar was in the mix with the group Almodóvar & McNamara. His cinematic debut ‘Pepi, Luci, Bom’ was set in the movida and co-starred Alaska, lead woman of this list’s #5 slot.
Formed in ’82 by four lads and one lass, vocalist Mari Paz, Objetivo Birmania (named after a 1945 war film starring Errol Flynn) were part of the second wave of this countercultural movement, visibly inspired by American art pop groups like The B-52’s and Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
The act couldn’t escape mainstream pop’s gravitational pull, but in the beginning the inclusion of rap gave them, despite cutesy tendencies, an anarchistic appeal, which might be one of the great features of the way rap was used on a number of these records presented in this series (we came across 3 Objetivo Birmania songs with distinct rapping). Mari Paz was soon joined by two background singers/dancers who would become popular in their own right, known as the Birmettes.
A year after “Telegrama (¿Cómo Se Va?)” (the B side to their sophomore single “Coco Funk”), the band found another lead vocalist in Yolanda Hens, who also accepted rapping duties on their third single (although not to the extent of the two Birmettes Mónica Gabriel Y Galán and Ana Fernández Padilla) – along with apparently everybody else in the band. That makes 7 people on the mic for “No Te Aguanto Más”, telling each other… that they can’t stand each other anymore? Oh, and let’s not forget the parts where the vocals interpolate “The Message”. Plus the 12″ version features (subtle) scratching. Sure this is pop, but it’s also pretty wild stuff if you look at it through the lens of hip-hop history – one that insists on a global perspective.
3) Iván featuring Dr. B – “Cena Fría” (1984)
Iván scored one of the most enduring hits of the Italo Disco era with “Telenovela”. (As we pointed out before, ‘Italo Disco’ isn’t restricted to Italy – although the Spanish variant is sometimes referred to as sonido Sabadell.) The single’s B side – and you probably see this coming by now – was a funk/boogie-driven rap track.
Iván began his career in the late ’70s as a teenage heartthrob, but this single catches him at the cutting edge of ’84. He has an international hit riding a new pop musical wave and he tries his hands at a very different trend known as rap. Well, Rick James provides the backdrop with “Give it to Me Baby” and there are sung hooks, still “Cena Fría” is essentially a rapped conversation.
Our most attentive readers may remember the rap alias Dr. B of Guadeloupe-born Frenchman Gary Volet when he performed on Bandolero‘s hit “Paris Latino”. This is not him assisting Iván on “Cena Fría”. Instead it appears to be L.A.-born transplant Benjamin Barrington who became active on the Spanish club scene as a DJ, rapper and finally, towards the end of the ’80s, as a singer. He might have intitially stood in as Dr. B with Bandolero when they performed live (or in the song’s ‘official video’) and then took on the Dr. B handle. As such making also a rap appearance on “Siento Miedo” (’84) by Valencian pop group Presuntos Implicados, the B side to their (also rappin’) debut single “Miss Circuitos”.
On “Cena Fría” he is assigned the role of ‘waiter’, the credit on the back of the single indeed reading ‘Rap [Camarero] – Dr. B.’ We find Iván at a restaurant in New York (where else?) inquiring about a lady that has caught his attention. When Dr. B believes that the guest’s chances are minimal, Iván tries to make himself interesting the old fashioned materialistic-masculine way: ‘I’ve got my private jet parked here / Elegant butler and a sparkling necklace, just for her (…) I want to show her the Empire State from my leather-carpeted penthouse.’
4) Aviador Dro – “Amor Industrial” (1983)
Band biographies of Aviador Dro make no secret of the fact that the group of young people who met at Madrid’s Instituto Santamarca and who would eventually begin to make music in ’79 had peculiar interests that today would have them proudly embrace the term ‘nerd’. Writing for fanzines. Listening to Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire. Taking an interest in science and technology (and their manifestations in popular culture). Their band name too was inspired by Italian musical futurist Francesco Balilla Pratella. They also seem to have coined the term tecno-pop, which substitutes synth-pop in ’80s Spain.
Pioneers of independent music in Spain, El Aviador Dro Y Sus Obreros Especializados (as they originally called themselves) took a conceptual approach to pop music with the means of their time, electronic music when it was still very conscious of its modernistic features. But theirs was also a playful, often ironic (in the case of the anti-nuclear “Nuclear, Sí” even sarcastic) approach. Non-album single “Amor Industrial” doesn’t betray the innocence of the romance the human-computer interaction may make (or has made) possible. It’s not quite clear if Aviator Dro’s ‘love’ takes on a physical form or not, but in any case it’s interesting how in the early ’80s ‘industrial’ wasn’t yet that which in the future will be replaced by ‘virtual’.
“Amor Industrial” features the most distinct rap vocals in Aviador Dro’s original catalog. Mastermind Biovac N has referred to ‘declamation’ (“declamación”) as having always been part of the group’s vocal design, explicitly citing songs such as “Amor Industrial” or “Cromosoma Salvaje” (’85) as examples of songs that feature rapping.
5) Alaska Y Los Pegamoides – “Bailando” (1982)
A straight up Eurodisco tune from an erstwhile punk band that was on its natural trajectory towards new-wave and synth-pop. So far, so ’80s.
And where exactly is the rap? It’s there, in the same miniature form that you would much later find on recordings of so many – particularly white – American female pop stars. Rather than those familiar coquettish/coy ‘rap outbursts’, however, this one is strictly functional, interrupting the melancholic flow of the song with a blunt dancing demonstration: four bars (appearing twice in the full-length version) which Alaska shares with fellow band member Ana Curra that describe dancing with elements of the musculoskeletal system:
“Muevo la pierna, muevo el pie
Muevo la tibia y el peroné
Muevo la cabeza, muevo el esternón
Muevo la cadera siempre que tengo ocasión”
Alaska is an icon of Spanish pop music. Born in Mexico to a Spanish father and a Cuban mother (both evading regimes), Alaska, having relocated to Madrid as a young girl, started out with punk band Kaka De Luxe in ’77 when she was just 14. Members of which formed Alaska Y Los Pegamoides, which then reformed as Alaska Y Dinarama (probably the band’s most famous incarnation). Original Kaka De Luxe members Alaska and Nacho Canut would collaborate across all these projects, right down to forming duo Fangoria in ’89, which lives on to this day.
Alaska herself comes across as such a strong-minded artist that it’s surprising there are not more rap performances by her (at least we didn’t find any – although she does perform “¿Que Piensas De Los Insectos?” from the same year at a fast-paced, rap-like cadence and did include recital/spoken word segments with Fangoria). Like other disco/boogie tunes of the time, “Bailando” was also recorded in English, right down to the rap part.
6) Sade – “Quiero Ir A Vivir Al Corte Inglés” (1983)
One might be tempted to translate the title of this song to ‘I Want to Go Live at the English Court’. You’d be on the completely wrong track, however, if you assumed that this is in any way about the royal court or a tribunal of the English law. El Corte Inglés is a major Spanish department store chain (at this point the only remaining one).
Predating British soul pop institution Sade, Valencia’s Sade (or SADE) were a short-lived punk outfit (named after the Marquis de Sade?) who managed a minor crossover with their cover of The Kinks‘ “Lola”. Retrospectives refer to their ‘funky-punky’ style as a reason they might not have been taken too seriously. But as every (neo-)nostalgic knows, fun with a capital F was an integral part of the 1980s experience, and as our ongoing tour of rap oddities from that decade continues to show, rap was an element of fun (and exuberance, and immediacy) to these musicians (safe for some Brits).
So what was the pull factor that made lead vocalist Melchor Ruiz and his band want to set up shop at El Corte Inglés? Shop mannequins. At least that’s who the song is about. It expresses empathy towards their silent endurance and predicts a sort of collective awakening – to what end remains unclear. Unfortunately the song is too short to conjure up a more detailed tableau or an action-packed scenario. That aside, when it comes to punk rock and new-wave, “Quiero Ir A Vivir Al Corte Inglés” features some of the most straightforward rapping found in these historical genres. The song made it onto the 2011 compilation “La Decada De Oro Del Pop Español” (Contraseña Records), so somebody deemed this rapped song worthy of representing ‘the golden decade of Spanish pop’.
7) Suck Electrònic – “Pelikon Rap” (1982)
Yo no hablo español but I’ve heard enough to know that the language on the curiously named “Pelikon Rap” by the even more curiously named Suck Electrònic must be something else. Since the band came from Barcelona, we’ll assume that we’re listening to Catalan, a Western Romance language prevalent in northeastern Spain, the Balearics and the lower southeast of France. Especially for the autonomous region Catalonia (of which Barcelona is the capital) seeking secession from Spain, Catalan is a means of identification. Politics aside, language should run free, and if it decides to take on a rap form, we here at RapReviews.com will always be in the front row, whether we understand anything or not. Keeping in mind that Catalan is not a variation of Spanish, “Pelikon Rap” (which also contains French and English bits) is not just among the earliest foreign language rap songs – considering that Italian, French, German and Spanish are much more widespread makes it even more of a rarity.
Never missing a beat with a rap, RapReviews.com can point those interested in the political conflict Catalonia has with the Spanish state to Frank Dubé‘s ’87 single “In The Pen And Cia (Màgica Solució)”[*] b/w “Catalonia Is Not Babylonia (Independence)”, a rapped, longwinded polemic from a veteran Barcelonian singer and comedian, recorded in both català and English, the latter probably with the intent to publicly promote the idea of Catalonia as the next member of the European Communities (Spain had only just joined in ’86). [*Despite an apparent attempt at wordplay, no allusions to penitentiaries or the C.I.A.]
8) Charol – “El Diablo Se Rie” (1982)
This one is chosen specifically for its forceful rapping with a rock attitude. While we have acknowledged a number of tunes for their unique approach to performing raps and have at other times had to draw a line (or not) between rapping and the amelodic chanting that was characteristic of punk, new-wave and ska, this one sounds exactly how someone – pre-Run-D.M.C. – might imagine rap could work in a rock environment.
The early ’80s 2-album project Charol (“Sin Dinero” being their breakout hit) didn’t follow a straight line, especially in terms of the vocals. On “El Diablo Se Rie” (‘The Devil Laughs’) lead vocalist May García, driven by the band’s funk-infused, bare-bone new-wave backing, leans into her rap performance with a considerable punch. We’ll listen hard for something similar when we turn our attention to the United States of America.
9) Rubi – “Todas Fueran Buenas Chicas” (1983)
Having just put together a rock band, Rubi and her husband left Argentina after the military established yet another junta in ’76. They ended up in Spain, where Rubi pursued her career as a singer, sometimes billed solo (her moniker a reference to Blondie’s Deborah Harry), sometimes as Rubi Y Los Casinos. While her breakout hit leaned into yé-yé music in reference to the early ’60s pop wave before she gave herself to synth-pop and rock for the remainder of the decade, there is that one excercise in rap we’re interested in, “Todas Fueran Buenas Chicas”, last track of the album of the same name and B side to single “Y Yo En Mi Casa”.
Translating to ‘They Were All Good Girls’, the song can be read as an homage to Rubi’s girlhood years when she admired glamorous music and movie stars and lived vicariously through their performances. Since “Todas Fueran Buenas Chicas” the album also features covers of pop songs made famous by female singers (The Supremes, Mary Martin/Marilyn Monroe, Brenda Lee, Sylvie Vartan, Lulu), “Todas Fueran Buenas Chicas” the song might have been intended as the closing tribute to the female artists who inspired Rubi. That this was done as a rap is quite stunning, but on the other hand few things surprise us anymore in our search for lost pop rap.
10) Mamá Ya Lo Sabe – “El Beso” (1985)
Someone who knows better than me blogged about the album that contains this tune under the tag ‘Musique de Merde’, briefly pulling “El Beso” the album from the dustbin of history just to toss it back, calling it ‘quite simply, one of the worst records in the history of Spanish music.’
For what it’s worth, “El Beso” is inspired by a popular pasodoble of the same name (originating in a musical revue), which it hopes to refurbish in a modern style. It actually leans more towards hip-hop than tecno-pop and pulls all 5 members of this Valencian girl group in for a chant-like choir.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as such rap adaptations turn too much into hip-hop mimicry, I tend to tune out. We’re getting rather close to that with this one. Yet in keeping with Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop customs, the presumed lead vocalist of Mamá Ya Lo Sabe, Cristina Tárrega, wound up in media as a longtime radio and television presenter, so in that regard this is an absolutely safe inclusion in today’s list.
11) Xoxonees – “Molan” (1989)
Normally, we don’t want to select songs from 1988 or 1989 for Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop because aside from the time factor these items typically fall into a specific genre that combined dance beats, house harmonies and rap vocals. In other words, by the late ’80s the calculated use of rap as a pop music accessory was already in full swing. We’re looking for more innocent, more sincere manifestations.
Either way Xoxonees deserve to be featured here. They formed in New York in ’83 around two sisters who had come to the city to study art. Though they did not leave behind any professional recordings, the quartet still put on performances at Danceteria or The Kitchen, already dubbing their music, with a wink, flamenco rap. Upon returning to Madrid, three of them decided to revive the project in ’87 while adding two new members.
While bands fronted by women were not uncommon in Spanish pop (Mecano, Ole Ole, Vídeo, Betty Troupe, plus those previously listed), all-female groups were rare. And that wasn’t the only thing that was rare about Xoxonees. As music journalist Estanis Solsona Isaac narrates in his write-up of their career:
‘”I remember that when I arrived in Madrid from New York saying that we were a group of rappers, everyone asked us what that was,” said Blanca. (…) Their amusing mix of Spanish folklore with urban culture linked to street art and hip-hop was supported by irreverent and vindictive lyrics, which reflected their way of understanding femininity and questioned aspects of modern society that are still open to criticism today, making them pioneers. According to Blanca Li, “We were, and still are, super-transgressive. Now all the groups are very standard and sell the same thing: to be a sex symbol, an aspect of femininity that not all women identify with. But a power woman, being the woman you want to and living your life the way you want, very few claim it.”‘
Xoxonees’ self-titled and only album from ’89 contains rapping throughout. (Including a “Rapper’s Delight” improvisation very reminiscent of the Las Ketchup 2002 summer smash “Aserejé”…) Still it seems to have occurred outside of official Spanish hip-hop history. But clearly the United States as the cradle of rap music themselves had – with the exception of Salt-N-Pepa and J.J. Fad – little to offer in that regard. Adding to the exceptional status, single “Molan” was an anti-racist statement provoked by an incident at one of their earliest Madrid shows at a venue that wouldn’t admit people of color. They canceled the concert and wrote “Molan” (‘They’re Cool’) to let everybody know that they like everyone and to point out that the Spanish capital perhaps wasn’t yet as open-minded as it wanted to be.
After laying Xoxonees to rest in 1990, the aforementioned sisters continued to make their mark in the art world, Chus Gutiérrez as an independent filmmaker and Blanca Li mainly as a choreographer, notably for Daft Punk‘s legendary “Around the World” video. In 2019, she became a member of France’s prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts.
To come back to this segment’s introduction – despite being behind others chronologically, Xoxonees were ahead of their time. (Ironically, today the group would probably come under scrutiny for borrowing their name from the Shoshone tribe.)
12) Pepe Da Rosa – “A J.R.” (1982)
A testament to the power of fiction, J.R. Ewing was perhaps the most famous 1980s Texan on a global scale. The scheming oil baron from the soap opera ‘Dallas’ played by the late Larry Hagman became a symbol of a rather American brand of success, excess and ruthlessness. Though some will try (and you will always find males who do), such stories usually cannot be translated to reality. More easily they can be taken as artistic inspiration.
Strictly a novelty song, “A J.R.” by comedian Pepe Da Rosa (born in Argentina to Spanish parents) is all about the larger-than-life J.R. and the entanglements of ‘Dallas’. It turns out that there were two full-length comedy films called ‘Le Llamaban J.R.’ and ‘J.R. Contraataca’ in ’82 and ’83 starring Pepe Da Rosa as J.R. Ewing, so “A J.R.” seems to be a mere side product of a much more expensive venture. That’s how huge ‘Dallas’ was. In Spain more than 20 million viewers were eager to find out who shot J.R. As Da Rosa opens his humoristic homage: ‘From Cabo de Gata to Finisterre [= all over Spain] / people want to see what J.R. is up to’.
The two movies didn’t seem to go down as comedy classics and the machine translation of the song’s lyrics is only mildly amusing. The attraction lies in the rhymes and in the flow – which is something we know a lot about in hip-hop, and which is not something you can say for most of the one-off raps we present in this series.
But sometimes the vocal and lyrical rap stylings we encounter in ’80s pop do foreshadow later periods in rap history. In this case, Pepe Da Rosa does come across a little bit like a 2000s Harlem MC (why not Cam’ron), combining nonchalance and humor with a tight delivery and elaborate rhyme structure. Pepe Da Rosa was mentioned in ‘Rap, 25 Años De Rimas’, a 2010 book on the music’s history en España, proof that not all these efforts are forgotten by hip-hop historians.
Bonus Round: 12 More Rap Approximations From 1980s Spain
Armas Blancas – “Ritmo Del Ahogado” (1985)
Cadillac – “Arturo” (1984)
Lain – “A-Rri-Qui-Taun (Versión Larga)” (1984)
Presuntos Implicados – “Miss Circuitos” (1984)
Stilo Gráfico – “Pesadilla De Un Abstemio” (1984)
Radio Futura – “Paseo Con La Negra Flor (Rap)” (1987)
Salero – “Baila Que Baila” (1984)
Vicio Latino – “¿Sabes Qué Hora Es?” (1984)
Fernando Martinez – “Todo El Mundo Hace Lo Que Quiere” (1982)
Vittorio Martinez – “Maria Térèsa” (1983)
Derribos Arias – “Tupes En Crecimiento” (1982)
Tango? – “Robo En Casa De La Duquesa” (1984)