Trappin' in the Schoolhouse



Trappin' in the Schoolhouse


By Cameron King & Edgar J. Nieves


Music captures our deepest thoughts, serves as an escape from the harsh realities of the world, and even helps us better understand who we are in the grand scheme of life. For Puerto Rico, and other places in Latin America, trap music has become an extension of identity and culture. Trap has become the music you party, study, and get ready to, but receives such a bad rep due to its borrowing of words, subject matter, and delivery.


One artist in particular that has taken over the trap scene is Bad Bunny. His sudden rise to fame as the latest trap music phenomenon has been criticized for the crude language he uses in his songs lyrics. Following the standards of trap music, which is, as traperos call it, a rated-r music genre greatly influenced by urban music (american-trap, hip hop, rap and reggaeton), we find lyrics characterized by explicit sexual content and references to the underworld, drugs, and guns. This use of vulgar terms and word phrasing has been reason enough to undermine Bad Bunny’s music, and other traperos as well, and to reject his music as a possible object of study or even as an educational tool. Yet, Bad Bunny’s lyrics are a great resource to use to help develop critical thinking in the academic setting.

Currently, higher education institutions champion the study of theater, literature and other prestigious musical compositions, but are reluctant to include mainstream alternatives. In doing so, professors do not understand how including these references might be integral in the development of advanced levels of critical thinking and tactics that would also help cultivate deeper understanding of self and current social realities. Moreover, academia should opt to teach pop cultural references that better register with their students as complementary study material.


Two songs in particular that can be analyzed in support of this claim are “Chambea” (2017) and “Tú no Metes Cabra” (2017). In the case of the former, chambea is a recent addition to Spanish lexicon inspired by the English word “chamber” pertaining to guns; it also adopts archetypal influence from American mainstream rap music sound effects that simulate the loading and cocking of guns and other automatic weaponry. This type of innovation perfectly demonstrates the linguistic fusion of the characteristics of both contact languages. All too often students are expected to decipher and decode archaic, indigestible jargon from generations of the past and then reproduce the messages of a language that they have not dominated to begin with. Despite passive acquisition of English as a second-language in Puerto Rico, students are expected to examine and conceptualize language that deviates completely from the norms of the context in which they live. Yet, using these lyrics as supplemental material could help the professor teach the students how to identify, analyze, and reproduce literary tropes such as metonymy, simile, antithesis, and metaphor, because Bad Bunny uses these literary devices to reference sports, American music, and local and international public figures.

The second song, “Tú no metes cabra,” is an exemplary piece to analyze intertextuality. With it a professor could create exercises in which students analyze the intertextuality present in Bad Bunny’s song and Hector el Father’s “Noche de Aventura” (2007). Students can compare and contrast the dialogue and aesthetic of both songs and music videos. As a result of United States influence, Puerto Rico has seen anglicisms seep into all paradigms of language. In the case of this song, Bad Bunny adopts Héctor el Father’s phrase: “tú no metes cabras, saramambiche,” which is a ‘creolization’ of the English phrase ‘son of a bitch’. Linguists would consider this a special type of borrowing that attempts to imitate the English pronunciation using Spanish phonetics. Analyzing the cultural implications of this phrase could spark conversation regarding students’ contact with the English language.


Aside from anglicisms, this genre includes literary elements true to the nature of the perception of Puerto Rican culture. Both of these signify not only the evolution of language but also the colonial status of language on the island. English in Puerto Rico as a second-language is classified as such due to U.S. influence, but what academia does not consider is that Trap is heavily loaded with socio-cultural references that better resonate with students. The lyrics in this genre denote the evolution of language according to characteristic word coinage and loan words or borrowing of English vocabulary. Invalidation of this genre is both counterproductive and unrealistic. This is not a proposal to completely remove classical texts, such as Shakespeare, Federico Garcia Lorca or Puerto Rican classics from the curriculum, for they are great works of their time. The classroom materials should speak life into the socio-cultural situations lived by their learners that reflect a collective unconscious and includes connotations attached/attributed to these references.