You’d think American rappers would address immigration issues more often than they do, since so many hip-hop performers have Caribbean roots, yet few dare. But here, two high-profile MCs—one Haitian, one Cuban—represent and champion the immigrant identity in very different ways. On The Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant, Wyclef Jean delivers overtly political material, with impressive cameos by pop stars like Norah Jones and Paul Simon arranged alongside rap, Latin, and r&b icons. Pitbull’s political stance is far less cerebral: Following last year’s El Mariel (on which he and Wyclef teamed for one track), his third album, The Boatlift, is raw like Dirty South sushi. Mentored by streetwise entrepreneurs like Lil Jon and Luther Campbell, Pitbull’s songs about Marielito hustlers invite liberating emotional and physical release rather than sober contemplation.
Armando “Pitbull” Perez, a Miami-based son of Cuban immigrants, first rose to national acclaim by combining bilingual rhyme skills with both crunk and reggaetón elements. Throughout Boatlift, he blends Northeastern and Southeastern rap trends in a strip-club-friendly formula that works well, whether it’s an r&b confessional like “My Life” or a crunk rave-up like “Candyman.” Wyclef style-surfs too, but seldom waits for the next track before shifting genres. Immigrant loves to shove guest artists into unfamiliar territory to simulate culture clash and displacement: Our Haitian polymath sets Chamillionaire in Bollywood, while T.I. drifts far from Hotlanta’s bounce and grind. Ten years after the original Carnival, his first (and best) solo album, Wyclef even tops his inspired remake of “Guantanamera” with “Sweetest Girl”: Who else would ever think to engineer a Scritti Politti approach to Wu-Tang that quotes from “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Gin & Juice” while warning against a Patriot Act America where anyone might suddenly find themselves snatched away to Gitmo?