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Making subjects grievable: narco rap, moral ambivalence and ethical sense making
Ethnomusicology Forum  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-07-01, DOI: 10.1080/17411912.2021.1944253
Hettie Malcomson


Music provides unique opportunities to interrogate difficult issues including narcoviolence. Scholarly and media representations of those working for Mexican organised criminal groups are often one-dimensional, and fail to engage fully with their human experience. Drawing on music-focused ethnographic research, I argue in this article that subjects who participate in organised crime are made grievable and human through the portraits that commissioned rappers empathetically create of them. I explore how narco rap songs portray organised criminals as brave, respectable, able to cope with emotional trauma and attain redemption, while effacing physical suffering and guilt. I interrogate how commissioned rappers read and empathise with their clients, create appropriate songs, and negotiate the moral dissonances this work creates, particularly when religious figures are invoked. I conclude that the human complexity of those working for organised criminal groups and their ethical struggles must be engaged with if we are to propose action on drug trafficking and related activities.