The Role of Music in the MS13

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The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) murders people, assaults people, takes over neighborhoods … and makes music.

Just as the “narcocorrido” has been molded from Mexican “norteño” music to appeal to drug traffickers, and just as Islamic terrorists have manipulated the traditional and popular “nasheed” to attract followers, so the MS13 has found artistic expression in gangster rap, which has a more nuanced connection to actual gangs than its name might suggest. And social media has turned out to be the perfect vehicle for sharing this art, even at the risk of investigation, prosecution and reprisals.

The gang has used YouTube, SoundCloud and Facebook to launch their hits, some of which boast more than two million views. Due to the public nature of these sites, much of the information the gang members communicate in their lyrics, photos and videos leaves them open to anyone who wishes to learn about their way of thinking from a cultural perspective.

What is striking is that, like so many of its predecessors, the music has become an international phenomenon that unifies the group more with each song. After reviewing more than fifty music videos, InSight Crime discovered that the tracks are produced in several countries, including the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Italy, Nicaragua, Bolivia and even the Philippines. They address topics ranging from hatred to love, and have been recorded in settings ranging from prison cells to gang-owned recording studios.

I. The Music

Genre

All the compositions InSight Crime analyzed belong to the world of gangster rap (often called “gangsta rap”), a subgenre of hip-hop that, when produced by actual gangsters, seeks to reflect the singers’ violent lifestyles with rhymes that denigrate the gang’s enemies and exalt its criminal activities. The music in general is heavily associated with urban life and seeks to perpetuate an image of the artist as an outlaw. The intent is not commercial appeal, but rather to reflect the reality of gang life.

Introductions and Shout-Outs

A large number of the tracks begin with an introduction in which the gang members make their alias, or “taka,” known so the listener knows who is rapping. Sometimes they take the opportunity to say what clique they belong to and what corner of the word they are rapping from.

Such is the case in the song, “Quienes somos nosotros,” (“Who We Are”) by “El Terror” from the Alaska Criminales clique. In his introduction he says both who and where he is, revealing that the MS13’s reach spreads all the way to Europe.

“Soy El Terror / en Milano me encuentro / siempre las dos letras represento / Desde Ilopango, San Bartolo y el Center”[1]

(“This is El Terror / Catch me in Milan / always representing the two letters / From Ilopango, San Bartolo and the Center”)

In another example, the song “Yo estoy afuera” (“I’m Abroad”), El Terror specifically reveals that he and a companion (identified only by their aliases) both belong to the Alaska Criminales clique as they amble along the streets of Lombardi.

“Un saludo para todos los homeboys acá en Milano / Representando las dos letras / El Pitbull, el Terror de los Alaska Criminales, homeboys / ¡La Mara! ¡La Mara, puto!”[2]

(“What’s up to all the homeboys here in Milan / Representing the two letters / Pitbull, El Terror from the Alaska Criminales, homeboys / The Mara! The Mara, bitch!”)

The introductions also serve to send greetings or shout-outs to all types of fellow gang members, from incarcerated homeboys referred to as “laqueados,” to members in other municipalities, states or countries.

In the song “Somos pandilleros GLS” (“We Are GLS Gangsters”), created by members of the clique Gangsters Locos de El Salvador, the gangster-artists greet their counterparts in the United States, such as the Guanacos Crazy Salvatruchos, Delgados Locos Salvatruchos, Cyclones Locos and Alta Vista Locos Salvatruchos.

“Saludos, recordando a los homeboys de clica que nos están representando allá arriba, en LA [Los Ángeles, California]…También aquí les mandamos un saludo a todo el programa de Ilopango de parte los Gangster Locos, siempre vacilando donde sea. La Mara Salvatrucha es la que suena en todo Ilopango.”[3]

(“What’s up, remembering the homeboys from the clique representing us up there in LA … We also want to send a shout-out to the whole Ilopango program from the Gangster Locos, always chilling wherever. The Mara Salvatrucha is what plays in all Ilopango.”)

These greetings allow us to connect the dots, to locate the cliques’ territory and see which ones hold alliances or if they maintain international communication.

Once again, in his track “Quienes somos nosotros,” El Terror illustrates this international support. In addition to demonstrating the presence of the MS13 in Milan by greeting homeboys incarcerated in Italy, he reveals that cliques in El Salvador are providing support to gangs in Europe.

“Ey un saludo para todos mis homeboys que están tabeando haciendo prisión aquí en Italia: ‘El Demente’, al ‘Serio’, al ‘Baby’, mi homito de ‘Sleepy’, el ‘Neture’, el ‘Grillo’. Aquí un saludo también para los homies que nos están apoyando: ‘Los Fulton’, ‘Los Western’, ‘Los Seven Eleven’, aquí el Terror de los Alaska Criminales representando en Milano. La Mara Salvatrucha, homeboy. ¡La Mara!”

(“Shout-outs to all my homeboys serving time here in Italy: ‘El Demente,’ ‘Serio,’ ‘Baby,’ my homey ‘Sleepy,’ ‘Neture,’ ‘Grillo.’ And here’s a shout-out to the homies supporting us: ‘Los Fulton,’ ‘Los Western,’ ‘Los Seven Eleven.’ El Terror from the Alaska Criminales is here in Milan representing. Mara Salvatrucha, homeboy. The Mara!”)

The song “Hollywood Locos” is also of interest for its greetings to incarcerated gang members. In it, members of the San Marcos, San Salvador clique for which the song is named send greetings to three leaders who are incarcerated in the Zacatecoluca maximum-security prison and are considered by the Salvadoran police as high-ranking leaders in the organization.

“Ey qué pedo aquí representando a la MS13. Saludando a los homeboys de Hollywood Locotes a los Diabólicos Mafiosos, va. Ya saben qué pedo, va. ¡Siempre detonando matando chavalas hijos de puta! Y simón también saludando a los homeboys que están laqueados presos ahí en Zacate penal de Zacatecoluca: al Crook (Elmer Canales Rivera) Ladrón, al Diablito (Borromeo Enrique Henríquez Solórzano), al Indio de Hollywood Locos (José Wilfredo Ayala Alcantara). Siempre tirando la Mara Salvatrucha, ese”.

(“Hey what’s up, representing MS13. Shout-out to all the homeboys from the Hollywood Locotes, from the Diabólicos Mafiosos, yeah. You know what’s up, yeah. Always killing motherfucking enemies. And yeah, shout-out to the homeboys locked up there in Zacate too, to the Crook, to Diablito, to Indio from the Hollywood Locos. Always representing the Mara Salvatrucha, man.”)

Intensified Masculinity

Gangsters are often understood as an exaggerated and even perverse extension of masculinity, which is exemplified in their “lírikas criminales” (“criminal lyrics”).

“Qué quieres que te diga, qué quieres que te escriba / mi vida está formada por amor a la pandilla / pues ha sido mi apoyo y mi fuerza en las movidas / que surgen diariamente en las calles de aquí en Sivar [San Salvador]”.[4]

(“What do you want me to say? What do you want me to write? / My life is about love for the gang. / It’s been my support and my strength when shit happens / every day in the streets here in San Salvador”)

The message in this rapper’s lyrics could easily be interpreted as obsession with his gang, which is typical of the subgenre when performed by gangsters. Such praise for the rappers’ gangs — which they violently defend — is a running theme, as is the mixture of pride and cruelty.

“Mara Salvatrucha es la más estricta / reconocida que a cualquiera intimida / porque a nosotros se nos facilita / mandarte al panteón y dejarte hecho triza”.

(“The Mara Salvatrucha is the strictest / known to intimidate anyone / because it’s easy for us to / send you to the graveyard in shreds.)

“Para que no invente culerito gallinita cobarde / Que antes que te mueras te pegamos una paliza / A pesar de todo, en bolsas negras terminas”.[5]

(“So you don’t act like a little bitch / before you die, we’ll beat you down. / No matter what, you’ll end up in a body bag”)

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Narco Culture

Their compositions often seek to define the gang’s social control of an area with the aim of making it explicit that there is danger associated with messing with the MS13, a risk of losing one’s life if the gang is challenged. In this way, such lyrics serve as a propaganda tool for the group.

“Matando a los chavalas para mi mara no hay descanso / creamos el efecto matando el defecto / ganando territorio, expandiendo mi respeto / para mi barrio un gran besito la marota siempre unido, dejando enemigos en el suelo esparcido / sus sesos por un lado y sus manos por el otro / al fin en el reportaje no les sacan ni el rostro”.[6]

(“Killing the enemies for my gang, there’s no rest / We create the effect by killing the defect / gaining territory, expanding my respect / for my hood, a big kiss / the ‘marota’ always united, leaving enemies scattered on the ground / their brains on one side and their hands on the other / In the end their faces won’t even make it on the news”)

With the crimes they commit featuring so heavily in MS13 rap lyrics, the abundance of violence can be overwhelming. Gangster rappers often recount homicides in detail and with ease, repeating on several tracks that the MS13 is “detonando chavalas (“killing enemies”).

“Somos la bestia que asesina todos esos animales / Machete en la mano que nos vamos de cacería / Los chavalas los matamos donde sea a sangre fría / Les volamos, los enterramos, su cuerpo ocultamos, despedazamos / Y la cabeza a su familia le mandamos”.[7]

(“We’re the beast that kills all those animals / Machete in hand, we’re on the hunt / We kill our enemies anywhere in cold blood / We blow them up, we bury them, we hide their bodies, we tear them apart / And we send their heads to their families”)

Also common throughout several tracks is the combination of Spanish and English, given that the gang’s existence is the result of migration. There are also songs entirely in English. They are mainly composed by the US homeboys and tend to have better sound quality. But what they all have in common is key terminology necessary for understanding what they lyrics mean. One example is the numbers they repeat in their songs, the telephone country codes used as synonyms for the countries where they are located. They help to reinforce their identity as Salvadorans and garner them respect.

An example again can be found in El Terror’s “Quienes somos nosotros.”

“Ey qué onda homeboy, aquí desde el cinco cero tres (503 clave telefónica de El Salvador) hasta el cero treinta y nueve (039 clave telefónica de Italia), va. Aquí representando a la Big Mara Salvatrucha, ya usted sabe, aquí representando las dos letras, la grandota”.

(“Hey, what’s up, homeboy, here from the 503 to the 039, man. Here representing the Big Mara Salvatrucha, you already know. Here representing the two letters, the big one.

How to Live and Die

Remembering the dead is a recurrent subject for gang musicians. Paying homage to slain homies is not only represented with tears tattooed on the face or tombstones etched on the skin and painted on walls; they mourn the fallen in their musical compositions as well. This helps to reinforce the notion that such a “crazy life” was worth something, and anyone who doubts it need only listen to the reverent lyrics.

Many introductions dedicate the song to the gang’s dead, who are depicted in videos using photographs of graffiti murals featuring their tags. The song “Somos pandilleros” (“We’re Gangsters”) from the Gangster Locos clique gives a dedication and death count illustrated with photographs of graffitied walls.

(Saludos) también a los homies finados de la clica a: Joker, Cico, Patines, Rizo, Guanaco, Huero, descansen paz, homeboys”.

(“[Shout-outs] also to the deceased homies in the clique, to Joker, Cico, Patines, Rizo, Guanaco, Huero. Rest in peace, homeboys.”)

To go even further, there are entire tracks dedicated to a single dead gangmate to whom the artists sing, expressing how much they miss him and how good he was at exterminating their enemies. “Descansa en paz Corly” (“Rest in Peace, Corly”), created by the City Paraíso Gangsters clique, allows the audience to see that the “mareros” have a spiritual, even religious side, as they ask “diosito (a diminutive form of “god” used to express intimacy or endearment) to wrap Corly in his arms because he was a good MS13 soldier in both good times and bad.

“Perdimos la ausencia de un amigo que simón el Corly le decían / y el doggy era malilla. / Lastimosamente la puerca policía / en el desvío de Tonaca (Tonacatepeque) le arrebataron la vida / y en el distrito Italia se siente la agonía / en los corazones de toda su familia. / Jamás te olvidaremos / siempre te tendremos presente en nuestras mentes como un ser supremo / porque le pusistes en mente en lo malo y bueno”.[8]

(“We lost a friend, yeah, Corly they called him / and that dog was tough / Unfortunately the pig police / on the detour for Tonaca, they took his life / and in the district of Italy you feel the pain / in the hearts of your entire family / We’ll never forget you / We’ll always have you present in our minds as a supreme being / because you keep him in mind in the bad and in the good”)

This is one of many songs with similar titles: “Descanse en paz Spider 20st,”[9] “Descansen en paz Cico y Demente SLS”[10] and “El Extraño descanse en paz.”[11]

Having a “Moral” Enemy

The police and Salvadoran army have been two of the main enemies of the MS13. And conflict with these enemies gives the gang a raison d’etre.

They are the targets of numerous attacks, and this carries over to the gang’s musical compositions. In the songs, the gang members show the contempt they have for their foes, seeking to offend and ridicule them.

The audience can hear the gang’s derision in songs like “Juras culeros” (“Faggot Police”).

“Recuerdo ese día, me acapararon / y en bartolina la pija me chuparon. / Y en el juzgado todos filas hacían, / los puse a mamar hasta las gatas de la CIA. / Esta canción va también para los soldados / que andan por la calle con sus trajes camuflados. / Lo persiguen a unos hasta por montes”.[12]

(“I remember the day they nabbed me / and in lock-up they sucked my cock / And in the courtroom they were lining up / I made them suck me off, all the way up to the losers in the CIA / This song also goes out to the soldiers / They walk down the street in their camo / and chase guys down even into the mountains”)

Seconds later they make sure to vilify all security forces.

“Esta canción va dedicada para todos esos hijos de puta: juras (policías), soldados, los de la UMO (Unidad de Mantenimiento del Orden), chorizero (policía municipal), a los de la GRP (Grupo de Reacción Policial) también, va. ¡Qué ondas ahí!”

(“This song goes out to all those motherfuckers: police, soldiers, the UMO, local police and the GRP too, yeah. What’s up!”)

The Heart

The rarest occurrence is when a gangster reveals his softer side, but when it does happen it is often in a love song. And they do exist. Despite the need to demonstrate their masculinity, there are some affectionate songs in the gang’s musical collection in which the performers open up a bit.

From El Salvador, “Delincuente” and “Pandillero” describe how affection can fade away in the song “Se murió nuestro amor” (“Our Love Died”).

“Te digo una cosa / Simón eres hermosa / El único detalle es que eres bien mentirosa / Todo el tiempo que vivimos / Juntos aprendimos a no confiar en nadie / Todo se fue en un abismo / Poco a poco siento que ya no soy el mismo / Todo lo que siento se lo está llevando el viento / De haberte conocido jamás yo me arrepiento / Esta rola la canto con sentimiento callejero / Se murió nuestro amor y eso adiós / me dijo que el único culpable fuiste vos / Se murió nuestro amor y eso adiós / me dijo que el único culpable fuiste vos”.[13]

(I’ll tell you one thing / Yeah, you’re beautiful / The only detail is that you’re a good liar / All the time we lived / together we learned not to trust anyone / Everything fell into an abyss / Little by little I feel that I am no longer the same / Everything I feel is being carried by the wind / I never regret having known you / I’m singing this song with street feeling / Our love died and goodbye / I was told that the only one to blame was you / Our love died and goodbye / I was told that the only one to blame was you”)

Women

MS13 gangster rap is not only sung by men; the so-called “homegirls” also rhyme. Like their male peers, women often send messages to and from different corners of the planet. The piece “Homegirls de la MS13,” created by several incarcerated female gangsters, is more than a rap song; it is an exchange of greetings between gang members in El Salvador and New York.

Homegirl “Sureña” from the Hempstead Locos Salvatruchos clique in New York, is incarcerated at the Apanteos prison in El Salvador. From here she sends shout-outs to her fellow gang members in New York, saying:

“Ey qué pedo Diabla, aquí reportándome desde El Salvador para Nueva York. Un saludo para todos los homeboys de Nueva York y un saludo para los homeboys de mi clica, Hempstead. ¡Órale firme La Mara Salvatrucha!”[14]

(“Hey, what’s up, Diabla. Reporting here from El Salvador to New York. Shout-outs to all the New York homeboys and shout-outs to the homeboys in my clique, Hempstead. Stand strong, the Mara Salvatrucha!”)

Seconds later the “marera” who goes by the alias “Diablita” sends an unusual greeting: she thanks an inmate who is not in the gang whom she calls Fátima, a nickname the MS13 gave her.

“Ey mis respetos para todas esas morras civiles que le andan haciendo huevos que apoyan por mi barrio. Ey qué pedo Fátima!”

(“Hey, my respects to all those civilian women who walk around helping out and supporting my neighborhood. Hey, what’s up, Fátima!”)

Fátima then replies:

“Ey qué onda Diablita, qué onda Sureña, aquí siempre firmes tirando el paro haciendo el favor a la Mara Salvatrucha, órale ahí estamos”.

(“Hey, what’s up, Diablita. What’s up, Sureña. Always tough, helping out, doing favors for the Mara Salvatrucha. What’s up, there we are.”)

Fame

Some songs and artists have achieved more notoriety than others, and the most famous is undoubtedly the song “La mara anda suelta” (“The Mara Gets Loose”) by José Avelar, alias “Chema” or “La Bestia.” Recorded in California, the song has more than two million views on YouTube, making it the most popular in the MS13 oeuvre. The rap exhibits the gang’s self-absorption and talks about its international spread in both Los Angeles and El Salvador, differing from many other videos with a higher quality production and contagious rhythm.

“Póngase trucha que ahí vienen los salvas / caminando despacio por la cuadra. / Sus enemigos se van de espalda / y si hay un problema los arregla la escuadra (la pistola). / Calma, calma, calma. / si joden con la mara les sumen las nalgas. / Calma, calma, calma. / Si tienes pantalones, luego tendrás faldas. / La mara para, viola y controla / desde Los Ángeles hasta el penal Mariona. / Claro simón, los reyes de la zona, / Y el que no lo piense así, que me pele la mona (pene). / Manos arriba: Santa Ana. / Manos arriba: San Salvador. / Manos arriba: San Miguel. / Manos arriba: todito El Salvador. / Fíjese, míreme, óigame, trúcheme, cuídese. / ¿Saben por qué? / Porque la mara anda suelta”.[15]

(“Gimme the trucha, here come the salvas / walking slowly down the block / Your enemies back up / and if there’s a problem, the gun fixes it / Calm down, calm down / If they fuck with the Mara, they’ll have their asses / Calm down, calm down / If you have pants, then you’ll have skirts / The gang kills, beats and takes control / from Los Angeles to the Mariona prison / Hell yeah, the kings of the area / And whoever doesn’t think so can suck my cock / Hands up, Santa Ana / Hands up, San Salvador / Hands up, San Miguel / Hands up, all of El Salvador / Look, look at me, listen to me, trucha me, take care of yourself / You know why? / Because the Mara is loose.”)

El Chema: The Most Famous MS13 Rapper

Avelar’s latest alias, La Bestia (“The Beast”), is the word gang members use to refer to the gang itself, which makes him a literal representation of the MS13. Originally from Acajutla, El Salvador, he migrated to Los Angeles to join the Centrales Locos clique, after which he spent some time in prison.[16]

In California, he began his musical career as a rapper focusing on gang issues. Over the years he gained recognition within the Salvadoran community of Los Angeles, and this led him to lower his gangster profile within the musical sphere.

The content of his music became more ambiguous, and his lyrics began to depart more from the gang, with him mentioning it only in a veiled manner in his songs. His rhymes focused more on migration issues and common problems for Salvadorans. He became something like the Mexican group Los Tigres del Norte, who, without mentioning names in their lyrics, only suggest that their narratives are about a particular gang.

The most exemplary instance of this is “Habrán el penal”[17] (“They’ll Have the Jail”), in which Avelar, going by the alias Chema, dedicates his song to prisoners in the Chalatenango and Ciudad Barrios prisons, where the MS13 was the only gang in the prison’s population. In the song, he sends his shout-outs to old and new gang members. Then, Borromeo Enrique Henríquez Solórzano, alias “Diablito,” the highest-ranking leader in the MS13 in El Salvador, appears.

II. Artistic Spaces

Where a song is recorded and produced has been observed to be a determining factor for its production value and sound quality. And the main difference is between the songs recorded in the United States versus those recorded in other countries.

The research conducted by InSight Crime found that several songs were recorded with a computer or cell phone, which explains the poorer quality. We even found that the rappers manage to record songs in prison cells, as “Tyko,” a homie prisoner in Nicaragua, did. The rapper boasts of having written his song while in solitary confinement at the Matagalpa penitentiary, recording a combination of pictures and video on a cell phone, then sending them to a DJ who did the post-production work.

In an interview he said, “Yes, in solitary, I even think you can hear a few drops of water [in the video] because there was a leak in my cell. But El Vato [the DJ] did what he could.”

One of the most relevant findings of this research was the discovery of a home-based producer by the name of Kampooll Studio (KS) arranging tracks for the MS13. It is a production company located in the department of Cuscatlán in charge of producing and promoting songs created by gang members from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

According to sources at Kampooll Studio, on platforms like Sound Cloud[18], YouTube[19] and Facebook,[20] “only songs by the group [MS13] are uploaded. Nothing else — whatever the genre — other than the group and its own collaborations with other rappers from other groups.” They are very clear about stipulating that “there are no ‘panoyas’ (members of the Barrio 18 gang) in KS,” only MS13 soldiers. Kampooll Studio has been around for several years already, operating under the slogan “Lírikas Criminales” (“Criminal Lyrics”). Communicating by text message with InSight Crime, a representative from the studio stated they currently accept song proposals only via the WhatsApp smartphone application.

Several of the songs featured in this piece were produced by Kampooll Studio. One of them is “Somos pandilleros,” in which homeboys reveal in the introduction that the song was arranged in the studio.

“Órale homeboy, aquí el Travieso, el Bandido y el Little One mandándole un saludo desde el Kampooll Studio, cinco cero tres El Salvador, Ilopango, … hijos de puta”.

(“What’s up, homeboy. Travieso, Bandido and the Little One here, sending shout-outs from Kampooll Studio, 503 El Salvador, Ilopango … motherfuckers.”)

“No Aguantan presión”[21] (“They Can’t Take the Pressure”) is another song edited by Kampooll Studio that gives voice to mareros “White” and “Little Baiza,” both incarcerated in Guatemala. The song appears on the album “Asociaciones Ilícitas” (“Illicit Associations”), which refers to a criminal charge commonly brought against gang members.

III. Platforms and Formats

Video

YouTube is the most common platform where MS13 songs are posted. Since it is a video platform, rap songs are usually accompanied by videos or sequences of photographs and other images that illustrate the songs.

Whether photos or video, the visual accompaniment is particularly revealing because it offers the viewer an intimate glimpse into the gang members’ way of life and shows just how poor many of their living conditions are. Some show houses with dirt floors, a far cry from the US Treasury Department’s depiction of a gang managing an illicit international enterprise.

One of the most emblematic cases is the song “Soya Criminales,”[22] in which it is plain to see that members of the Soya Criminales Locos Salvatruchas clique have recorded their video in what appears to be a music studio, but one of very limited means.

Imagery

The photographs that many gangsters share in these videos are an opportunity for them to brag and portray themselves as defiant in front of the camera lens. This is why many images feature gang members aggressively brandishing weapons, consuming drugs, making tough faces, exposing their tattoos or simply “rifando la garra,” i.e. making the MS13 gang sign with their hands. Those less keen on exhibitionism are photographed with their faces covered to maintain anonymity, but their tattoos are virtually always exposed.

Like old family albums, videos featuring photographic slideshows of the gangsters reveal many aspects indicative of gangster life, like dead companions, districts in San Salvador where the gang operates and even images of gang members accompanied by their children inside prisons.

Some songs are accompanied by clips from mainstream documentaries that focus on the gang[24] by Discovery Channel, History Channel or others. Video creators have even modified video game footage[25] to make the characters look like gang members.

Comments

The music videos boast many followers on the social media sites where they are posted, and many of them use the comments section to announce their status as gang members. InSight Crime asked several of them about how much they like this type of gangster rap, to which some answered that they did not like it, while others stated that “it makes you think” because “it’s music about insanity, violence … it makes you want to take action.”

These and other comments on the songs, particularly those on YouTube, reveal a lot about the viewers’ tastes regarding the MS13’s music. They applaud their fellow gang members’ lyrics and congratulate them, send greetings from where they are, and more than anything, they praise the gang. However, on many occasions in the comments section, arguments are unleashed, filling the forum with a bevy of offensive remarks. As may be expected, this tends to happen when a user belonging to an opposing gang leaves an offensive comment about the MS13. Then, a heated exchange involving plenty of cursing inevitably begins.

IV. Expansionism

“La Mara Salvatrucha la está impactando. / Soldado del Perú y Ecuador reclutando, / chavalas matando, Italia invadiendo. / Con inteligencia nos estamos expandiendo.”

(“The Mara Salvatrucha is making an impact / recruiting soldiers from Peru and Ecuador / killing enemies, invading Italy / We’re expanding with intelligence”)

As has been reflected in this research, MS13 members perform and share their music from all over, which has made it possible to measure the extent of their expansion. A case in point is the music written by gang members in the Philippines, airing their defiance against the backdrop of murals in honor of the MS13 all the way from Asia.[26]

Improvised rap songs known as “freestyles” recorded on cell phones have also served as a clue for locating members who express their affiliation with the gang, like “Pequeño” from the Hollywood Locos who has recorded songs from the sidewalks of Los Angeles[27] to the prisons of Bolivia, or Sergio Arze Araníbar, alias “Lucifer,” who recorded his rhymes in his cell before he was killed in prison.[28]

But the MS13 does not only exist on the streets or in the prisons; the gang lets listeners linger in an international and more volatile scene, in an intangible and immortal place: its music.

*The images for this article are screenshots taken by the author from YouTube.

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  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj04n6v9yUs
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONzaj-UUbOM
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9GqhrAaquY
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE4NBVJzvqs
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY2lALRKnug
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD_QUOwuVVM
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj04n6v9yUs
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAC2Itk0iD8
  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QFqJA-KboQ
  10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o5AyvhzYmY
  11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWk0UBBm988
  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1rHy5jSWzc
  13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUO9XcO8AJo
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxUqj707TjA
  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSCGaMpSDI0
  16. https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/losangeles/press-releases/2013/task-force-investigation-results-in-federal-and-state-charges-of-ms-13-gang-members-and-associates-for-their-roles-in-a-drug-trafficking-network-and-extortion-scheme
  17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n_UEtjsBV0
  18. https://soundcloud.com/kampooll-studio-503
  19. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyk-ae4HmytZYpyOvessZ_A
  20. https://www.facebook.com/Kampooll-Studio-503-LC-506535246178563/
  21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYaJg0Zlz80
  22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPj7D0KoalI
  23. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TkMr8VgwBM
  24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGNDRf7Nprg
  25. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a2NnuVZIJ0
  26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6YUTkT8vkc & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8epYlA3Ov_I
  27. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAcEluvyLSE
  28. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igRDl1aGe48
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