TrackRecord Talks Latino Hip Hop History: A Look at Latin Artists, 'Living Legends & Proto-Rappers'
New Yorkers and hip-hop heads worldwide are getting an in-your-face taste of the Bronx-born hip-hop genre thanks to Baz Luhrman's new Netflix offering, "The Get Down." But TrackRecord upped the ante recently, taking a look at Latino lyricists and the importance of recognizing their impact on cultural diversity in the rap community, as essential an impact as any other part of the rap game.
"We at TrackRecord are curious about how music comes to shape our world and how, in a world more connected than ever, the devotion it elicits can serve as a tool for breaking down barriers," the music-based media outlet owned by Univision says on its official website.
And in honoring that curiosity critical to any type of forward movement, TrackRecords' Phillip Mlynar collaborated with some of the most legendary Latino artists in recording his "Oral History of Latin Americans in Hip-Hop."
"As the story of the birth of Hip-Hop enters American mythology, we look at the contributions of Latino artists to the genre," Mlynar explains at the start of this epic historic journey.
Traveling back to the late 1970s, when the hip-hop movement was in its early days, making its initial debut on the streets of the boogie-down Bronx, fans of the emerging new sound and scene were a diverse crowd. Although audiences among the first hip-hop shows represented just about every race, TrackRecord remarks that "behind the turntables, though, the circumstances were quite different."
Prominent in the game at that time were legendary DJs along the lines of Grandwizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Africa Bambaataa. Another equally important player who was a game changer in his own right was "hip-hop's inaugural Latino DJ" - Charlie Chase.
When interviewed, Chase revealed that he recognized that Latino artists were absolutely a minority in hip-hop's breakout years. He admitted that he was aware many people were surprised that he had the initiative and ambition to get out there as a Latino and that plenty others on the scene refused at first to accept him as a legit legend in-the-making.
He explained that he didn't pay any of that any mind. Chase had always considered himself an odd sort; a self-described "black horse." He ignored his black peers and their jeers, reportedly telling him to "go back to your congas and your cowbells." Neither did he pay any mind to other Latinos, who would give him a hard time for his hip-hop performances, as they wondered why he bothered.
"Get back to your heritage, get back to your music," many Hispanics from his 'hood would urge.
"You got to understand, the only people making any noise and who they considered great DJs were Flash, Theodore, and maybe Kool Herc and Bambaataa...and now here you have a kid that nobody knows what the f--k he looks like, nobody knows where the hell he came from, but they're hearing my mixtapes, and hearing this kid doing cuts like Flash and if not better in some cases...they were f--king tripping!" Chase said.
"There weren't no DJs out there that were Latino doing what I was doing...there were other Latino DJs that were playing locally in clubs and maybe playing a couple of breakbeats here and there, but I'm telling you at the time there was no Latin DJ at that time that could f--k with me, period."
TrackRecord reached out to numerous other hip-hop legends, asking for their contributions to, and memories of the entrance of Latin Americans into this emerging new sound that would go on to become an ingrained and equally, a vital part of the music scene both in the U.S. and worldwide. DJ Tony Touch and rapper Fat Joe reminisced about the influence Chase had on their music, their style, the history of their artistic genre.
"When it comes to old school Latino DJs, we didn't have too many, but Charlie Chase was one of the pioneers," Touch said. "Just seeing him had a huge impact on me - it was new and it was happening and I could relate to it."
Fat Joe, who says he's blessed to be from the Bronx, which he (and arguably many others) consider "the holy land of hip-hop."
"As a little kid, I used to watch Ruby Dee who I think was the first Puerto Rican rapper on earth," Joe said. "I used to see pictures of Charlie Chase - I used to follow those guys around."
As hip-hop continued to grow into an increasingly popular music style, more Latino artists stood up to previous stereotypes, in a bid to offer their uniquely talented style in a previously homogeneous genre.
As Latino pioneers of the rap game like Kid Frost and Mellow Man Ace started garnering attention and praise, a wave of new and newly encouraged artists emerged. Adding their own brand of Latino essence to the scene were iconic groups like Cypress Hill, Delinquent Habits, and A Lighter Shade of Brown, amongst others.
"Cypress Hill was very important when they came out," Touch said. "That was a big deal 'cause it had that Latin influence but you also had that hard New York City edge to it."
When interviewed, Kemo the Blaxican, of the west coast's Delinquent Habits noted that around the time Cypress Hill and similar groups started on the road to stardom, not much attention was being paid to the situation regarding Latino artists.
"A lot of early hip-hop was coming out of the east coast, and on the east coast you had a demographic within the hip-hop community that was very blended, so you had black and Latinos coexisting in the musical element," Kemo said. "As the '90s kicked on, a generation of artists in New York emerged representing their city and their Latin roots."
"The movement culminated with Big Pun becoming the first Latino rapper to grab a platinum plaque. After passing away in 2000, Pun's legacy is that of a hip-hop icon," Kemo concluded.
Many, many other rappers (of Latino heritage and otherwise) viewed Pun as a definite hip-hop legend, a talent that won't ever be forgotten. This includes Fat Joe, who was the one to discover Pun's Puerto Rican genius.
"I met Pun in the projects...I was going into a grocery store and these kids were battling and he was like, 'let me go, let me go'...then he spit," Joe reminisced. "I never heard anybody rhyme like that...at the time Nas was really amazing, Kool G Rap was still amazing, and I heard Pun, like they can't mess with him."
Brooklyn-based rapper Joell Ortiz, when interviewed, revealed that both Pun and Fat Joe were two of his most admired role models.
"I remembering hearing Big Pun and thinking, 'Wow, this guy is super incredible'...and then Fat Joe just had that raw New York sound," Ortiz said. "I was super inspired as a kid thinking, 'this is cool, Puerto Ricans and Latins can do this as well.'"
Latin American rappers have since come out of the woodwork en-masse and the rap game today, and since its inception, wouldn't be the same without the talent these wordsmiths bring.
Latino rappers continue to prove themselves, decades after they first fought for their place in hip-hop history and there is certainly no shortage of talent. There are literally hundreds of artists who deserve to be paid homage: old school, underground, a whole female demographic...the lyrical phenoms representing their Hispanic heritage through music can be sorted state-by-state, by country, by style...the possibilities are endless.
Interestingly, MTV has offered up a compelling compilation of "the most influential Latino rappers in hip hop," and, in a shocking twist, the notoriously mainstream media outlet kind of nailed down a solid selection. Giving credit where credit is due, it's hard to disagree that anybody included on this list (below) shouldn't be. The following artists (listed in no particular order) deserve endless props for the progress they've made for themselves, their culture, communities....and of course the wide world of hip hop:
1. Big Pun
4. Fat Joe
7. Kid Frost
8. Immortal Technique
9. Juelz Santana
10. Prince Markie Dee
11. Lloyd Banks
12. Joell Ortiz
13. Chino XL
14. Prince Whipper Whip
15. The Beatnuts
16. Jim Jones
18. Snow tha Product