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THE MIAMI HERALD
Godfather Of Puerto Rican Rap Hasn't Stopped Fighting
By JORDAN LEVIN
May 25, 2004
Puerto Rican reggeaton artist Vico C.
Puerto Rican rapper Vico C had always kept it real in his lyrics. He grew up poor in a rough San Juan barrio, and started rapping about his experiences in his early teens. Their force got him a radio hit when he was only 17, and launched a groundbreaking career as Puerto Rico's pioneer rapper and one of the first artists anywhere to give credibility to hip-hop in Spanish.
But outside his music he kept seeking relief from reality in heroin, methadone and cocaine. When an arrest for drug possession -- while on probation for another drug arrest -- landed him in an Orlando jail in February 2003, the 32-year-old rapper found himself up against a hard, cold reality that brought out some of his best music.
''I was on my way to jail and a strange peace came to me,'' said Vico C (real name Luis Armando Lozada), sitting in the lobby of South Beach's Clinton Hotel during last month's Billboard Latin Music Conference. ``Cause I knew the time I was gonna be in was gonna be enough to get me out of methadone, get out of the coke habit. So yeah, I suffered, but I didn't see it as a waste of time. I was writing deep. As a human being it was horrible. But as a visionary it was perfect.''
The resulting vision was last fall's En Honor a la Verdad (In Honor of the Truth), which kicks off with Lozada proclaiming ''Here's the voice of experience invading your conscience.'' It includes the heartfelt 5 de Septiembre, written as he agonized over spending his daughter's 13th birthday in jail, which also appears on The Files, a recently released greatest hits CD. It's the latest chapter in a 15-year chronicle of his struggles, as well as the adventures and travails of the Puerto Rican street. ''What's more important to me when I write a song than to sell it is to serve society, serve family, and do it with rhythm,'' says Lozada. ``I can't change people but I can change ways of thinking that are destructive.''
It has left him in an odd position. On one hand, he is acknowledged as a godfather of reggaeton, the reggae hip-hop hybrid which has become Puerto Rico's hottest music, and which is catching fire in a Latin music industry desperate for the next big thing. But despite a Latin Grammy for Vivo in 2002, other award nominations and a number of radio hits, he has only sold 750,000 worldwide in his career, according to his label EMI US Latin. And in a youth-oriented reggaeton scene heavy on sex, guns and pop machismo, Lozada doesn't get the credit that some say his history and quality merit.
''He's like a godfather - he opened the doors so poor kids could get ahead,'' says Tego Calderón, one of reggaeton's biggest stars and a guest artist on Verdad. It was Vico C who inspired the teenaged Calderón to rap in Spanish instead of imitating American artists. But he says Lozada doesn't always get the props he deserves. ``People [in reggaeton] don't recognize that we're here because some people before us did certain things and -- one of the most important is Vico C.''
Growing up in Puerta de Tierra, a poor San Juan neighborhood, Lozada remembers his father crying when he came home from the docks without work. The hymns at the funeral for a 9-year-old neighbor first gave him the idea music could transmit powerful feelings. But it was hip-hop that compelled him when he started making his own music -- enough to change the language that at the time seemed an integral part of the genre. ''I used to rap in English cause I loved it so much.'' he says. ``Then I said this is words, this is rhythm, it's rhyme. You can do this in any language.''
He acknowledges a struggle with drugs that dates from a motorcycle accident when he was 19, which left him going in and out of hospitals, unsure if he'd walk again. He found so much solace in morphine and Valium that he kept on drugging himself even after the prescriptions stopped. ''I discovered it worked not just for physical pain but for soul pain,'' he says. ``Addiction is one of the strongest things that I have to keep working with. So people have seen that in my life but the most important thing they've seen is that I just keep going.''
``What I do is use it in my lyrics. Some people make real songs to justify their mistakes. I just put what I live and believe in, but with positive intentions.''
Calderón says Lozada's honesty has endeared him to the Puerto Rican public. ''People who don't necessarily respect reggaeton respect Vico C,'' Calderón says. ``He's a real artist. The [people] love him even though they know his problems. They saw him grow up, fall down and get up again. He's like a son to nuestro pueblo''
Living with his wife and three children in Orlando, Lozada says he's happier than in a long time. But he hasn't settled down. ''It's not easy for me to just be quiet and go to a mall. I hate that. I would like to love it.'' He's still driven by the same impulses that have driven him since he was recording tapes in a basement. ''We feel, we fight -- that's a ghetto thing,'' Lozada says. ``In every social class there's a necessity of expression, but ours is aggressive because we come from an aggressive world. Hip-hop you talk, you almost scream. You can put it in words that can make it shine or make it gain enemies who say hip-hop is bull - - - - because they see so much bull - - - - ing. But hip-hop is real -- and we need real things.''