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Hispanics Rise To The Top Of Hip-Hop… Latinos Out To Get Their Rap Back

Hispanics Rise To The Top Of Hip-Hop


July 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

New York Post

Forget Jay-Z, P. Diddy and Lil Kim, the next wave in hip-hop is all about Lati-nos with names like Pitbull, Ivy Queen, Tego Caldern and the leader of the pack, local Bronx boy Fat Joe and his Terror Squad.

While Latinos have always been part of the genre, its only now that they are at the forefront of the game, with major deals, major sales and, many say, finally getting their props.

"Since the beginning of hip-hop, Latinos have played an integral role," says Kim Oso-rio, editor-in-chief of the hip-hop bible, The Source.

The Castle Hill, Bronx-born 30-year-old beauty, who is part Boricua, African American and Chinese, is the genres number one defender.

"We started with it. We were there," says the New York Law School alumni. "People dont look at Fat Joe like hes a Latino rapper. Hes a rapper thats been down since the 90s."

"Hip hop wouldnt be hip-hop without Latinos," says Lester "Psycho Les" Fernandez, the Colombian half of the rap duo The Beat-nuts.

"Big Pun, Fat Joe, Cypress Hill, weve all sold enormous amounts records. We have shown that there is a market for our people," says the 33 year-old Bronx native.

Yesterdays Latino Hip-Hop Summit in the Bronx organized by impresario Russell Simmons reestablished the point. (See article, next page.)

And this summers anthem, "Lean Back," an ode to the Boogie Down by Fat Joe, Mia-mis Pitbulls hit single "Culo," Tego Calderns rebellious reggae-rap and the Beatnuts soon-to-be released "Milk Me" album is just icing on the cake.

Moves are being made all over the place, too. Whether its giving significant airplay to rappers like Fabolous and Noreaga, or DJs, like Enuff, Tony Touch and DJ Camilo, hiring music video brothers Jessy or Ulysses Terrero or having two Latinas simultaneously head up hip-hop bibles The Source and Vibe.

"Its very significant that Mimi Valdes and Kim Osorio are heads of well-known magazines," says Raquel Z. Rivera, author of "New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone."

"Their presence and that of other Latino writers, have helped tell the story and had an impact in reminding people to recognize our legitimacy in the larger public eye," she adds.

Historically, Latinos have had a more prominent presence in hip-hops less commercial elements: breakdancing, deejaying and grafitti.

"Back then [the 70s], I was mixing drum beats with Latin rhythms," says DJ Charlie Chase, the Boricua mixmas-ter for the legendary rap group Cold Crush Brothers.

"When it came to uprock-ing and B-boying, Latinos brought style and movement into it," says 41-old Puerto Rican b-boy Ralph "King Uprock" Casanova (Dynasty Rockers), who preserves the art forms by teaching the dance and its history.

CUNY professor Juan Flo-res says there are other evident Latino connections.

"The Latino part [of breaking] comes from mambo. Theres a picture of Tito Rodriguez that shows him performing, and right in the break of the music he just does floor movements. Its remarkable . because this was the 1950s."

Latino rappers gained mainstream notoriety in the early 90s with the success of West Coast rap-pers, like Kid Frost, A Lighter Shade of Brown, Cypress Hill and Mellow Man Ace.

The Latino commercial momentum continued with the likes of Fat Joe, the Beat-nuts, Cuban Link, Noreaga, the late Big Pun, who was the first Latino solo rapper to go platinum.

Puerto Rican rappers Tego Caldern and Ivy Queen, Mexican West Coasters Akwid, Cuban papi chulo Pit-bull, have all altered the status quo by rhyming in their native tongue.

"Big Pun made great achievements," says The Beat-nuts Jerry "Juju" Tineo, who is Dominican and originally from Queens.

"Now we just have to follow it up, as hard as it is to keep up that standard of excellence."

Historical Rap Up

1972 Graffiti goes mainstream: Hugo Martinez creates United Graffiti Artists, a coalition of top subway artists, and exhibits their work in art gallery settings.

1975 Cubano DJ Disco Wiz breaks into the hip-hop DJ scene.

1976 Nuyorican DJ Charlie Chase (Cold Crush Brothers) begins mixing Latin elements into his beats.

1977 The Rock Steady Crew is created by Joseph "Joe Joe" Torres and Jimmy Dee.

1981 Fearless Four, founded by Boricua "Devastating Tito" Dones and DJ Oscar "O.C." Rodriguez, release the landmark rap single "Rockin It."

1981 Bilingual Rap-group The Mean Machine record "Disco Dreams" with lyrics in both English and Spanish.

1982 Renowned graffiti artists Lee Quiones and Lady Pink star in the classic hip-hop movie "Wild Style."

April 1983 Richie "Crazy Legs" Colon doubles for actress Jennifer Beals during her breakdancing scenes in the film "Flashdance."

1984 Brooklyn born rapper Vico C starts Spanish rap craze in Puerto Rico.

1984 Cult film "Beat Street" features prominent Latinos from the hip-hop world.

1984 Legendary dancer Pop N Taco is featured in Chaka Khan video "I Feel For You."

May 12, 1989

MTA officially declares graffiti dead in its system- grafitti artists become art gallery favorites.

1990 Cubano Mellow Man Aces Spanglish single "Mentirosa" hits the Top 20. Ace raps over a cunninghook from Santanas "Evil Ways."

1990 Rosie Perez choreographs dancers in groundbreaking TV comedy "In Living Color." Jennifer Lopez is among her "Fly Girls."

1991 Californians Cypress Hill release "Latin Lingo."

1993 Fat Joes "Flow Joe" hits number one on the Billboard rap charts.

1994 Puerto Rican DJ Angie Martinez becomes the first on-air Latina as she takes to the mike on WQHT-FM "Hot 97."

1994 Doo Wop becomes the king of the mix-tape scene.

1995 Latino-owned GhettOriginal Productions launches off-Broadway hip-hop musical "Jam on the Groove."

1995 First Latino-owned and operated rap magazine, Stress, makes its debut. It later launches a Spanish-themed spinoff called Hip-Hop Nation in 1999. Stress ends up folding in September 2000.

February, 1995 Rodrigo Salazar, Jorge Cano-Moreno and Richard Zuluaga launch "Urban Latino" magazine targeting English dominant Latino youth. Urban Latino TV hits the airwaves in 2002.

1996 DJ Tony Touch releases the famous mix tape "50 MCs."

October 1999 "The Source" names Dominicano/Cubano Carlito Rodriguez as its first Latino editor-in-chief.

1999 Christoper "Big Pun" Rios becomes the first solo Latino rapper to go platinum with "Capital Punishment."

February 7, 2000 Big Pun dies at age 28.

November 2002 Kim Osorio is promoted to head up "The Source."

June 2003 Tego Caldern gets major airplay in the U.S.

November 2003 Mimi Valdes is named editor-in-chief of Vibe.

July 13, 2004 Russell Simmons launches Latino Hip Hop Summit in New York.

Sources: Richie "Crazy Legs" Colon, DJ Charlie Chase, Kim Osorio,, MTA.

Latinos Out To Get Their Rap Back


July 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

As hip-hop was coming up in the parks and basements of the Bronx in the 1970s, you would have found plenty of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans alongside the African Americans rapping, break dancing and inventing what has become the world's dominant pop culture.

As the music exploded out of New York and into the rest of the country, however, hip-hop became a black thing -- the voice and sound of the African American hood.

But as Latinos grow in numbers and cultural strength, they are starting to stake their claim to a place in hip-hop music.

Tuesday, a thousand artists, activists and fans from around the country are gathered in New York for the Latino Hip-Hop Summit, hosted by the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a national nonprofit organization led by Russell Simmons, the legendary entrepreneur and co-founder of Def Jam Records.

The network seeks to involve hip-hop in political and social causes from civil rights to voter registration.

The conference is a sign of a cultural phenomenon that's pushing out of the Latin music world to make itself felt in the hip-hop mainstream, widening the definition of hip-hop music and culture in the process.

A younger generation of Latinos who grew up with hip-hop music in the United States and has long formed part of its audience is embracing rap in Spanish and by Latinos.

Reggaeton, the Puerto Rican rap-reggae hybrid that is bursting out of the island into East Coast popularity, is outselling traditional genres like salsa and merengue. On the West Coast, Mexican-American act Akwid has blended a best-selling combination of rap and Mexican regional music. Mainstream rappers like Fat Joe (who recorded with Mexican pop star Thalia last year) are acknowledging their Latin background. And Cuban-American Miami rapper Pitbull is making national noise with the help of Lil Jon, one of rap's hottest producers.

''We've been here since the Bronx playgrounds,'' says Mimi Valdés, the Puerto Rican editor-in-chief of Vibe, a leading hip-hop culture magazine. ``But for whatever reason, now is the time. We're seeing more Latino artists who are doing hip-hop.''

''On our side no one was paying attention to colors,'' says Prince Markie Dee, real name Mark Morales, a former member of the early 1980s hit trio the Fat Boys. He's now a DJ at Miami hip-hop station The Beat WMIB-FM (103.5). ``My parents were born in San Juan. I spoke Spanish. But that didn't matter when it came to the music.''

Latinos are staking their claim to the American rap music dream, adding their own rhythms, musical flavor and language.

'This is a Latino from the ghetto banging his fist on the desk saying `I want some too,' '' says Don Dinero, a Cuban-American, Miami-based rapper whose 2002 independent debut has sold more than 100,000 copies. 'That's why we come to this country. I'm beating down doors and blowing down buildings saying `this is our music too.' ''

Dinero says his music has succeeded because Latinos were hungry for rap that spoke to their experience. ''All these people who come to this country all the time, they don't hear anything that represents what they go through every day,'' he said.

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network's Latino conference has a political and a cultural agenda. This year, HSAN has focused on voter registration, holding 23 events across the country which it says has registered hundreds of thousands of young voters.

Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the NAACP, co-founded the HSAN with Simmons three years ago. He says many of those coming to HSAN events were Latino, which convinced them to reach out to the country's largest minority. He says they recently registered 5,000 Latinos , and plan another event in Miami targeting blacks and Latinos this September.

''We see inclusiveness as a very important principle moving forward to build a hip-hop youth movement that will be inclusive in cultural affirmation but also in political empowerment,'' Chavis says. ``[Young Latinos] may be a demographic that more traditional organizations have overlooked.''

It is a demographic that the Latin music industry is realizing it needs to recognize. The phenomenon has been driven by the rise of reggaeton, which has emerged from the Puerto Rican underground in the last few years. Its leader is Calderón, a star whose smart, innovative lyrics break with reggaeton's gangsta cliche to talk about racism and society.

Reggaeton artists like Tego Calderón, Don Omar and Daddy Yankee are selling hundreds of thousands of records with very limited radio airplay. A recent compilation album by Lunytunes, one of the style's top producers, sold 100,000 copies in its first month; the last album by Oscar D'Leon, an established, popular salsa artist, sold only 20,000. Last year Akwid sold over 300,000 copies of its debut mix of rap with Mexican regional music with almost no radio exposure, earning a spot on Univision's conservative Latin music awards show Premio Lo Nuestro and Latin Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Urban Music Album.

''Sales are really moving up for this genre,'' says Leila Cobo, Billboard Magazine's Latin bureau chief. ``It doesn't have radio, but I think the minute it does sales will really explode.''

John Echevarria, president of Universal Music Latino, has signed four reggaeton and Latin hip-hop labels to distribution deals, including Lunytunes' Mas Flow, Goldstar Entertainment (Hector y Tito, who've sold a million albums in their career) and Don Dinero's Guitan Brothers Music.

''We were seeing how reggaeton was shifting the market in Puerto Rico and displacing tropical music,'' Echevarria says. ``And if we had any doubts that this was temporary we could see what happening on the Anglo side with rap and hip-hop. We see it happening with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Cubans. These are the same kids living in the same society in the same country. The only difference is language.''

When Rafael Vargas, leader of Fulanito, a pioneering group that mixed rap with Latin genres like merengue, was growing up hin New York, he fell in love with a hip-hop music that his Dominican parents didn't understand.

''Back in the day when hip-hop was starting out and blazing -- it was really something to be passionate about,'' Vargas, who now lives in Miramar, says. ``It changed my life.''

Now he sees the same thing happening with reggaeton for a new generation.

``Kids are identifying with it and calling it their own. I see kids who were born here brushing up on their Spanish cause they want to keep up with whatever's hot.''

As recently as 2001, Latin hip-hop artists were often hesitant to use too much Spanish or too many Latin rhythms for fear that they would be rejected. But as hip-hop has expanded into a global culture that reaches from Japan to Brazil, they are feeling comfortable, even proud, about asserting their identity in the music.

''Hip-hop has become such a multicultural playground,'' says Valdés . ``For true hip-hop fans this diversity is very exciting. At the beginning it was disco sounds, then funk sounds during the gangster era, and now it's Latin sounds.''

That diversity has political, as well as cultural, implications. ''In the four years since the last national election, American society has become much more diverse,'' Chavis says. ``To us the Latino Hip-Hop Summit is more about how American culture is going to look in the future than a nostalgic look back at hip-hop's history.''

In a way, the music is coming back around to where it started, when African Americans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans celebrated and invented it together.

''People are saying Latin hip-hop, Chicano rap, but to me it's all the same thing,'' says Francisco Gomez of Akwid. ``They didn't call it black hip-hop when it started. It's just hip-hop music.''

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