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Latinos In Hip-Hop: Tracing The Link

Born in Peru, Immortal Technique has become one of hip-hop’s most important voices.

By Marjua Estevez
From popping and locking on fractured blocks to rapping on bludgeoned street corners to tagging up abandoned buildings, Hip-Hop’s pioneers were as diverse as these stylistic elements. It was a vibrant culture that was birthed from the marginalized sector of society and served as a voice for the voiceless.

LISTEN: A Latino History of Hip-Hop Part I

Yet despite the fundamental role that Puerto Ricans and other Afro-Caribbean people played in the genre’s creation, Latinos are more often than not left out of the dialogue that explores the very origin of rap music. VIBE sat down with key producer Daisy Rosario from NPR’s Latino USA to talk more about a new two-part podcast episode that chronicles the influence of Latinos in Hip-Hop—from its humble beginning as a collaboration between African-Americans and Hispanic communities in the Bronx to its evolution as a popular genre across the U.S

VIBE: There is so much that Latino USA is bringing up in conversation, from immigration to the prison landscape. What has now inspired you to talk about Hip-Hop?
Daisy Rosario: With the show, we cover lots of different issues. But the Latino experience in the United States in and of itself is wildly diverse. You can see that reflected at our office and even gather where our musical influences come from. For example, I’m the resident Nuyorican and for me, Hip-Hop is something I love so much.

People will hear in the episode that my own mother was one of those b-girls, battling in the streets when she was younger. Those are the stories I grew up with. Which is very different than, say, my coworker who is of Mexican descent and from Texas. You can just feel the diversification and we just want to show how diverse that experience is.
Why do you think Latinos are often left out of the conversation when discussing the origins of Hip Hop?
I think it’s a complicated conversation and we try to get into that in the show itself. If you don’t know what it was like growing up in New York, particularly during that era, how much neighborhoods and people are just on top of each other – you know, if you’re coming from a place where people are more spread out – you might not get how much Latinos really were part of it. Especially as rap music became more popular and part of this larger culture where there are fewer MCs that were Latino. But if you factor in the other parts of the Hip-Hop culture, if you factor in the dancing, the graffiti etc. etc., you’ll learn Latinos were very much present. You might not truly understand it if you don’t have that context of New York.

I noticed that even with being a New Yorker and living in L.A. for a while, people would be surprised that I loved Hip-Hop as much as I did. But this was my normal. The music that a lot of Latinos based there grew up listening to was stuff that I didn’t even know as much, because there wasn’t even Salsa out there. In New York, it’s Salsa we’re listening to. So it really varies from place to place, but people need to simplify narratives to be able to tell them.
DJ Charlie Chase once expressed feeling unwelcome by the Hip-Hop community. He was told that is was a Black thing and that Hispanics were not accepted in rap. Considering that being Black and Latino are not mutually exclusive, how does that statement make you feel?

You know, he did bring that up. It’s one of those things where I believe it happened, but it doesn’t change my understanding of some of what’s going on. He goes into it a little bit more of what was meant by that in the first episode. One of the things he mentioned was that it wasn’t just coming from one side. On one end, the younger Black people he knew were like “oh, what are you doing this for?” and on the other end, his older family members were like “well, that’s not Salsa.” So he describes it as something that came from both ends and from different age groups.

We talk more about that in the show and, yes, mention that being Black and Latino are not mutually exclusive. And that it is a complicated situation, because I think once you get into the larger mainstream conversation, there is a very U.S. tendency to just think black or white.
So how much of a role does race play in this particular conversation?
It can get very confusing when you try and get into the complexity of what all that really means. We had less than an hour when you factor in the breaks, so what I tried to do was find a mix of people who were on the ground, whose names were familiar and not so familiar and let them tell their own stories. One thing that happens a lot, especially when you’re talking about whether it’s Black culture or Latino culture, is that other people are always eager to tell the stories for us. And even as somebody who identifies as a Hip-Hop head and a Nuyrorican and all those things, I don’t want to try and tell someone else’s story. I want to give them the opportunity to tell their story themselves. You hear that in this episode; different people’s perspectives from different aspects of the culture.

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