We’ve written before about the often-overlooked history of Latinos in hip hop, and quite frankly, we were just waiting for another excuse to do it again. And now that NPR’s Latino USA has published the first installment of its “A Latino History of Hip Hop” radio series, that time has come.
It’s only fitting that as the culture enters into middle-aged maturity we embark on a reevaluation of hip hop’s origins nearly 40 years after it was born in a project house basement in the South Bronx. The global culture industry has made it clear both in the U.S. and abroad that “rap music” is an African-American niche that slowly rose to world dominance thanks to Eminem and Iggy Azalea, or something like that [That’s a bit sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that.] But we all know that hip hop is actually a multifarious urban culture that rose forth both literally and figuratively from the ashes of New York’s down-and-out black and Latino communities, only to rapidly spread to other blighted, neglected, but culturally effervescent urban cores throughout the country.
“A Latino History of Hip Hop” is poised to be a fundamental contribution to this historical vindication of Latinos’ central role in the development of hip hop culture, specifically the New York Puerto Ricans who break’d, emcee’d and spun their way into the pantheon of early hip hop, long before the major record labels took out their forks and knives, put on their bibs, and commercialized an authentic, multicultural urban phenomenon into a neatly packaged concept of “black music.”
Indeed, of all the four elements, Latinos were perhaps most present in the world of breakdancing, with Puerto Rican dominated B-boy groups like the Rock Steady Crew and Williamsburg’s Breaking in Style improvising the foundations of a soon-to-be global cultural phenomenon on cardboard boxes and gritty street corners. But there were also Latino DJs, graff writers, and emcees who left an unmistakably Latino imprint on the music, style, and swagger of hip hop that persists to this day.
“A Latino History of Hip Hop Part I” explores this imprint through interviews with central figures from the culture’s early development as well as academics and other specialists in the field. Rather than segmenting the phenomenon into fragmented ethnic groups, the podcast is rooted in the idea that the New York ghettos of the 1970s were places of dynamic interaction, where African American, Puerto Rican, and non-Latino caribeños rubbed shoulders, shared and learned from one another.
At its core, “A Latino History of Hip Hop” helps us understand that, rather than an ethnic phenomenon, hip hop is the impassioned cry of a diverse community that was beaten down and effectively abandoned by mainstream society. Produced and narrated by comedienne Daisy Rosario along with Remezcla contributor Marlon Bishop, “A Latino History of Hip Hop” is a must-hear for anyone who’s ever spat a bar, spun a record, bombed a wall, busted a move, or just appreciates it when others do. Keep a look out for the second installment in the coming weeks.
Header image (top of page) is of DJ Charlie Chase, courtesy of Joe Conzo / Museum Of The City Of New York