Latinos Have Played A Critical Role In Hip-Hop History. There’s No Debate
Last Friday (August 26) Fat Joe posted a video online that celebrated the contributions of Latino Hip-Hop pioneers. The slideshow acknowledged figures ranging from the Cold Crush Brothers’ DJ Charlie Chase to DJ Disco Wiz to early producer/musician Pumpkin to The Fearless Four’s Master O.C. and Tito. With the video, Joe captioned “Thank you Thank you Thank you for your contribution to HIP-HOP.” The comments coincided with a wave of Puerto Rican and Latino pride in music, as singer Bad Bunny offered two weekend sold-out shows at Yankee Stadium, just miles from where Fat Joe grew up, within the same Bronx borough. The words also coincide with August now being a federally-recognized “Hip-Hop Recognition Month.” As many Hip-Hop Heads honor August 11 as the day, in 1973 that DJ Kool Herc threw a back-to-school jam in a rec center on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, Joe appeared to be spreading the love and respect.
A day later (August 27), Joe jumped on IG Live to promote his associate DJ Khaled’s GOD DID album, which released on Friday. In the conversation, Joe acknowledged some criticism he received for his post. “I tell you, I never really f*ck with Twitter, but I go on there to see they always hating on me and sh*t. Lately, they’ve been talking about, ‘Latinos wasn’t in Rap.’ These guys are f*cking delusional.” Joe then quoted elements of his “Lean Back” verse from the gold-selling Terror Squad single. “‘We’re from the Bronx, New York. Sh*t happens.‘ This is where Hip Hop started. It’s Latino and Black, half and half.”
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Joe then spoke to his critics: “But they going at me ‘cause I’m like the only Spanish dude with a big voice. Like, ‘F*ck that. Latinos wasn’t there. You was invited. You are a specimen.’ I don’t know what the f*ck is up with these people that don’t know their facts.”
That debate has intensified in the days that followed. Grandmaster Caz, like Joe, hails from the Bronx. The Cold Crush co-founder has a pedigree as an MC, DJ, and all-around Hip-Hop pioneer that dates back to the 1970s. After some users pointed to questionable remarks Caz had made in 2014 regarding Hip-Hop’s cultural foundation, the original writer of Big Bank Hank’s “Rapper’s Delight” verse clarified his point.
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“I’ve recently heard some controversy going around on Twitter about a comment I made in a [VladTV] interview a few years back,” he said. “Well let me clear some sh*t up for you right about now. Some of the first Latinos in Hip-Hop were down with me. Disco Wiz. Charlie Chase. Joe Conzo—the man who took Hip Hop’s [baby] pictures. Prince Whipple Whip. All Latinos—all part of my crew.” The legend continued: “OK, so there’s no way I could talk about there not being a Latino presence in the culture of Hip Hop. Now, I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth a couple of times on Vlad interviews and they probably caught an off-comment or something like that. But let me clear that up. For all my Latino brothers and sisters in Hip Hop, I’ve been an advocate since day one, so knock the bullsh*t off.” Fat Joe was among those who publicly thanked Caz. Others, including photographer Joe Conzo Jr., Crazy Legs, Video Music Box‘s Ralph McDaniels, and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s Scorpio expressed their support.
In 2015, Latino USA (an NPR-backed podcast) dedicated multiple episodes to telling the story of Latino contributions to Hip-Hop. DJ Charlie Chase, who was Caz’s band-mate in the Cold Crush Brothers, credited himself as a deft turntablist dating back to the origin. “I’ma be honest with you, I was sick wit’ this!” Conzo, whose photograph documentation of Hip-Hop has been preserved in textbooks, museums, t-shirts, and the annals of history, said at the time, “I’d go toe-to-toe with anybody that says Latinos weren’t there in the beginning.”
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As The Root‘s Noah McGee pointed out this week, Hip-Hop journalist, author, historian, and screenwriter Nelson George wrote in Latina, “[If] you talk to Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc or Afrika Bambaataa or any of the early DJs they all talk about the breakers, who in the ‘70s and ‘80s were mainly Latinos, and keeping them happy on the dance floor. If you talk about some of the famous break crews who really broke through and got known by the early ‘80s, the majority were Latino dancers like Rock Steady Crew’s Crazy Legs. So if the idea of the Hip Hop DJ is predicated on keeping dancers dancing, then the Latino aspect is crucial. Their aesthetic, their taste, their ability to dance, all affected what was played and how it was played.”
Before Cold Crush, Caz ran with Disco Wiz in a crew called Mighty Force. It was in that collective that Caz also worked with Whipper Whip, an MC with a Bronx and Puerto Rican upbringing, who spoke about his contributions to JayQuan at ThaFoundation in 2006.
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Pumpkin, another name Joe credited, is an alias of the late Errol Eduardo Bedward. The musician, especially a drummer, was behind early Hip-Hop songs including Spoonie Gee’s “Love Rap,” as well as titles by Funky Four, Treacherous Three, and Caz. He would be a hired musician for early labels including Enjoy, Tuff City, and Profile Records. Pumpkin passed away in the 1990s, reportedly from complications related to pneumonia. The Fearless Four, known for early hit “Rockin’ It,” and being among the first Rap crews signing with a major label, including Master O.C. and Tito. Like Pumpkin’s work, the Fearless Four have been prominently sampled in the years since.
Days after Joe’s initial post, artists including Jedi Mind Tricks co-founder Vinnie Paz posted a similar video that honors 1990s creators. Artists ranging from the Beatnuts and Chino XL are celebrated along with AZ, Agallah, Frankie Cutlass, Cypress Hill, Kurious, and members of Cella Dwellas, Black Sheep, and Funkdoobiest. Vinnie’s JMT band-mate Stoupe as well as members of his Army Of The Pharaohs crew are artists with Latino heritage.
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As Hip-Hop prepares for its 50th birthday next year, it is imperative that all of its foundational contributions be acknowledged.
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#BonusBeat: A 2021 interview with Ambrosia For Heads‘ What’s The Headline podcast and Joell Ortiz: