The contributions of Hispanic Americans to hip-hop’s very existence is somewhat obscured by the sheer amount of history and information that stands between the present and the very beginnings of hip-hop music and culture in the South Bronx of the early ’70s.
Indeed, the light from their contributions shines forward, the images and actions clouding our ability to look back even further.
Whether in graffiti, breaking and pop-lockin’, or as turntablists, the Hispanic contributions to hip-hop have not only helped enrich the genre stylistically, a cross-germinating effect also occurred when versions of Spanish-infused hip-hop developed in South America, Europe, and the Philippines.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, here some of my favorite hip-hop contributions from Hispanic Americans.
Comprised of JuJu and Psycho Les, of Dominican and Colombian ancestry, respectively, the Beatnuts’ sound is quintessentially hip-hop with slices of Latin and Caribbean flavor. They’re also the only two Latino members of the Native Tongues crew. The production crew and part-time emcees have worked with Big Pun, Fat Joe, Pete Nice, Chi Ali,MC Lyte, Naughty By Nature and Akon, among many others, leaving behind a uniquely crafted catalog of distinct, classic hits straight from the Junkyard of Corona, Queens.
Composed of B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs, Cypress Hill exploded onto hip-hop in the early 90s with a collection of hit singles that were pop-friendly yet featured their inspired rendition of what was happening sonically on both coasts. Make no mistake, Cypress Hill is one of the top 10 hip-hop groups of all-time. Cypress Hill was the first Latino American hip hop group to have platinum and multi-platinum albums, selling over 20 million albums worldwide.
The Rock Steady Crew
During the early days of hip-hop, having a crew didn’t necessarily mean it would be nothing but rappers and DJ’s. Said crews could be comprised of breakers and graffiti artists as well. Indeed, prior to the commercializing of hip-hop placing an impetus on the MC, hip-hop’s elements were interpreted in multiple creative ways.
The Rock Steady Crew, founded in 1977 by Jimmy Dee and Jimmy Lee and later expanded into Manhattan with such recognizable names as Crazy Legs (Richard Colon and B-Boy Fresh.
The Arsonists, Cucumber Slice, and DJ Q-Bert are also part of the crew. Since their early beginnings, the Rock Steady Crew has satellites across the globe, including Rock Steady Japan.
Today, original member Crazy Legs still teaches and has contributed to a multitude of community outreach projects.