Why Latinos Can’t Be Left Out Of The Hip-Hop Narrative
At an exclusive Bronx screening of The Get Down in July, hip-hop pioneer DJ Grandmaster Flash commended the Netflix original for getting back to the “ingredients” of the genre, which he believes the general public often neglects to talk about.
While hip-hop has been heralded as an inherent creation of the African-American community, the art form is equally tied to its Latino roots. “[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,” hip-hop historian Nelson George writes in Latina.
According to the pop culture expert, the essential role Latinos played in writing the hip-hop narrative is hard to ignore considering they pioneered the revered core element of breakdancing. “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,” he continues. “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.”
The Get Down’s protagonist Ezekiel “Books” Figuero is an ode to the reality that both black and Latino people, living side by side in the Boogie Down, added the essence of their cultures to the elixir now known as hip-hop.
“One of the main reasons we made the character of Ezekiel [Books] half black, half Latino [is] because we wanted to play on that duality,” George, a supervising producer on the project, reveals. “New York culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s was very much a mix of Southern black, Latino primarily Puerto Rican and Jamaican and those three elements played a huge part [in] the creation of what we call hip-hop.”