Spiff TV, né Carlos Suarez, moves around the proverbial chessboard with meticulous sway, always predicting the upward trend in music—eyes on the Internet and ears to the streets. A child of hip-hop and overall student of the industry, Spiff has spent the last decade building his résumé, most notably as Rick Ross’ chief video director. Yet, the music producer and A&R at large can trace his wizardry behind the lens back to when reggaeton, a historically underground music, began to sweep Orlando (or Little Puerto Rico) circa early 2000s.
“I was working with Noreaga,” he says to VIBE Viva. “When he was doing ‘Oye Mi Canto’ and all those other big Latin records, I was going on the road with him.”
Years of A&R-ing for millennial rappers, shooting vivid visuals and unearthing some of your favorite hip-hop beats (see Albert Anastasia) resulted in Spiff carving out a lane for himself. In an era where rap music isn’t just rap music but often a fusion of genres, and urban latino means a gamut of caribbean and Afro sounds, Spiff is capitalizing on momentum while simultaneously putting on for his culture. How? By single-handedly producing a full-length album boasting some of the most innovative collaborations yet, between reggaeton and rap artists.
“Hip-hop has dabbled in [Spanish music],” Spiff notes. “Some rappers have done features here and there, but nothing like [this album].” The LP, which is bound to make headlines, is nearly complete, with Yandel and Future’s “Mi Combo” remix as the lead single and visual.
On the cusp of a new year, an unprecedented record and debut film in tow, Spiff is ready for the big time.
VIBE Viva: As a child of hip-hop, what was it like growing up in your household?
Spiff TV: I grew up in Orlando. I’m part Dominican, part Puerto Rican, so I grew up listening to everything. Salsa, bachata, you name it. My mom loved to play her Spanish music, my sister loved to blast her favorite R&B groups.
What was Orlando’s hip-hop scene like?
It had a little bit of everything because, you know, you have people from all over; families who migrated from New York, from L.A., from all over the U.S. And it was happening at a time when the whole reggaeton movement started making waves. It’s like Little Puerto Rico over [in Orlando].
What exactly were you doing when the reggaeton era started booming?
When it started booming, I was working with Noreaga. When he was doing “Oye Mi Canto” and all those other big Latin records, I was going on the road with him. I was also working on the first DVD that I dropped, called Reggaeton Invasion featuring Daddy Yankee, Nore, Pitbull before he was the Pitbull we know now, Tego, Fat Joe. So I was playing with both worlds pretty early in the game.
Credit: Philip-Daniel Ducasse
How does being part Dominican, part Puerto Rican play a role in your career?
Oh, that’s where all the flavor comes from! [Laughs] That’s where all the sazón is at.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility in making music that reflects the diversity of your heritage?
I have to represent for the culture, where I come from and the Latin sound. That’s important to me. I try to bring all my passions together at work and in the music that I produce, because it’s important. Heritage is important.
Where does your family fall into all of this?
Oh, they love me. [Laughs] They love what I do. I’m the hero, the one that made it. They’re all extremely supportive of me and the music.
Talk to me about this new album you’re producing. Do you have a name yet?
I don’t yet have a title for it, no.
But this is pretty big. We’re talking reggaeton, hip-hop, mambo, Brazilian funk. It’s a f**king sancocho and you’re behind the board.
[Laughs] Yes. I’ve always been involved with the hip-hop world, working with Puff, working with Rick Ross, working with French Montana, working with Meek, Wale and all these other cats, and A&R-ing and giving them records and directing their music videos. So when I could build myself up to crossover to the Spanish side, my resume would be strong enough to bring together all the people I want to see collaborate. So when I say, ‘Yo, I’m going to put you on a record with Ross,’ or ‘Yo, I’m going to put you on a record with Yandel,’ no one has any hesitations. I’m working to bridge the gap.
Was there ever a point where you maybe felt nervous about what you were doing? Because it’s always a task, sometimes a risk, trying to bridge gaps.
Not really. The hardest part was convincing them, the artists. Because hip-hop has dabbled in [Spanish music], some rappers have done features here and there, but nothing like [this album] came of it. Future got with it, right away. I called him like, ‘Yo, I’m working with his guy, he’s big.’ I sent him a 30-second clip of Yandel performing in Chile or Peru, and [Future] was like, ‘Aight, cool.’ He was on it, right away. He did his verse for “Mi Combo” in like 30 minutes. But no one was really hesitant, it just takes time to do all this. I’m trying to push this whole movement and hopefully we can make a few number one records in the process.
How do you hope this album changes the urban music landscape?
It’s going to show two cultures merging together and, hopefully, they’ll be more and more collaborations to come. It’s slowly been happening. Look at Drake and Romeo, and Romeo and Usher. It’s happening. I’m just focusing on the art and trying to make my contribution in a major way.
Credit: Philip-Daniel Ducasse
After listening to the album, it sounds like you were meticulous about pairing the artists together. What was that process like?
Well, it really just took listening to the songs and seeing who was compatible with who. Daddy Yankee and Rick Ross, for example, “El Jefe” and “The Boss,” spit their braggadocio on wax all the time.
Was there a time where you tried pairing two people and it just didn’t work out?
Eh, I don’t want to say who. [Laughs] Sh*t just got a little weird and I had to break it to them with the ‘It’s all love’ bit. No beef. The sound just wasn’t there. Everything else was homeruns.
A few years ago, you got the opportunity to shadow Gary Gray.
He’s a legend.
What was that like?
It was dope. He invited me to his crib. He said, “Yo, Spiff, I bought a 5D, what should I get…” He was asking about the whole 5D movement.
It’s a Canon. A small camera. Before that, we were using the big Panasonics. So now, the 5D is a small camera, but it lets me shoot videos, too. There could be no lighting in here, but crank up the ISO and you could light the whole room up like nothing. That’s how me and Ross got together, I was shooting all these music videos for him. We’d be in a hotel, we light the lobby and just pull the camera out, no crew, no nothing. We shot like 20 videos like that.
That’s pretty brilliant.
Yea, so Gary hit me about the camera and started asking me questions. I told him what to get and what to do with it. And when he started to shoot some stuff, he asked me to come over and we started to shoot little short films around his house.
Just now, after shooting with Future for “Mi Combo,” Gary hit me up like, ‘I’m going to tell my whole film crew to follow what you and Ross used to do. You guys were shooting every week, every day, knocking out videos. I’m going to use you as an example of how to grind.’
Your biggest goal is to direct a film. Have you started?
Actually, I have. I started directing my own film not too long ago. We’re almost there. I’m just adding extra pick-up shots. Puff wants to be in it, so I had to write in a scene for him.
What’s the film about?
It’s called Respect the Shooter. It’s starring French Montana, Michael K. Williams, a few other actors from The Wire, and some other celebrities and artists. It’s in the works.
If you could do a biopic for anybody, who would it be?
Tarantino. That’d be dope.
Why Quentin Tarantino?
Because of the way he came in. To show how he did it. He started at a video rental spot, watching movies, and writing scripts for people to make enough money just so he could finally shoot Reservoir Dogs, which a cult classic.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Damn, that’s heavy… My music, my vision, what I believed in. That means anything from music that people can vibe to years from now, to films that challenge the way we see the world, the way we see ourselves.
Credit: Philip-Daniel Ducasse