While hip-hop has long been heralded as an inherent creation of the African-American community, the art form-turned-global phenomena has equal ties 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,” said hip-hop historian and The Get Down producer Nelson George, “who in the ‘70s and ‘80s were mainly Latinos, and keeping them happy on the dance floor.”
MCs of Latino heritage are rarely found swimming in the mainstream. One theory is that today’s music industry has an intrinsic need to compartmentalize its artists, grossly branding certain figures as one thing or another, never all-encompassing. Previous record labels like The Island Def Jam and Roc La Familia speak to the myth that perpetuates artists raised in a Puerto Rican or Dominican or Mexican household, for example, have to be boxed in.
Then there’s the idea of pandering to black and brown communities, or appropriating their cultures for the sake of profit, which brings us to a poignant point: perhaps the only reason these labels exist in the first place is to differentiate “the other” from mainstream (or white America).
“I was instructed in the past to not represent my Latino roots as proudly as my black roots because of the fact that hip-hop is somehow viewed as solely African American. That is so historically inaccurate,” Nitty Scott, MC told us. “The guineas of the culture in the Bronx were Latinos. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans had a hand in the creation of hip-hop, of this now-global phenomenon. So for us to be so involved in it only to be told years later that you might not want to wave that flag, is insane and disrespectful.”
On the heels of Monday night’s opening presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Joell Ortiz, Nitty Scott MC and Bodega Bamz of supergroup No Panty speak on the erasure of Latinos in hip-hop, the process of crafting a timely, super fun and culturally-significant mixtape (Westside Highway Story), the current political landscape, the controversy behind stop-and-frisk and voting, among other things.
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