Latino contribution to Hip-hop

Setting the tón
Sunshine, NY Daily News June 10th 2009

In "It's Just Begun," Luis Cedeño, aka DJ Disco Wiz, writes of his troubled youth and long history in hip hop.

Besides the customary pageant of salsa orchestras marching up Fifth Ave. on Sunday, nobody will be surprised to hear lots of hip hop en español as well.

But when did raperos start to mingle with salseros? Was it 10 years ago? Twenty?

“The Latino presence, contribution and signature stamp is undeniable in the 35-year span of hip-hop culture,” says Luis (DJ Disco Wiz) Cedeño, 48, who became the first Latino hip-hop deejay in the 1970s.

“We have been involved in the culture’s evolution since day one, as graffiti writers, B-boys, deejays and emcees,” he adds. “The true problem is that our history’s never been properly documented.”

To fill the gap, Cedeño has penned an autobiography, “It’s Just Begun,” co-written with Iván Sánchez, author of the memoir “Next Stop: Growing Up Wild Style in the Bronx.”

Born of Cuban and Puerto Rican parents, Cedeño has lived to tell the tale of growing up in the troubled Bronx of the mid-’70s, enduring abuse at home and getting involved in all kinds of gang violence. In 1979, he went to prison for four years for shooting a man four times (the man survived).

But by then, he was also known for being at the forefront of hip hop’s birth, alongside such pioneers as Grand-master Caz — his first deejay partner — who would later find international success with icons like the Cold Crush Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore, the inventor of the scratch.

“Back in the day, it was definitely a new thing that was, well, we really didn’t know what we were doing,” says Cedeño. “We were just a bunch of poor Spanish and black teenagers in the Bronx, living in one of the most tumultuous times in New York’s history.”

The book is a fascinating, compulsively readable story of rise, fall and redemption in which hip hop sometimes takes a back seat to Cedeño’s countless life experiences as convict, restaurant chef, father, drug user and cancer survivor.

“I guess if I had not spent 20 years out of hip hop, the book might have had more stories about it,” he says. “But who’s to say had I stayed in hip hop I would have ever accomplished as much as I have.”

The release of “It’s Just Begun” (Miss Rosen Editions) coincides with that of “Reggaeton,” the first academic volume devoted to rap en español’s main genre, published by Duke University.

The idea for the book came in 2005, when scholars Raquel Z. Rivera and Deborah Pacini Hernández were co-teaching a course at Tufts University called Music, Blackness and Caribbean Latinos.

“Students were most interested in the reggaetón section of the class,” says Rivera, a sociologist and researcher at Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “But there were hardly any academic articles to assign to them.”

Ethnomusicologist and deejay Wayne Marshall joined them to come up with the groundbreaking work, billed as a “basic resource on the music genre.”

“Reggaeton” contains a little bit of something for all tastes: from scholarly dissertations on musicology, gender, ethnic and sexual identities — peppered with quotations from philosophers like Foucault and Derrida — to in-depth interviews with genre artists like El General and an essay on race by Tego Calderón.

Even the proper spelling of the genre is discussed (reggaetón, reguetón, regeton), before settling for the Spanglish-tinged reggaeton, without an accent.

A study on duo Calle 13’s politically incendiary song “Filiberto,” an homage to a Puerto Rican nationalist killed by the FBI in 2005, co-exists with a racy one from Puerto Rican singer Glory about her exhausting sex life.

“It’s a book meant to appeal to both academic and general audiences,” says Rivera.

The wide range of subjects tackled in the 400-page volume attests to the influence the young genre has in today’s culture.

“Reggaetón is in many ways a perpetrator of our society’s sexist and homophobic norms,” says Rivera. “But then there are artists like Ivy Queen and La Sista, who have songs challenging that male fantasy of women as always-compliant sex objects.”

Or, as Hunter College Prof. Juan Flores puts it in the preface, reggaetón may well go down in history as “the first transnational music.”

Not only because of its worldwide popularity, but for the genre’s pan-Latin beginnings.
“Reggaetón has no specifiable place of origin,” adds Rivera. “Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico and New York are all extremely important to its genesis.”

carles27@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Interesting article. I've always been fascinated by the Latino influence in the development of Hip Hop, and a little disappointed in the lack of recognition for it.
    Was never the biggest fan of Reggaeton, but I can't deny how unique and innovative the genre was/is.

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