In his brand new Netflix series The Get Down, Baz Luhrman explores—in his own Baz Luhrman way—the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx during the late 1970s. Now a new oral history from Track Record shines a light on a lesser-known facet of the hip-hop origin story: Latino artists.
Track Record spoke to a multigenerational cohort of Latino DJs, rappers, and hip-hop artists for the oral history, including “hip-hop’s inaugural Latino DJ” Charlie Chase. Like many of the musical genre’s earliest DJs, Chase got his start in the Bronx in the 1970s. He had to pave his way in a music scene created and dominated by black artists. He explains:
You got to understand, the only people making any noise and who they considered great DJs were Flash, Theodore, and maybe Kool Herc and Bambaataa. And now here you have a kid that nobody knows what the fuck he looks like, nobody knows where the hell he came from, but they’re hearing my mixtapes and hearing this kid doing cuts like Flash and if not better in some cases. They were fuckin’ tripping!
Blacks were like, “What are you doing here? Go back to your congas and your cowbells.” The Hispanics were like, “What are you doing playing that music? Get back to your heritage, get back to your music.” I ignored all that. There weren’t no DJs out there that were Latino doing what I was doing. There were other Latino DJs that were playing locally in clubs and maybe playing a couple of breakbeats here and there, but I’m telling you at the time there was no Latin DJ at that time that could fuck with me, period.
From those 1970s roots, the article branches out to explore later Latino artists like Fat Joe, Big Pun, Joell Ortiz, and Q-Unique. In addition to revealing some colorful stories (like the time Big Pun “staged a shoot out in his house” as a prank), the oral history also offers insight into the different ways in which Latino artists grapple with their heritage in a genre like hip-hop. Although each artist has a very different opinion on how to deal with identity, they’ve all pretty much uniformly pushed up against a record industry that doesn’t know how to “sell” a Latino hip-hop artist.
[via Track Record]