The year was 1998 and Big Pun was at the top of his game. His album Capital Punishment granted him a Grammy nomination and made him the first Latino solo rapper to go platinum. Alongside Fat Joe, Pun took hip-hop by storm. Amazing audiences with his crazy lyrical prowess and word play. The duo became one of the most talented acts in hip-hop at the time and for good reason. If you need any proof, just listen to their 1998 banger Twinz.
Yep, that's right Fat Joe did more for hip-hop than just Lean Back.
But since Pun's untimely death in 2000, there have been little to no emcees representing for the Latino community all the while it seems acts of all races and ethnicities have become increasingly common in the genre. (Take Iggy, Macklemore, or even French for example.) This is especially unfathomable considering Latinos' contributions to hip-hop in its earliest days.
In the 1970's Bronx, Blacks and Latinos built the genre together. When it comes to some of the main elements that define early hip-hop, DJing, graf, and breaking - Latinos were there contributing to every aspect. There was DJ Disco Wiz (the first Latino DJ in the genre), graf artists like Lady Pink, and break dancers like Crazy Legs. All Latino and all helping to pioneer hip-hop into what it has become today.
In 2016, however, Latinos' presence in the genre is almost nonexistent. One could say Fat Joe has returned to the limelight with his hit All The Way Up. And there is Pitbull, but let's face it, he's more of a pop star than anything else. So the question remains, where the hell are all the Latino rappers? What is keeping Latino MCs from finding their way to hip-hop fame?
The answer may lie in the record labels. The music industry doesn't seem to understand how to market Latino artists, or maybe they're just not interested. FYI, some of the genre's most popular artists are (at least partially) Latino. Cudi is half Mexican, Swizz is half Puerto Rican and Fabulous is half Dominican. But these artists' ethnic identities aren't really shown to the mainstream.
The same happens outside of rap, take Bruno Mars for example. The multi-Grammy award winning singer-songwriter, born Peter Gene Hernandez, told GQ back in 2013 that he chose his stage name to avoid prejudice after people in the music industry suggested 'Hernandez' better suited Latin music. Other celebrities such as Charlie Sheen (born Carlos Irwin Estevez) have done the same thing. In Hollywood and the music industry alike, Latinos seem to have limited appeal, but why?
These answers have yet to be explained. Perhaps its because of the greater stereotypes that follow Latino heritage.
As it stands, it seems to be:
If you're a Latino actor, well then you must be the star of a cheesy telenovela.
If you're a Latino singer, well then you must perform salsa music or marriachi.
If you're a Latino rapper, well then you must be a reggaeton artist, or spit (at least partially) in Spanish like Pitbull.
Until the greater entertainment industry stops seeing these artists as Latino actors, singers and rappers and starts seeing them as actors, singers and rappers of Latino decent, Latinos will continue to be left out of a genre that is just as much their creation as anyone else's.