As Fat Joe so importantly reminded the world recently, Latinxs have been there as an integral part of hip-hop pretty much since its inception during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Since then, we have been holding our own, with so many different artists releasing albums, creating hits, and infusing our cultures into rap.
However, we don’t see Latino rap in English as hyped as it should be. So, we wanted to help keep Latinxs in hip-hop history, as they should be, by sharing 30 essential, classic rap songs by Latinos everyone should know.
“(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew” by Rock Steady Crew
The Rock Steady Crew is a breaking and hip-hop crew, which got its start in New York. Its legendary members include Puerto Rican Crazy Legs (born Richard Colon), Baby Love (Daisy Castro), Buck 4 (Gabriel Marcano), and Kuriaki (Lorenzo Soto). The Rock Steady Crew is still a thing, expanding to consist of several groups in different locations. The OGs released four singles during the ’80s (along with a 1984 album), including the 1983 hit song, “(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew.”
“La Raza” by Frost
Arturo Molina, Jr., better known as Frost (and formerly Kid Frost), is a Chicano rapper straight out of Los Angeles. Released in 1990, “La Raza” is his biggest hit, and reps for Chicanxs in rap in both the single and its video. The song is the first track on Frost’s debut album, Hispanic Causing Panic.
“Mentirosa” by Mellow Man Ace
An Afro-Latinx bilingual rapper who made his mark in Hip hop, as well as being part of the creation of Latino rap, is Mellow Man Ace. Known as the Godfather of Latin Rap, Ace, born Ulpiano Sergio Reyes is an Afro-Cuban rapper, and brother to Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog. In fact, Mellow Man Ace was a part of the beginnings of what became Cypress Hill, before deciding to go solo. Check out “Mentirosa,” his Billboard Hot 100 hit.
“On a Sunday Afternoon” by Lighter Shade of Brown
“On a Sunday Afternoon” is a classic, 1990 song by Chicano rap duo A Lighter Shade of Brown. It’s all about all the fun stuff you get to do on Sundays (and hopefully other days during the summer), like chillin’, barbecuing, listening to good music, having a beer, and just hanging with friends and family. It spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at 39.
“Here We Go” by Trina Ft. Kelly Rowland
With over 20 years in the rap game, six albums (including the upcoming The One), eight hits on Billboard’s Hot 100, and a starring role on Love & Hip Hop: Miami, Trina has made a name for herself as one of the biggest female rappers of all time. One of her best-performing, best-known songs is “Here We Go,” which features Kelly Rowland.
“Still Not a Player” by Big Pun Ft. Joe
The late Nuyorican rapper Big Pun, born Christopher Lee Rios, kicked down barriers for Latinx rappers when he became the first Latinx solo artist to go platinum. His iconic hit, “Still Not a Player” reps for Boricuas, and appears on Pun’s #1 hit debut album, Capital Punishment, which was nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy in 1999.
“House Slippers” by Joell Ortiz
Afro-Latinx Brooklyn native Joell Ortiz’s debut album, The Brick: Bodega Chronicles, was released in 2007, followed by several albums, including Free Agent in 2011, House Slippers in 2014, and Mona Lisa (with Apollo Brown) in 2018. Once signed to Aftermath Entertainment, the Puerto Rican artist has collaborated with Big Daddy Kane, Akon, Immortal Technique, The Alchemist, Styles P, Royce da 5’9,” and more. The single “House Slippers” is considered one of his greatest songs.
“Disco Dream” by The Mean Machine
Mean Machine has the distinction of being one of the first bilingual rap groups ever, and possibly the first Latino rap group, rapping in both English and Spanish. The Puerto Rican group made up of Mr. Schick (Daniel Rivera), DJ Julio (Steven Santiago), Mr. Nice (Jose Semprit), and Jimmy Mac (James Mclean) (the final lineup in 1979), released the first Spanglish rap song ever, 1981’s “Disco Dream.”
“What’s Luv?” by Fat Joe Ft. Ja-Rule and Ashanti
Hailing from the South Bronx, New York, Puerto Rican, and Cuban rapper Fat Joe is known as one of the biggest Latinx MCs ever. One of his most successful songs is 2002’s “What’s Luv?,” which features rapper Ja-Rule, and Ashanti. It went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed on it for 20 weeks.
“Oye Mi Canto” by N.O.R.E. Ft. Daddy Yankee, Nina Sky, Gemstar, and Big Mato
Born Victor Santiago, Jr., N.O.R.E. makes it a point to shout out his Afro-Puerto Rican identity in his music, style, and videos. He was ahead of his time when he shifted his focus to reggaeton and helped to popularize the now-major music genre in the U.S. with hits like “Oye Mi Canto.” This led to the 2006 Spanish and English album N.O.R.E. y la Familia…Ya Tú Sabe.
“Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill
Just last year, Latinx rap group Cypress Hill was just honored with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The South Gate, L.A. hip hop trio, who has sold over 20 million records. The group set themselves apart when they first hit the scene in the ’90s, rapping in both English and Spanish, and were the first Latin-American rap group to go platinum and multi-platinum in the U.S. One of their classic songs is the legendary 1993 jam,”Insane in the Brain.”
“Lowrider (On the Boulevard)” by Latin Alliance
When Latinxs come together to create music, great things happen. Latin Alliance is a collaborative effort between Latinx rappers on the album of the same name. The 1991 single “Lowrider (On the Boulevard)” includes Frost, Mellow Man Ace, A.L.T., Markski, and the legendary band WAR.
“Tres Deliquentes” by Delinquent Habits
South East L.A. group Delinquent Habits had a Billboard-charting song with “Tres Delinquentes,” off their 1996 album, Delinquent Habits. The album itself, which features guest verses by Afro-Cuban rapper Sen Dog of Cypress Hill, and Afro-Puerto Rican MC Hurricane G, also charted.
“Caribbean Connection” by Big Pun Ft. Wyclef Jean
Another single off of Big Pun’s hit debut album Capital Punishment that you should know about is “Caribbean Connection.” The 1998 song unites the Puerto Rican rapper with another Caribbean MC — Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean.
“Back to the Hotel” by N2Deep
Vallejo, California Chicano group N2Deep (James “Jay Tee” Trujillo and Timothy “TL” Lyon) had a hit with their timeless ’92 jam, “Back to the Hotel,” from the album of the same name. It peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart; N2Deep went on to release five more studio albums.
“Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)” by Lil Kim Ft. Da Brat, Left Eye, Missy Elliot, and Angie Martinez
While Puerto-Rican-Cuban-Dominican rapper, actress, and radio personality Angie Martinez has her own songs worth knowing, a jam you have to know that she was on is 1997’s “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix).” She jumped on the Lil’ Kim song with Left Eye, Missy, and Da Brat, and it resulted in a top 10 hit (#1 on the Billboard US Rap Songs chart), that went platinum and was nominated for a Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Grammy.
“Shake Shake (Shake Your C*lo)” by Jonny Z
San Diego’s Jonny Z (John Zazueta) was one of the early rappers blending Latinx and American sounds, and English and Spanish lyrics. He scored a dance hit (#38) with his 1993 bass jam, “Shake Shake (Shake Your C*lo),” and also charted with the songs “Latin Swing,” “No Senor,” and “Mamacita.”
“Somebody Else” by Hurricane G
Afro-Puerto Rican rapper Hurricane G, born Gloria Rodriguez, is a Flatbush, Brooklyn native, who scored at #10 hit with the song “Somebody Else.” She was also the first female member of the Hit Squad, which includes members such as EPMD, Keith Murray, and Redman.
“Latin Active” by Lighter Shade of Brown Ft. Teardrop
Lighter Shade of Brown provided another timeless jam to our summer playlists — 1990’s “Latin Active.” More uptempo than “On a Sunday Afternoon,” this is a song you’ll most likely want to get up and dance to. And, it features a Latina MC, Teardrop! Don’t blame us when you get “let’s jam, let’s jam (Latin activity),” stuck in your head. “It’s that Latinnnnnnn Activvvvvity!”
“Watch Out Now” by The Beatnuts
Hailing from New York, The Beanuts — Dominican Jerry “JuJu” Tineo, and Colombian Lester “Psycho Les” Fernandez — are rappers and producers who had a hit with 1999’s “Watch Out Now.” If the beat sounds familiar, it was because it was used for Jennifer Lopez’s hit “Jenny from the Block.”
“Sugar Hill” by AZ
Brooklyn born rapper AZ is also Afro-Latino. Also known as Anthony Cruz, the Afro-Dominican artist is a member of The Firm, with Nas, Foxy Brown, Nature, and Cormega. He has released over 15 albums and is the only rapper to feature on Nas’ iconic album Illmatic (on the song “Life’s a B*tch”). One of his most-acclaimed songs is 1995’s “Sugar Hill,” which went gold.
“Tequila” by A.L.T.
Chicano rapper A.L.T. (born Alvin Lowell Trivette), who was one of the members of Latin Alliance, had his own hit with “Tequila,” released in 1992. The song samples from the classic 1958 song “Tequila,” written by fellow Chicano Danny Torres and performed with his band The Champs.
“I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” by Pitbull
In 2009, we were all counting out like it was Sesame Street: “One-two-three-four, Uno-do’-tres-cuatro,” thanks to Cuban rapper Pitbull’s big hit, “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho).” The ode to Calle Ocho in Miami, went worldwide, just like Mr. Worldwide himself, reaching the top 10 in over 20 countries.
“We Fly High” by Jim Jones
You may have been yelling out “ballin’!” in the 2000s as well. That’s all thanks to rapper and music director Jim Jones and his 2006 platinum hit song “We Fly High.” Born Joseph Guillermo Jones II, Jim is Afro-Puerto Rican, and also a member of the group The Diplomats (a.k.a. Dipset) with fellow Afro-Latinx Juelz Santana.
“The 3rd World” by Immortal Technique and DJ Green Lantern
Peruvian rapper Immortal Technique (born Felipe Andres Coronel) is known for lyrics that call out government and speak up against injustice. One song he is known for is the single “The 3rd World,” which you can check out here. The album it’s on, of the same name, charted on the Billboard 200 chart; Immortal Technique used the proceeds from sales to build an orphanage in Afghanistan.
“Desorden (Remix)” by Los Rakas and Major Lazer
Two Panamanian rappers out of East Oakland, Los Rakas blend Bay Area and Latinx influence to create a sound they call “Pana-Bay.” A jam of theirs to check out is the “Desorden (Remix),” which they collaborated on with Major Lazer.
“Summer Nights” by Lil Rob
Roberto L. Flores, a.k.a. Lil Rob is another famous Chicano rapper, producer, and actor repping San Diego. “Summer Nights” is a single of his 2005 album, Twelve Eighteen, Pt. 1, which charted on the Billboard Hot 100, Billboard 200, and Hot Rap Songs charts.
“There It Go (The Whistle Song)” by Juelz Santana
You may know Harlem native LaRon Louis James better by his rap name, Juelz Santana. The Afro-Dominican rapper appeared on several hit songs, from Chris Brown’s “Run It,” to Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy,” but scored one of his own hits with 2005’s “There It Go (The Whistle Song).” In addition to being a rapper, Juelz has appeared on the reality show Love & Hip Hop: New York.
“Suga Suga,” by Baby Bash Ft. Frankie J
Baby Bash and Frankie J teamed up to give us the smooth 2003 song “Suga Suga.” We think they repped for Mexico quite well with this hit jam. And so does the rest of the world; the single hit the top 10 in seven countries.
“Lean Back” by Terror Squad Ft. Fat Joe and Remy Ma
The best songs are accompanied by dance moves. Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” had us doing just that during the summer of 2005. The song, which features Fat Joe and Remy Ma, spent three weeks at the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Grammy.