14 Latinxs Who Contributed to the Birth of Hip Hop

If you look up the history of Hip-hop music, there is always credit given to the African-American youth of the Boogie Down Bronx, who created the most popular genre in the world, out of nothing

Photo: Wikimedia/Jason Taellious from Olympia, USA

Photo: Wikimedia/Jason Taellious from Olympia, USA

If you look up the history of Hip-hop music, there is always credit given to the African-American youth of the Boogie Down Bronx, who created the most popular genre in the world, out of nothing. They used their stories, life experiences,  and their natural talent to create music which has since resonated with people all around the world. But it wouldn’t really be hip-hop without also giving credit to the other two POC groups who helped create the genre and seasoned it with their influence — Caribbeans and Latinos.

Latinos have virtually been erased, or at least consistently left out, of stories regarding the origins of hip-hop. But we were there! Hip-hop is made up of four elements: MCs/rappers, B-boys/B-girls, graffiti, and DJing. Did you know that a lot of the b-boys, or breakers (calling these talented dancers “breakdancers” or referring to the style as “breakdancing” is considered to be both inaccurate and passe), were Latinx (more often than not Puerto Rican)? Pioneering breaking crews such as the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers had Latinx members and founders.

Surprised? Let’s learn about 15 Latinxs who were there at the birth of hip-hop (repping all four elements). They helped create the entire genre. By doing so, we will be writing Latinos back into hip-hop history.

DJ Charlie Chase

Puerto Rican Carlos Mendes, who professionally goes by the name DJ Charlie Chase, was a founding member of the Cold Crush Brothers. He was also a DJ for the Furious Five (in 1981), and DJed alongside Funkmaster Flex. Charlie Chase stepped on the musical scene in 1975, and has been a part of several Hip-hop and DJ firsts. The Cold Crush Brothers were the first rap group to be signed to CBS Records (through the label Tuff City), and the first to go to Japan. The pioneering group earned the name “the Rolling Stones of hip-hop,” and appeared in the first-ever Hip-hop movie, WildStyle. Mendes was one of the first Latino DJs in hip-hop, getting slack for being Latino, but infusing his sets with Latin music, including salsa. He no doubt opened the door for more Latinxs to express themselves in the genre.

Tracy 168

Next on our list of Latinxs who were pioneers in the musical genere of hip-hop is the artist Tracy 168. Also known as Michael Tracy, the New York native is one of the pioneers of graffiti. He is credited with inventing the Wildstyle graffiti style (you’ve seen it before — it features overlapping and interlocked letters, arrows, and curves; all the detail often makes the words hard to read). Wild Style was also the name of the graffiti crew he founded, which also includes fellow Puerto Rican artist and graffiti pioneer Cope2. In addition to being one of the OG’s of graffiti, Tracy 168 also mentored some other major artists, such as SAMO, and Keith Haring.

Lee Quiñones

We continue showcasing Latinx OGs who were pioneers of the hip-hop element of graffiti with Lee Quiñones. The legendary Nuyorican artist was part of a group of artists who created art on New York subway trains, and is considered to be “the single most influential artist to emerge from the New York City subway art movement.” Lee’s first subway piece was created in 1974 and in late 1975, he was asked to join the graffiti crew The Fabulous Five. The crew painted the only running 10-car subway train that was painted on from top to bottom, and from end to end. Quiñones’ work appeared in the iconic 1983 graffiti documentary, Style Wars, and since then, he was collaborated with several brands, including Adidas and Nike.

Lady Pink

In addition to wanting to showcase Latinx achievements and accomplishments in Hip-hop, we also want to especially highlight the Latinx women in the genre. If Latinxs have not seen enough recognition as being part of the roots of hip-hop, the Latinas have seen less. Let’s fix that. One of the legendary and iconic graffiti artists that we had to include on this list is the Ecuatoriana Lady Pink. Raised in New York, the iconic Lady Pink, born Sandra Fabara, started writing graffiti in 1979, and painted subway trains from then, until 1985. She held her own with the guys in the graffiti movement, and was christened “the first lady of graffiti.” In 1982, she starred in Wild Style, with other pioneers of the culture.


Now that we have covered several Latinxs who were among the first to spray paint walls and create an entire culture, let get back to the music. Pumpkin was a legendary music producer, of Afro-Costa Rican/Afro-Panamanian descent, and known as the King of the Beat. Born Errol Eduardo Bedward, Pumpkin was right there at the beginning of hip-hop, working with OG artists such as Treacherous Three, Grandmaster Caz, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Spoonie Gee, from 1979 to 1984.

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.”

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.”

The Real Roxanne

Nuyorican Adelaida (also known as Joanne) Martinez was one of the rappers who filled the role of The Real Roxanne. Roxanne was created as the woman who answered what was said in U.T.F.O.’s hit “Roxanne Roxanne.” This spawned the notion of rap answer records, which are still used to this day. She released five singles, and two albums, during the ’80s and ’90s. Another Roxanne, whose career started as one of the Roxanne’s, is the iconic Roxanne Shanté.


Next on our list of Latinx pioneers in Hip-hop is Shabba-Do. Born Adolfo G. Quiñones in Chicago (later moving to Los Angeles), you may remember the Puerto Rican from his role of Ozone in the classic hip-hop film Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. He was also a member of The Original Lockers, which are some of the originators of the dance style of locking (as in poppin’ and lockin’).

Devastating Tito

Devastating Tito (born Tito Jones) was a member of The Fearless Four, a Hip-hop crew credited with being the first rap group to be signed to a major label (Elektra). The group released 1994’s Creepin up on Ya. Fellow Puerto Rican Master O.C. was another member of the Harlem group.

Prince Whipper Whip

Prince Whipper Whip, born James Whipper II, was an original member of the rap group, Grandwizard Theordore & the Fantastic Five (as was fellow Puerto Rican Ruby Dee (Rubin Garcia); the group was also known as the Fantastic Romantic 5, and the Fantastic Freaks). According to Amoeba, Whip was also a member of The Mighty Gestapo, Salt and Pepper MCs, and the Cold Crush Brothers.

New York City Breakers

Another b-boy crew with Latinx members, which was there during the birth of Hip-hop, is the New York City Breakers. Hailing from the Boogie Down Bronx, the original five members were: Chino “Action” Lopez, Tony “Powerful Pexster” Lopez, Noel “Kid Nice” Mangual, and Matthew “Glide Master” Caban. The group shared hip-hop all over the world, with many people, including the King and Queen of Norway, Prince Andrew, and President Reagan (making them the first hip-hop group to perform for a sitting U.S. President).

DJ Disco Wiz

Puerto Rican and Cuban DJ Disco Wiz, born Luis Cedeño, is credited as being the very first Latino DJ in Hip-hop. The Bronx native was one half of the Mighty Force crew, with Grandmaster Caz (then Casanova Fly), who presented the first Latino rapper, Prince Whipper Whip. Wiz is also credited with creating the mixed plate in 1977, the first mixed dub recording in Hip-hop.


To close out our roundup of the Latinx originators of hip-hop, we’ll be talking about CRASH. Born John Matos, CRASH was part of the OG graffiti artists who painted on subway trains in New York. Like other iconic graffiti originators, he has collaborated with major brands, including Levi’s, Fender, and Absolut Vodka.

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Hip Hop Latino pop culture Latinos in Hip Hop music pop culture
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