Hip-Hop’s 50th: The Latinos Who Shaped the Genre

MUSICABy 2023-08-11T12:45:27-04:00August 11th, 2023|
  • Big Pun (left) and Fat Joe photographed by Hiroyuki Ito

Hip-hop turns 50-years-old on August 11. In honor of the special anniversary, we’re highlighting ten Latino rappers who hold an important place in hip-hop history.

The list includes pioneers like Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, Lisa M, and Ivy Queen during her days with The Noise. Also, there’s rap stars Fat Joe, Big Pun, and Residente with Calle 13. The legendary group is rounded out by Angie Martinez, N.O.R.E., and rapper on the rise J Noa.

Calle 13, “Digo Lo Que Pienso”

Along with his work in Calle 13, Residente is the most awarded artist in Latin Grammy history. Calle 13 included Residente’s siblings, Visitante, who now goes by Cabra, and iLe. The Puerto Rican act showed the power of rap in Spanish with Residente’s socially-conscious lyrics and punchlines. One of Calle 13’s most beloved songs is “Digo Lo Que Pienso,” which was released in 2010. In the hard-hitting song, he riffed about not being afraid to speak his mind, which has made him the Latin rap icon that he is today.

Big Pun, “Still Not a Player” featuring Joe

Big Pun’s time on this Earth was sadly brief, but the late Puerto Rican rapper made a powerful impact for Latinos in hip-hop. He came up alongside Fat Joe, who signed him to his Terror Squad label. Big Pun broke out in 1998 thanks to his smash hit “Still Not a Player,” which featured Joe. The flirty and feel-good song included his iconic phrase: “I’m not a player / I just crush a lot.”

Lisa M, “La Suprema”

Lisa M helped blaze a path for women in the Latin rap scene. The Puerto Rican rapper released a string of albums throughout the nineties, including her 1999’s Y Sobreviví. That LP included Lisa M’s knockout single “La Suprema.” Backed by sinister beats, she unleashed her fierce flow and let the listeners know that she was ruling the rap game with an iron fist. Lisa M showed that hip-hop in Spanish hits just as hard as it does in English.

Ivy Queen, Bebe, Baby Rasta y Gringo, and more, “The Noise 6”

The Noise was a collective of DJs, producers, and rappers, who would help shape the sound of hip-hop and reggaeton in Puerto Rico. The group cultivated the talents of reggaeton pioneers like Baby Rasta y Gringo, Bebe, and Ivy Queen, the first lady of the genre. In 1996, those aforementioned acts joined forces for The Noise 6 mixtape. The throwback banger seamlessly blended dembow beats with a hip-hop flow. Ivy Queen flexed her fiery rap skills alongside Bebe, Baby Rasta y Gringo, and more.

Fat Joe, “What’s Luv?” featuring Ashanti

Fat Joe continued the legacy of his late friend Big Pun while solidifying his own place among the Latino hip-hop greats. The New York-based rapper of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent has released many classic jams throughout his career. In 2002, Fat Joe scored the biggest hit of his career with “What’s Luv?” featuring Ashanti. In the sexy love song, his Bronx flow proved to be the perfect complement to Ashanti’s sultry vocals. He also paid tribute to Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player.”

Kid Frost, “La Raza”

Frost, who formerly went by Kid Frost, helped push the Chicano rap scene in the west coast to the forefront. He was also part of the influential group Latin Alliance, which included other Latino rap stars like A.L.T., Markski, Rayski Rockswell, and Mellow Man Ace. In 1990, the Mexican-American rapper broke through on his own with his signature classic “La Raza.” Frost proudly represented his bicultural upbringing with his slick Spanglish flow.

Angie Martinez, “If I Could Go!” featuring Lil’ Mo and Sacario

Angie Martinez is an important voice for hip-hop in more ways than one. The Puerto Rican radio personality is known as “The Voice of the New York” and she also held it down for Latina rappers with her own hits. Martinez had a prime spot on the “Ladies Night” remix with Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. In 2002, she heated up that summer with the sizzling “If I Could Go!” featuring Lil’ Mo & Sacario.

Mellow Man Ace, “Mentirosa”

Mellow Man Ace is another pivotal artist in moving the needle for Latinos in hip-hop. The Cuban-American rapper was a part of the Latin Alliance with Frost and also helped found Cypress Hill. Mellow Man Ace was destined for greatness on his own when he decided to branch off with a solo career. In 1990, he flexed his playful flow in English and Spanish in his breakthrough hit “Mentirosa.” The song that sampled a few of Santana’s hits peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

N.O.R.E., “Oye Mi Canto” feat. Nina Sky, Gem Star, Daddy Yankee, and Big Mato

N.O.R.E. assembled a group of Puerto Rican greats for his breakthrough 2004 hit “Oye Mi Canto.” The Latino anthem included Nina Sky, Gem Star, Daddy Yankee, and Big Mato. The song was also an important catalyst for globalizing the reggaeton genre. N.O.R.E. masterfully brought together his worlds of the New York hip-hop scene with the island where his roots lay. “Oye Mi Canto” has lived up to its name and it’s heard around the world on heavy rotation.

J Noa, “No Me Pueden Parar”

J Noa is the future of Latin hip-hop. Last month, a video went viral of the Dominican rapper impressing hip-hop pioneers like Run-DMC’s DMC, Grandmaster Caz, Fearless Four’s Mighty Mike C, and the Funky 4 + 1’s Sha-Rock with an impromptu freestyle. In May, J Noa released her debut EP Autodidacta. In the empowering “No Me Pueden Parar,” she unleashed her striking flow and encouraged listeners to achieve their goals no matter what obstacles may be in the way. J Noa is destined to go far.

Lucas Villa is a freelance music contributor for LATINA. His work is also featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Teen Vogue, MTV News and W Magazine.