From Mellow Man Ace to Bad Bunny – Latin Hip-Hop Throughout History

In the last decade alone, the entire Latin music industry has seen a tremendous transformation. Latin music’s hip-hop genre is no exception, having evolved time and time again since its inception in the 1980s.

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What can be traced back to West Coast origins, Latin hip-hop was created by a mix of musical and cultural influences. Latino and Hispanic youth, who were experiencing hip-hop’s Golden Age during the late ’80s and early ’90s, pulled influences from the ever-expanding genre but made a sound wholly their own.

Fusing hip-hop beats with traditional Latin rhythms and punctuating raps with Spanish and English rhymes, Latin hip-hop quickly spread to the East Coast, crossing borders to Northern Mexico and beyond. Today, Latin hip-hop has a massive global impact and has helped to spawn several other Latin sub-genres.

Dozens upon dozens of Spanish-language hip-hop tracks have topped the Billboard charts in 2022, so far. Here is a history of where Latin hip-hop has been, where it is today, and where it’s going.

Mellow Man Ace – “Mentirosa”

With his 1989 debut, pioneer Mellow Man Ace became the first Latino artist to have a major bilingual hit with “Mentirosa,” which peaked at Number 14 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 Chart. Referred to as the “Godfather of Latin rap,” the Cuban-American artist would become a Hip Hop Hall of Fame inductee and bring a style of Spanish and English (Spanglish) rhyming into the mainstream.

Kid Frost – “La Raza”

Another West Coast artist whose debut album produced a chart-topping single was Kid Frost with his 1990 hit “La Raza.” The song also garnered success in Belgium and The Netherlands. Considered one of the first successful Latin hip-hop songs, “La Raza” not only brought the genre to the forefront, but its accompanying music video was groundbreaking in its display of Chicano culture.

Cypress Hill – “Tequila Sunrise”

In 1991, California-formed Cypress Hill became the first Latino rap group to be certified Platinum with its self-titled debut. Their 1998 song “Tequila Sunrise” features twinkling Spanish guitar, boasts sharp castanets, and samples bright horns, showing off the group’s influences.

Latin Alliance – “Lowrider (On the Boulevard)”

A collaboration in 1991 brought Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, A.L.T., and several other Latin rappers together and the on-off hip-hop super group, Latin Alliance, was formed. Their self-titled release spawned the hit “Lowrider (On the Boulevard),” a remake of WAR’s 1975 classic that also sampled Santana’s “Evil Ways”.

Jennifer Lopez feat Fat Joe & Big Pun – “Feelin’ So Good”

When “Feeling’ So Good” was released in 1998, Jennifer Lopez, Big Pun, and Fat Joe were Latin hip-hop’s biggest names. All three artists were of Puerto Rican descent and brought up in the Bronx borough of New York City. They came together for an all-star collaboration.

“We’re trying to kick in the doors for other Latinos and represent our people, and it shows,” Fat Joe said of fellow rapper and frequent collaborator Big Pun.

Kinto Sol – “Hecho En Mexico”

Coming from Mexico to Milwaukee, a trio of brothers brought Latin hip-hop to middle America. Kinto Sol came onto the scene in the early 2000s with their blend of Mexican traditional music over minimalist hip-hop beats that painted honest pictures of immigrant life.

Daddy Yankee – “Gasolina”

Daddy Yankee turned Latin hip-hop on its head in the early 2000s, contributing further to the genre’s evolution. Pioneering a sound from his Puerto Rican home that mixed American hip-hop, Latin American, and Caribbean music, the rapper catapulted reggaetón into the spotlight. His 2004 international hit “Gasolina” paved the way for today’s reggaetón.

Casper, Nio García, Darell, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny, Ozuna – “Te Bote (Remix)”

Reggaetón-tinged Latin hip-hop mega-collab, “Te Bote” is one big celebration, featuring a fleet of Puerto Rican artists. The original version was recorded in 2017 by rappers Nio García, Darell and Casper Mágico. Fellow Puerto Rican superstars Bad Bunny and Ozuna joined in for the 2018 remix. In another 2018 remix titled “Te Boté II,” artists Cosculluela, Wisin & Yandel, and Jennifer Lopez joined in as well.

Bad Bunny – “Me Porto Bonito”

What began as a mix of cultures and a fusion of sounds, Latin hip-hop has evolved into other Latin sub-genres. It paved the way for today’s contemporary reggaetón, Latin trap, and more.

Bad Bunny is the perfect example of the genre’s evolution with his Latin trap-meets-reggaetón sound. He is also a testament to the genre’s staying power in the public ear. In the past three years, the rapper has consistently topped the charts and taken home a number of awards with 20 more nominations still pending for this year’s Billboard Latin Music Awards.

(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

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