Before reggaeton exploded on American airwaves in the mid-’00s, few Latinx rappers stood out as much as Joseph “Fat Joe” Cartagena. The South Bronx native tells his story in tonight’s (January 11) episode of TV One’s “Unsung” music documentary series. He discusses his trajectory in a Q&A with The Root that was published today, elaborating on the often-overlooked role of Latinx rappers in hip-hop history:
The Root: Hip-hop began in the Bronx, and Latinos get love for breakdancing and graffiti but not as much for rap. I think you and Big Pun changed that, and I think the “Unsung” episode reflects that.
Fat Joe: The DJs are very important internally, but they don’t get glorified as much as the rappers, and Latinos played an intricate part with the breakdancing and the DJs, but the rappers are the ones that get most of the shine. There were Latinos in the rap game—Cypress Hill and a couple of others. If you look at history, at the first time hip-hop was invented, there was a Latino right there. How they got erased, I don’t know how that all came about. It’s crazy because everybody was there together. More and more with these documentaries [like “Unsung”], there is more information to prove we were there.
One of those Latinx MCs, the late Christopher “Big Pun” Rios, broke into the hip-hop mainstream after appearing on Fat Joe’s 1995 album “Jealous One’s Envy.” Joe praises his friend, the first Latinx rapper to go platinum, in the Q&A. ”Pun was truly a genius,” he says. “I am more of a hustler. There’s a kid that’s a natural LeBron James, and there’s another kid that’s pretty good, but he won’t leave the gym. He found a way to make himself better. Pun was just a natural-born genius with music, and he basically taught me so many tricks on how to make better music, even though I was the one that discovered him.”
Read the full Q&A here.