During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the West Coast of America became a hot spot for a new sound: Latin hip hop. Latino and Hispanic youth who grew up with a mix of cultural influences took the sounds of hip hop and made it their own. Eventually, Latin hip hop spread outside of the West Coast, into the East Coast, the American South, and outside America into Mexico and South America. Today the genre continues to have a massive cultural impact inside and outside of Spanish-speaking countries, with 19 predominantly Spanish-language tracks hitting the American Billboard Hot 100 in 2017.
Growing up in the poorer parts of Latino and Hispanic neighbourhoods, being exposed to traditional music and regional slang, and navigating street gangs, were some of the major influences for artists contributing to the genre’s origins. As with its earliest productions, Latin hip hop today also tends to remain socially conscious. The co-evolution of Golden Age hip hop was the other major driver of Latin hip hop, with Latin hip hop eventually building its own distinct sound that emphasized musicality over minimalistic beats.
The sound of Latin hip hop has evolved throughout the decades. Rap vocals that were a mix of English and Spanish (‘Spanglish’) were around since the beginning of the genre’s history, but now many artists record vocals in Spanish only. In addition to featuring each decade’s hip hop sound in vogue (boom bap, trap, and so on), Latin hip hop will also incorporate aspects of traditional music. Whether it’s a percussion flourish or an offbeat bongo, these connections to Spanish language music culture firmly establish Latin hip hop as its own unique fusion genre.
Mellow Man Ace – “Mentirosa”
Los Angeles, California, 1989
Mellow Man Ace was one of the first Latin hip hop artists to rap in Spanglish. “Mentirosa” also borrows a riff from rock group Santana.
Lisa M – “Trampa”
San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1990
This early Latin hip hop track has the young Lisa M rapping in Spanish over a boom bap beat, introducing the world to the woman who would be soon known as “the queen of spanish rap”.
Lighter Shade Of Brown – “On A Sunday Afternoon”
Riverside, California, 1990
Spanish guitar samples make “On a Sunday Afternoon” a classic example of early Latin hip hop.
Proyecto Uno – “Brinca”
New York City, New York, 1991
Proyecto Uno were one of the more popular groups working in the related subgenre of merenrap, which involves rapping over a frantic merengue beat.
Latin Alliance – “Lowrider (On The Boulevard)”
West Coast, 1991
Latin Alliance was a short-lived collective of Latino rappers that included Kid Frost, A.L.T., A Lighter Shade of Brown, and Mellow Man Ace among others. This particular track hit 15 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart.
ALT & The Lost Civilization – “Tequila”
El Monte, California 1992
This Latin hip hop track breathes fresh life into the iconic 1958 original by The Champs.
Frost – “La Familia (feat. Rich Garcia)”
Los Angeles, California, 1995
Frost was arguably one of the smoothest Latin MCs ever, and his production on “La Familia” is top notch, creating a deep and groovy low-rider vibe.
Cypress Hill – “Tequila Sunrise ft. Barron Ricks”
South Gate, California, 1998
Filled with horn samples, Spanish guitar, and lyrics that describe the inner city experience, “Tequila Sunrise” reflects the strong connection that Cypress Hill had to their Spanish musical influences.
Big Pun & Joe – “Still Not a Player”
The Bronx, New York, 1998
Smooth rapper and exceptional lyricist Big Pun died just a year after he was nominated for a Grammy in 1999 with Capital Punishment. Despite his short career, he’s still remembered fondly in the industry.
Jennifer Lopez Feat Fat Joe & Big Pun – “Feelin’ So Good”
The Bronx, New York, 1998
In this incredible collaboration, Jennifer Lopez sings chorus while Big Pun and Fat Joe trade verses. These three artists were some of the biggest names in Latin hip hop music at the time.
Immortal Technique – “Dance With The Devil”
Harlem, New York, 2001
With incredible flow and hard-hitting lyrical content, Immortal Technique delivers an emotional journey on “Dance with the Devil”.
Becky G – “Becky from The Block”
New York City, New York, 2013
Becky G was a teenager when she released this classic throwback hip hop track that proved there was still a big appetite for boom bap inspired Latin rap music.
De La Ghetto, Arcangel, Ozuna, Anuel Aa, Dj Luian, Mambo Kingz – “La Ocasión”
Puerto Rico, 2016
This multiple artist collaboration helped the budding career of guest Ozuna, and the track ended up hitting 22 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs list in 2017.
Casper, Nio García, Darell, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny, Ozuna – “Te Bote”
Puerto Rico, 2018
With 2 billion streams on YouTube as of 2020, the Te Boté remix is a blend of reggaeton and hip hop that has proven exceedingly popular among Latin Hip Hop fans worldwide.
Bad Bunny – “Caro”
San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2018
On “Caro” Bad Bunny raps alongside vocalist Ricky Martin. Bad Bunny is one of the most popular artists in modern Latin hip hop due to his ability to blend all kinds of influences into a catchy trap and South American-influenced melting pot.