The 15 Most Influential Latinos in Hip-Hop History

Latino artists were an integral part of the creation of hip-hop culture in the 1970s. First behind the turntables (DJ Disco Wiz), spray paint cans (Lee Quiñones), b-boying (Crazy Legs), and eventually on the mic (Prince Whipper Whip). The leader of the Latino MC pack remains the late great Bronx-born Puerto Rican Big Punisher (Christopher Lee Rios).

Today, February 7th, marks the 15th anniversary of the passing of gigantic talent. In honor of Pun’s memory, Latina presents the 15 most influential Latinos in hip-hop history. Honorable shoutouts to DJ Tony Touch, Whip, Frankie Cutlass, DJ Camilo and Spanish language artists Tego Calderon, Mala Rodriguez and Residente of Calle 13.

PLUS: The 50 best Latino singers and performers of all time.

1. Big Punisher

Years Active: 1995-2000

Roots: Puerto Rican

Affiliations: Terror Squad, Full a Clips

Albums: Capital Punishment (1998), Yeeeah Baby (2000), Endangered Species (2001)

Not only is Christopher Lee Rios aka Big Pun the definitive greatest Latino MC of all time, he is arguably one of the best—Latino or not—to ever bless the mic. Pun was the first solo Latino artist to go platinum with his classic debut, Capital Punishment, an album that highlighted his versatility and accentuated his depth lyrical agility. No Latino rapper has come close to Big Moon Dog’s success. RIP!

For more Big Pun go to Amazon and iTunes.

2. Fat Joe

Years Active: 1992-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican and Cuban

Affiliations: D.I.T.C., Terror Squad

Albums of Note: Jealous One’s Envy (1995), Don Cartagena (1998), J.O.S.E. (2001), True Story (with Terror Squad, 2004), Me, Myself & I (2006)

Without Joey Crack, Big Pun would’ve never had us singing, “Boricua, Morena.” The Bronx-bred boricua/cubano originally came out as Fat Joe Da Gangsta with his rugged single, “Flow Joe.” Eventually, Joe made a mega-hit (“What’s Luv” featuring Ashanti) for the ladies and got a platinum plaque. Yet, he never lost hardcore image. Don Cartagena remains the Don. 

For more Fat Joe go to Amazon and iTunes.

3. Angie Martinez

Years Active: 1996-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican

Affiliations: iHeartMedia, Roc Nation

The “Voice of New York” has been on the airwaves for decades, initially on Hot 97 and now on Power 105.1. Martinez is synonymous with New York hip-hop culture and has cultivated great relationships with almost every important rapper of our time. She even dabbled as a rapper in the early aughts but her legacy will always start with radio. 

4. The Beatnuts

Years Active: 1989-Present

Roots: Dominican (JuJu), Colombian (Les)

Affiliations: Native Tongue

Albums of Note: Intoxicated Demons: The EP (1993), The Beatnuts: Street Level (1994), A Musical Massacre (1999)

Junkyard JuJu and Psycho Les are the most underrated producers in hip-hop history. Aside from their superb production (Ghostface Killah, Common, Fat Joe), the Queens duo were the nastiest, gritty, hilarious, violent MCs in they prime—and rap nerds loved it. Another notch in their belt: their hit “Off the Books” introduced the mainstream to Big Pun. 

Find more on The Beatnuts at Amazon and iTunes.

 

5. DJ Disco Wiz

Years Active: 1970s-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican and Cuban

Affiliations: Mighty Force, Universal Federation for the Preservation of Hip-Hop Culture

The legendary Bronx spinner was part of one of the first hip-hop DJ crews, Mighty Force, in the 1970s. MF also introduced Prince Whipper Whip, the first Latino MC, to the rap world. A man of many talents, hip-hop’s first Latino DJ has performed as a poet at the legendary venues the Apollo and the Nuyorican Poets Café, and is also a trained chef. 

6. DJ Charlie Chase

Years Active: 1970s-1980s

Roots: Puerto Rican

Affiliations: Cold Crush Brothers

A founding member of the Cold Crush Brothers, Chase was one of the first Latino stars of hip-hop. He’s said of his contribution to Latinos in hip-hop: “That was my way of opening the doors for everybody else to do what they’re doing now. And being that I was there at the very beginning, that was the I way I had to do it.”

7. Frost BKA Kid Frost

Years Active: 1984-Present

Roots: Mexican

Album of Note: Hispanic Causing Panic (1990)

Bringing that Chicano flavor from the West coast, Frost’s biggest hit, “La Raza,” was an ode to his gente. His swag, music, and lingo brought vato culture to the masses. Although there have a slew of Chicano rappers (Jae P, Lil Rob, etc.) since his 1990 debut, Frost remains top dog. 

8. Cypress Hill

Years Active: 1988-Present

Roots: Cuban (B-Real, Sen Dog)

Affiliations: Soul Assassins, La Coka Nostra

Albums of Note: Cypress Hill (1991), Black Sunday (1993)

If Big Pun is the greatest Latino MC of all time, Cypress Hill are the best Latino rap group. The trio, which includes MCs B-Real and Sen Dog along with DJ Muggs, revolutionized the sound of hip-hop and introduced weed culture to the genre. The avid pot supporters eventually crossed over into the rock/punk genres to great acclaim. But it’s B-Real’s nasal flow, Sen’s bouncer-like bravado and Muggs’ esoteric beats that make them one of the most influential ever.

For more on Cypress Hill go to Amazon and iTunes.

9. Pitbull

Years Active: 2001-Present

Roots: Cuban

Affiliations:

Albums of Note: M.I.A.M.I. (2004), Rebultion (2009), Planet Pit (2011)

Hate him or love him, you gotta respect Pitbull. Critics might say he’s oversaturated, but with his slew of pop-friendly hits no one in America can say they’ve never seen/heard a Latino. Pit’s in your face, he’s proud to be a Latino, and speaks Spanglish where the f&^k he wants. And for this, we thank him. 

For more Pitbull go to Amazon and iTunes.

10. N.O.R.E.

Years Active: 1996-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican and African American

Affiliations: C-N-N

Albums of Note: N.O.R.E. (1998), God’s Favorite (2002), N.O.R.E. y la Familia (2006)

With one song (“Oye Mi Canto”) N.O.R.E. singlehandedly introduced reggaeton to the U.S. He produced a full-length reggaeton album, N.O.R.E. y la Familia, but his bread and butter has always been rugged, New York, street rap. Since his days with Capone-N-Noreaga, Victor Santiago has stayed true to the culture his great city begat. 

For more N.O.R.E. go to Amazon and iTunes.

11. Crazy Legs

Years Active: 1970s-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican

Affiliations: Rock Steady Crew

Breakdancing is one of the pillars of hip-hop culture and Crazy Legs is the figure everyone evokes when speaking of the genre. As the founder of b-boy collective, the Rock Steady Crew, Legs continues to be a flag bearer for hip-hop throughout the globe. 

12. Immortal Technique

Years Active: 2000-Present

Roots: Peruvian

Albums of Note: Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001), Revolutionary Vol. 2 (2003)

One of the most important reasons rap music exists is to give voice to the voiceless and no one MC embodies this more than Immortal Technique. The Harlem-raised artist tackles injustice, racism, corporate America, and other social evils.  

For more Immortal Technique go to Amazon and iTunes.

13. Joell Ortiz

Years Active: 1998-Present

Roots:  Puerto Rican

Affiliations: Slaughterhouse

Albums of Note: The Brick: Bodega Chronicles (2007), House Slippers (2014)

The only current Latino MC who comes close to touching Pun’s chancletas is Ortiz. The Puerto Rock artist’s lyrical dexterity puts him above his competition. Even among adept MCs in Slaughterhouse (Royce, Crooked I, Joe Budden), Ortiz slays on the regular. 

For more Joell Ortiz go to Amazon and iTunes.

14. Lee Quiñones

Years Active: 1970s-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican

Similar to Crazy Legs, Quiñones is his genre’s (graffiti) king. Starting in ‘70s New York City, Quiñones’ art went on to appear in Subway Art, one of the best-selling art books of all time. His talents converted many a graffiti hater into a lover.

15. DJ Enuff

Years Active: 1991-Present

Roots: Puerto Rican

Affiliations: The Heavy Hitters DJs

The Brooklyn hip-hop vet was Biggie Smalls’ road DJ—he could’ve stopped there and his place on this list would be secure. But he didn’t. The always-jovial Enuff has gone on to be one of the prominent voices on hip-hop radio (NYC’s Hot 97) and also one of the most important mixers in the country with his DJ collective, The Heavy Hitters.