Commentary: Why ‘Empire’ Needs to Include Latinos

Commentary: I Worked in the Hip-Hop Industry & ‘Empire’ Does Need to Include Latinos

Empire isn’t as accurate as they want you to believe it is. Let me explain...

I’m a hip-hop baby. I was born and raised in 1980s (pre-gentrified) Brooklyn, NY. I’m Latino. I fell in love with the art form as a pre-teen in the ‘90s by doing graffiti and listening to the jazz-inspired sounds of A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr and the hardcore funk of Cypress Hill and The Beatnuts. And by the grace of the rap gods, I was fortunate enough to begin my journalism career as a hip-hop writer/editor. From ages 20 to 27 I interviewed countless MCs (Jay Z, Nas, Fat Joe, 50 Cent), producers (9th Wonder, Lil Jon) and music executives for SOHH.com, AllHipHop.com, Vibe, The Source and many more.

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With all this experience, I can tell you Empire doesn’t get it all right. I agree with most of the commentary from my fellow hip-hop head/colleague Celia San Miguel. Where are the Latinos in Empire? The hip-hop business, at least during my time, was one of the most diverse, multi-ethnic industries. As an editor at Harris Publications (Scratch, XXL, King, etc.) I shared the masthead with African Americans, Italian Americans, Latinas, Jewish Americans, and more. For example, in one interview request (where an editor asks to interview a celebrity) I could interact with an Asian American publicist, a white manager and an African American artist. A visit to the hallowed grounds of Def Jam Records, I would be greeted by a United Nations of faces working feverishly on breaking an artist or record. Today, the Latino flag is held by editorial rap experts like Ecuadorian, Greek and African American Elliott Wilson (Rap Radar) along with Puerto Rocks Kim Osorio (former EIC of The Source) and Jayson Rodriguez (Revolt TV) and Rob Markman (MTV). Not to mention the Latino scribe who inspired me to pick up the pen: Carlito Rodriguez (former EIC of The Source and current writer on HBO's The Leftovers).

So when I read the comments on Celia’s slideshow: “Why aren't you taking issue with Fresh Off The Boat, a show that is set in Florida, where there is a large Latino population, for not showing Latinos. Why just go at Empire?” My response is because Fresh Off The Boat (BTW a stellar comedy) is about one Asian American man’s (played by Eddie Huang) real-life experience with hip-hop. Empire is, yes, about one fictitious record label, but on a larger scale it’s about the hip-hop industry — which as I stated earlier is multi-culti, and has been since its inception.

It was created by black and Latino kids in the Bronx as a vehicle to give voice to the voiceless — us. I have endless discussions with one of my best friends, who is a proud Haitian Canadian and also runs the hip-hop section of iTunes about rap, black and Latin music and more. We both agree we’re still underrepresented in a lot of avenues and would love to see more black and brown collaborations.

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So when a pop culture phenomenon like Empire comes along, we had high aspirations for equal representation. Alas, it’s only the first season and I’m sure its run won’t be “short like Leprechauns.” Plus, Empire’s showrunner is Ilene Chaiken, a 57-year-old white woman, who I don’t expect to be extremely well versed in the hip-hop world despite her credits. I owe a lot to hip-hop: It made me a creative writer/thinker, it nurtured one of my best friendships, and thanks to DJ Enuff and Angie Martinez (two Puerto Rocks), I met my wife. It’s not about “riding the coattails” of anyone, it’s about being true to reality. And the reality is I was a writer named Jesus interviewing your favorite rappers.