14 Hip-Hop Pioneers Of Caribbean Or Latin American Descent

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There are things everyone seems to understand about hip-hop. Although the exact borough has been debated by some rappers, no one argues that it was started in New York City. Its incontestable elements include deejaying, rhyming, graffiti writing and breakdancing. The primary sources — DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa — are known as the genre’s holy trinity. The music element of hip-hop is widely credited as a Black American genre, and to many folks, that’s an inarguable fact.

Recently, Fat Joe stirred the rap origins’ pot during a video tribute to Latinos in hip-hop, in which he claimed hip-hop was started by “Blacks and Latinos,” half and half. Twitter was displeased with his assessment and commenced dragging the outspoken rapper. But while we don’t always agree with Joe, he wasn’t exactly inaccurate in this case. If you think about the folks who are considered pioneers of the genre, hip-hop was actually created by Caribbean immigrants, some of whom are Latino.

Just in case you don’t believe us, here are 14 hip-hop pioneers of Caribbean or Latin American descent.

DJ Kool Herc

DJ Kool Herc, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and emigrated to the Bronx with his family at age 12, is hailed as the father of hip-hop. It was his block party that gave the culture a birthday — Aug. 11, 1973.

The then-18-year-old DJ hosted a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, now known as the birthplace of hip-hop. He is also credited as the inventor of the breakbeat, a key element in hip-hop deejaying. Herc also gave the breakdancers — break-boys and break-girls, later shortened to b-boy and b-girl — their name, as they would use the breakbeat time to showcase their moves.

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa, born in the Bronx to Jamaican and Barbadian immigrant parents, is credited as a pioneering DJ and block party promoter. He is also one of the first rap producers and is known as the godfather of hip-hop.

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash turned the art of finding the breakbeat into a science. The legendary DJ, who coined the phrase ‘the get-down,’ was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, and raised in the Bronx.

His recognized contributions to creating the genre are many, including his mastery of mixing and scratching records. In 2007, his group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were the first hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year, he received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Buffalo State College.

Richard "Crazy Legs" Colón

Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, a Bronx-born b-boy of Puerto Rican descent, was prominently featured in the 1983 film Wild Style and the following year in a PBS hip-hop documentary, Style Wars.

Known as a breakdance pioneer, Colón was the first b-boy to receive mainstream press. An original member of the Rock Steady Crew, founded in 1979, he is the dancer who brought the art overseas to London and Paris, as early as 1983. The Crew has been honored by the city with its own day, July 26, in 2003, and also by Fila, which debuted its “Rock Steady Crew 77” sneaker in 2004. Colón has received many individual accolades, including the Hip-Hop Pioneer Award, given by The Source, in 1994.

John "Mr. Magic" Rivas

John “Mr. Magic” Rivas, a Bronx-born Latino, was the host of Mr. Magic’s Disco Showcase, which became the first radio show to play hip-hop on a regular basis, in 1979. He later launched Rap Attack.

Kool DJ Red Alert

Kool DJ Red Alert was born in Antigua and raised in Harlem. The pioneering disc jockey is known as a founding father of hip-hop and was one of the first DJs to perform alongside a rap act when he worked with Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation. One of Red Alert’s biggest claims to hip-hop prominence is that he is credited as the DJ who broke records for many early rappers, including A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep and Boogie Down Productions.

Doug E. Fresh

Known as the world’s greatest entertainer, Barbados-born Doug E. Fresh, who also has Trinidadian/Toboggan roots, has been active in hip-hop since 1983. The beat-boxing pioneer is the founder of the legendary Get Fresh Crew, which introduced the music scene to Slick Rick. Fresh performs regularly across the world hyping up events and doing his monumental beatboxing. He recently came together with Chuck D and Kurtis Blow to form hip-hop’s first-ever union.

Sandra "Lady Pink" Fabara


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Born in Ecuador and raised in New York City, Sandra “Lady Pink” Fabara, is one of the city’s earliest graffiti artists. She began writing graffiti in 1979 and was then known as the only female artist capable of competing with the guys. She had a starring role in the 1983 film Wild Style, which cemented her place as a pioneer of hip-hop culture.

Slick Rick

Born in London to Jamaican parents, Slick Rick, known for his eye patch, Kangol and savvy storytelling, is inarguably a pioneer of the narrative style of rap. He met Doug E. Fresh in 1984 at a talent show and the two came together to form the Get Fresh Crew, which brought them to industry prominence.


Half of the iconic rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, Jamaica-born Sandra “Pepa” Denton moved to Queens with her family at age 6. The rap pioneer has been hailed as an inspiration for women in the industry, as well as an ’80s fashion icon, whose bad relaxer incident created the asymmetrical haircut that ruled hip-hop fans for the better half of the decade.

Adolfo "Shabba Doo" Quiñones

Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones was a Chicago-born Puerto Rican dancer known for his role as Ozone in the 1984 film series Breakin, which brought the dance genre mainstream. Quiñones was also known for being an innovator of pop-locking.

A Tribe Called Quest

Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, two rappers known for their work as members of A Tribe Called Quest, are both of Caribbean descent. Q-Tip’s father, Jonathan Davis II, was an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The late Phife Dawg, the son of Trini immigrants, proudly represented his Trinidadian heritage in many songs. Together with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White, the Queens emcees ushered in the sub-genre of alternative hip-hop and were principal members of the Native Tounges collective.

Monie Love


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London-born Monie Love is of Jamaican descent, as she explained on an episode of Drink Champs. She began her career in London but rose to prominence in New York as a member of the Native Tounges collective. She’s one of the first female rappers to have an album and has been Grammy-nominated twice.

Uncle Luke

A pioneer in more ways than one, Uncle Luke, known for 2 Live Crew, is of Bahamian and Jamaican descent. He brought rap in Miami to national and later international prominence with raunchy songs like “Me So Horny” and “Pop That P***y.”

Luke‘s style of music caught the attention of the feds and so began a widely-publicized battle for free speech in music. In 1990, he was involved in a Supreme Court case that ended in a decision to create the parental advisory sticker.

No matter how these hip-hop pioneers identified themselves, what’s not up for debate is that they were incredibly creative and innovative and brought the world something with a lasting legacy that continues to flourish.