Interview with Mellow
7/6/04 - LatinRapper.com interview by Dante (2nd
Godfather of Latin Hip Hop.
Not an easy title to claim, but what other term is there
for the first artist to get mainstream acceptance of
Spanglish on wax?
Years before the debut
albums of Cypress Hill, Beatnuts, Fat Joe and countless
other Latin artists, there was the groundbreaking "Escape
from Havana" fueled by the hit single "Mentirosa."
The platinum artist and brother of Cypress Hill's Sen Dog has
just released his latest project "Vengo a Cobrar" with the
Latin flavored single "Mujeres Benzes." In a very open
interview, the only Latino in the Hip Hop Hall of Fame speaks
to LatinRapper about Latinos in hip hop, his home country of
Cuba and how his new album will satisfy both old and new
LatinRapper.com: First and foremost, you've taken an almost
4 year hiatus between releasing your new album and your last
one. Why the wait?
There's really no reason for it. Other than the fact that you
try to find the ideal situation that you wanna be in for any
particular album. You wanna find the best home for that
particular record, and if it turns out not to be, you end up
being more selective about the next one you do. At this stage
in my career, I'm more like a free agent rather than someone
who got signed to play for x amount of years for a certain
How will Vengo a Cobrar differ, if at all, from your past
I think I'm just an all around better mc, now that I'm older
in age. I'm way better now than when I first put out my first
album. Sometimes I wonder how I got that first deal on
Capitol, sounding how I sounded, rhyming the way I rhymed.
Maybe I didn't deserve to be on a major. Maybe myself because
I feel I'm a lot nicer on the mic now, these albums should be
Who did you collaborate with on the album, and who did the
The production was done by my man Bronek who produced three or
four tracks on my 2nd album. As far as collabs we got of
course my brother (Sen Dog), we got Eric Bobo, and people like
my man Lance Robinson. Nobody really knows about him, but he's
like an R&B Jon B type cat that's doing his own thing, has his
studio and is producing as well.
And then a couple of other
cats like my man Big Chill who sang on "Mujeres Benzes." I try
to keep it down home, you know what I mean, we don't really go
looking for the Snoop Doggs of the world, although that would
be nice. And being that this was gonna be a Latin release, I
don't think that Snoop Dogg would have fit the scene, know
what I mean. Try to keep it more Latin driven.
How has hip hop changed between the time Escape from Havana
was released and now, and do you feel things have changed for
the better or the worse.
There's a lot of big changes. I think the biggest has to be in
the way the music is created, and the time that's spent on the
music. I feel the more eras go by, the more watered down music
becomes. And to me that's the biggest difference.
The way its created? Can you elaborate on that?
I remember when I first started recording, we were recording
the two-inch reel, and that would be a more long process
because if you wanted to do your vocal it would take hours.
And now because of the music recording done on computer, there
is zero rewind time, cut and paste lyrics, only had to record
your chorus one time instead of four times with each chorus
having to sound exactly the same.
Its helpful, it's a
convenience but I think that's one of the biggest way things
have changed. That's just on the MC level, as producers have
matured and gotten new techniques to work with, even their job
has gotten easier and a lot more fun.
You've been on Mun2's "The Roof" and performed at the Latin
Grammys this year. Any big projects for you this Fall?
Those are all things that were trying to work out. I don't
have a tour set up or nothing like that, but we are steadily
trying to get us the right agency. William Morris, Richard
Walters, those people wanna see a hit to be created first on
the radio. Its like starting all over again to me.
I'm a new artist because a lot of the people who used to
listen to me back in the days have moved on, so I'm starting
from the ground up like any other artist. Its not an
altogether bad place to be, but as far as major things on the
horizon, those are things we are trying to create now.
Some of these newer heads don't realize it, but you you
were the first cat really putting Spanglish out on a national
level, the first Latino to really get widespread exposure in
hip hop yet not too many mags emphasize this. Do you ever feel
like your contributions were overlooked?
All the time. I feel that, not just mainstream media, but also
black media treats the Latin entities like African history:
forgotten. I was watching the BET awards last week and if it
hadn't been for Danny Glover getting the humanitarian award
and speaking about Puerto Rico and Cuba we wouldn't have
gotten the mention at all. That's the problem with hip hop
culture, Black America is claiming it like they are the only
ones who ever rapped.
When hip hop first started there were
Puerto Ricans in it, Whipper Whip, DJ Charlie Chase of the
Cold Crush Brothers, Ruby Dee. Not to mention breakdancers,
some of the best breakdancers were Puerto Rican. Crazy Legs,
where were they at this years BET awards.
Its just ridiculous
to see an awards show and you have a countdown of the 25 years
of hip hop, and there's not a Latino. And it doesn't have to
be me, put who is hot now, at least get a mention. I have a
problem with that, but who am I? I'm just tired of people
sweeping Latin hip hop under the rug.
How did it feel to be voted into the Hip Hop Hall of fame
for your achievements?
That felt like any other rapper would feel, you know. Great,
outstanding, tremendous, overwhelming. And that was an
incredible day to be inducted into the hip hop hall of fame
for what I had been done for the music, but am I supposed to
be happy that I got something like that, or should I be happy
for when others get inducted as well.
I think there are plenty
of other groups that are worthy of that, maybe they will, but
I'm not happy just because I'm in and they are not. It's a
step in the right direction though, its like Jackie Robinson,
he broke the color barrier in baseball, and in a lot of ways,
being the only Latin in the hip hop hall of fame, that was a
groundbreaking thing, almost like breaking the color barrier.
So when you say others are worthy, you mean Latino artists?
Yeah, Latinos in music.
How does it feel when people approach you on the street and
shout you out for opening the doors for a lot of other Latinos
It's the most rewarding thing aside from my family life, to
tell you the honest truth. It's the most rewarding feeling.
You know, being a Cuban refugee, and being able to come to the
United States and create something, get love for that. That's
like rewarding like looking into my little daughter's eyes and
seeing her smile.
Who do you listen to, who are some of the artists that you
bump in your ride?
I got Don Dinero, from Miami. I got JC from New York. I got
some old school things in there that keep me always believing
in music, like Gangstarr's first album. Also I had my Slick
Rick's Greatest Adventures in there, right now. And a mixed
tape type of old school stuff where it has stuff like Willie
Dee, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Caz.
Are there any artists that inspire you?
Yeah, definitely. I think Mos Def is real inspiring, in this
day and age. Watching him and the things he is able to do
outside of the rapping. The acting and the stuff on that HBO
movie, the inspiration stories. That kid has risen so high.
What was it like going from the streets of Pinar del Rio,
Cuba, to the streets of LA.?
Damn, that was like two total opposites. Like going from
nothing to basically having it all, even when you had nothing.
You grow up seeing Russian Soviets on your street corner and
you gotta fight against Mexican kids ‘cuz your black and speak
Spanish better than they do. It wasn't easy, I mean it was
great to finally be able to buy a piece of bread when you
wanted a piece of bread.
A few artists in the U.S. go to Cuba every year to perform,
is that something you'd consider doing, maybe some free shows
I would never help a communist country, ever, in any way or
But if it was a free show for the Cubans who normally can't
afford to go to a show?
Well, it's a whole different thing. Artists like the ones you
mentioned can go to Cuba and do a show and not be considered a
Communist, but the second a Cuban goes over there he is
considered a Communist by other Cubans in the states.
So basically you aren't going unless Castro dies?
Absolutely. I left because of how bad the situation was, I'm
not gonna go back just because I'm living better now. I'm
still scared of returning, they may consider me a traitor when
I go back there, who knows. The government, I'm saying.
love from people who come from Cuba and have heard my music,
they always ask why I don't go to Cuba and perform, and I tell
them the same thing. If Cuba is so great of a place to be and
live, and you have the liberties and opportunities to be
whoever you wanna be and not have to give your entire salary
to the wealthy, why are you here. Cuban ballplayers, there's a
whole other discussion, guys like el Duque, probably got $2
for playing an entire season
Some baseball players make like $350 a year.
Come to the United States coming through Nicaragua, Panama,
whatever, Dominican Republic. Minute they touch down here they
are signing $30 million dollar contracts and being paid
correctly for their services. If Cuba was such a great place
to live for the country, I doubt they would have ever just
jumped on a raft, threatened their lives, swimming in a shark
Last month Bush tightened the embargo limiting visits for
American Cubans from once a year to once every three years,
and no longer allow Cubans here to send clothes. Any thoughts
It was a bad situation that seems to be getting even worse
over there, for our family members. I feel bad for them. I
haven't seen my grandmother in 30 years, she died before I was
able to see her. Something you deal with. Once I left Cuba I
never went back. Why, because I left a bad situation to find
something good. I'm not gonna fight against what my father did
to get me here in the first place, why would I do that.
if you saw your family at least once a year for the last 10
years, your better off already, consider yourself a lucky one.
And that goes back to my entire family, nobody in my family
has ever gone back to Cuba since we touched U.S. soil. I've
had uncles, aunts, grandparents, all of them pass away and
never knew what it was like to have a conversation with them
If I went back to Cuba, I'd be spitting on my own
father and mother's faces. All their sacrifice, things they
dealt with while they were there, I refuse to do that. Why
would I go back and give my hard earned dollars to a Communist
country. That's my love, but I refuse to give a communist
economy a penny. That only helps Fidel Castro stay in power
Well, getting back to the rapping....
What would be your advice to some of the younger rappers
out there looking to get their foot in the door of the music
Hell, they are doing just fine without my advice. These cats
are coming up doing amazing things, they don't need any advice
from me. When you look at the Chingys of the world, J-Kwon,
these are teenagers doing just fine. Now if you ask me what I
would tell young Latino rappers, then I would have something
Then what would you say to Latino rappers?
Like I tell ‘em every day, don't let nobody get you down.
Don't let NOBODY tell you that you can't do nothing in this
music. ‘Cause as a Cuban refugee, I proved those odds wrong.
And if all you going through is baby mama drama and having to
pay a couple of bills, you can do it.
20 years from now when people are looking back on rappers
from this time frame, how would you want them to remember
A rapper of the people who didn't close the door behind him. A
guy who shared his knowledge of the game with a lot of young
cats. If somebody said, "He's the godfather", I wouldn't mind
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