The second Sunday of June is one of juxtoposition. For Puerto Ricans it’s practically a holy weekend, for everyone else, well, it’s a perfect opportunity to get the hell out of town as millions of Puerto Ricans descend onto the streets to celebrate their culture. You have the 116th street festival on Saturday, which really covers at least five blocks and then you have the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday which goes up 5th Avenue beginning at 44th street and ending at 79th.
As rowdy and packed as it gets, the parade is a fun time. There is nothing like happy Puerto Ricans enjoying life and dancing in the streets. It’s good to be able to dance in the streets our parents actually thought were lined with gold when they first began coming to the states over 70 years ago. Of course, this aint no history lesson, at least not of our cultures migration to the mainland. However, perhaps we could do a real quick synopsis of a particular genre?
Now, we couldn’t just came at you with the regular stuff you know, some deep House vibes or Salsa. Been there. Done that. This weekend we are featuring a genre we’ve never featured before, one Puerto Rican’s really love. No, it’s not Reggaeton; I am talking about Latin Freestyle!!
For those who might not know what Freestyle is, let me explain. First of all, no, it is not some accapella Latin Hip Hop. Freestyle exploded onto the scene in the mid 80’s, birthed from the remnants of the Disco era and growing in parallel with House music as it also was emerging, usually from the same clubs. It could be said Latin Freestyle was a Puerto Rican R&B, maybe even more akin to Pop music, and it didn’t come from the island of Puerto Rico or a derivative or combination of native music from other Latin American countries or cultures. Latin Freestyle was homegrown, from right here in the United States, mostly the streets of New York, and created by first generation Puerto Rican’s in need of a sound that was their own.
You know how they say that the light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long? Well, I experienced Freestyle personally so, believe me when I say Freestyle burned very bright, very fast.
While House music was unapologetically underground and not as easily accepted by those who wanted more to sing along to, thus taking longer to hit the pop charts, Freestyle on the other hand was unapologetically saccharin, with bleeding heart vocalists unafraid to belt out excessively sentimental lyrics. And boy did we lap it up. There were the pretty girls such as Lisa Lisa and Brenda K. Star, the trendy dudes like Stevie B, George Lamond, and tough guys like Noel. There was even the heartbreaking duets such as ‘Dreamboy, Dreamgirl’ by Cynthia and Johnny O, and boy bands like TKA.
The genre went from being played in the clubs to exploding on the radio almost over night. It was a great time for teenage Latino’s; and then it all came to an end. Hip hop hit hard and House was just beginning to experience its first taste of the pop charts and just as fast as it came onto the scene, Freestyle was bumped right off the radio. In less than two years or so Freestyle was all but gone, relegated to old mix tapes we would listen to in our aging tape players.
Now, that I have sufficiently depressed you let me bring it back to this weekend. Fact is, Freestyle did not completely die. The classics remain favorites of course, the artists continue touring, and it even experienced a slight resurgence in South America, particularly Brazil where it hit hard a few years ago. The sound has even influenced today’s Reggaeton, so, it’s not all sad news. Especially when you hear this awesome two part Freestyle mix by Johnny D. from Henry Street Music.
I will say this about Johnny D., he played an integral role in the history of House music as a Producer and A&R agent and of course DJ, and you will be seeing him featured in DJ of the Week soon enough. As for the following two mixes, well, he will run you through a good chunk of Freestyle history so thorough that by the end you just might find yourself wanting to go 5th Avenue on Sunday to dance in the streets and wave a Puerto Rican flag yourself. And hey, we'll welcome you. It's all love.
Have a great weekend Boricuas; be safe and have a great time. Everyone else, join the party or leave, the streets are ours.
JOHNNY "D" - HISTORY OF FREESTYLE VOLUME 2
JOHNNY "D" - HISTORY OF FREESTYLE VOLUME 3