Uptown Hip Hop Renaissance Part I: An Emerging Artist Ignites A Movement

Part of New York City’s wonder is the diversity it offers. The Northern Manhattan area of West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood is a major player in that variety. For several decades, this part of the Big Apple has been home to many Latino immigrants and first generation Latino-Americans. Many are of Dominican descent. And, of course, Hip Hop has influenced its inhabitants for all that time. The popular Dominican music “merengue” was coupled with Hip Hop during the 1990s in what was called “merengue callejero” or “urbano” which simply means “street.” During this time, groups like Proyecto Uno featuring “Magic” Juan, Fulanito, El General, Ilegales and others fused those Latin and Hip Hop sounds with bilingual lyrics. “Bachata” supergroup Aventura created their own genre by merging the slower, blues-type sound with Hip Hop influences. On his 2nd solo album, Formula, Vol. 2, Aventura’s lead singer Anthony “Romeo” Santos featured Drake and Nicki Minaj on tracks. While his singing is, mostly, in Spanish; his work reflects the influences of a young man raised in the South Bronx. There was even a “reggaeton” (Spanish rap-reggae) genre in the mid- to late-2000s.

I was reminded of the culture’s powerful global control when noticing Spanish-dominant speaking guys, in the ‘hood, wearing fresh Nikes, designer jeans and a fitted. Why? That’s what they see and it’s cool. Cool is – internationally – respected and desired.
Since the start of this decade, there’s been a rise in a more traditional, English-speaking Hip Hop sound among Latino-Americans. The majority of these artists have NYC roots and their styles reflect the Hip Hop they’ve followed over the years. They’ve seen, they’ve studied, they’ve worked and are ready to launch.

Dominican artist/innovator, Hugojoel Collado aka Tellie Floydd (@telliefloydd204) arrived in the United States as a baby. His family settled Uptown, in the Inwood section. A childhood tease for pronouncing “belly” with a “t” and inspiration from, English rock band, Pink Floyd led to the unique stage name. The gifted, lyrical artist fuses his man-on-the-come-up content with diverse rhythms including a number sampling, jazz legends, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”

This interview chronicles part of this up-and-coming artist’s journey and an idea to help further his musical exploits. Floydd’s spark created a lane where there was none with WHIN By Any Means talent showcases (@whinbyanymeans). Thus, opening a door of opportunity for numerous talented artists, mostly, based in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood.

He created something from nothing … sound familiar?

> Inspiration And Restoring Balance

What inspired you to start rhyming and what do you feel you bring to the art form?

First and foremost, I was actually smiling when you said, “What got me to rap?” The first thing that came to my mind was Snoop Dogg .. Doggystyle (1993 album). I, actually, remember being in “Puta Park” now known as Dyckman Fields with my cousins for a little league (game). I remember somebody had a “boombox” (radio), my cousin had the tape. I saw the tape (album) cover, “Oh, this shit is dope.” So, press play, and I swear to God, yo – it changed my life forever. I wanna do what he does. (smiles ear to ear) Sayin’ like, it was so smooth … it was just dope. Then I got into Nas, got into Biggie. Then I was one of the first who was an advocate for Jay-Z. A lot of guys were saying, “Who the fuck is he?”

Back in the day…

Hell yeah! I remember there was a joint, on 10th avenue, it was a DJ hut. So you go to this guy, tell him what you want on your tape, give him $10 and come back in two hours.
I remember getting that Jay-Z joint (Reasonable Doubt, 1996), the whole album.

And the deejay, he was a Rastafarian, and he was trying to tell me … (switches up into a Jamaican Patois) “Yeah man, you gonna take this bullshit …” He was trying to sell me some Mic Geronimo shit. Geronimo had a joint at that time (The Natural, 1995). I was like, (laughs) “Nah man, fuck that shit, Jay-Z is the man right here.” And, lo and behold, yo, HOV.

But I also fell in love with that Native Tongues sound, not to name them all, but I feel like that’s an era of Hip Hop – for me. People be like, ”We miss that old school sound, that New York sound.” I don’t think it’s a New York sound, I just think it’s just good music. Cause if you look at people like, Souls of Mischief – that’s fuckin’ good Hip Hop, bro. (impassioned) And it got that Golden Era sound and them guys is from Oakland (California), bro. For me, it’s about how the music came across. Everybody knew they had to bring it, if not you wasn’t dropping shit, you know what I’m sayin.’

Now, it’s like (imitates a voice) “I’m in Starbucks talkin’ coffee …” and they’ll sign that guy. I just feel like, saying something is so missed out on Hip Hop. And it’s a disgrace that people like maybe J. Cole, Common, Talib (Kweli) are waving that flag and all the other bullshit is controlling everything else. I remember when there was a balance. So I’m trying to restore that balance.

How did the WHIN By Any Means idea come about?

WHIN is an acronym for Washington Heights-Inwood. I first saw it as a hashtag used by realtors selling properties. I thought, “that was pretty dope.” And I was over-fucking exaggerating my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (accounts), you know, that shit gets you too far. You can only do so many posts before people are like, “ah, this guy …” Mute!

> Anatomy Of A WHIN-Win Situation (2011)

So I was like, “Let me see if somebody give me an opportunity to perform up here (in my neighborhood).” Nobody … nobody. Nobody wanted to fuck with us, really it was me. Nobody wanted to fuck with me. But I knew the guys that owned (local store) Empire Fashion Boutique and I grew up with Joel and Aldo (Espinal). I just thought about it cuz the previous year, me and my boys, we had done a mixtape. Shit is wack, but we did it – we tried. And we did an event at the boutique so we had that connection. And Aldo saw we brought out a few people, people that didn’t know the store was there. So we built that bridge. I came back and told him, “Yo, this time it’s gonna be totally different. We’re gonna have like – 30 acts. We’re gonna give them like 6-7 minutes of showtime – 2 songs that’s it. Think about if each performer brings .. 5 people; we’ll be set here, we’ll be shut down.” So the first one we had like, 60-70 people in this small-ass sneaker store. Free admission. But what I did was charge each artist $25, including myself, and the sponsors for overhead so we could have what we needed. We paid for a deejay, we bought wine, hired the camera guy …

Empire Fashion Boutique (@EmpireFash): Tellie Floydd (left) and owner Aldo Espinal

I already knew, an event, I knew an artist would want a red carpet, to be seen, to get recorded. You know, good shit, good mics. I don’t wanna be a shabby dude. I do music, too, guys. We put our money together. I was, basically, administering it. I was the face of it, so we did that – dope. Went off without a hitch and people just started tweeting me – mad acts from Uptown. I didn’t even know there were so many acts Uptown asking, “Yo, I heard what you did, when’s the next one? Let me know.”

> WHIN Spawns A Renaissance (2013)

So I went back to Empire, he charged us a little bit more (to rent spot), but I was like, “fuck it.” So I got (Uptown celeb) “Da Mayor” Mike “DP” Jones. I was like, “I get Mike Jones, he has a big mouth, he can invite the right people. He can have people from Wash(ington) Heights and Dyckman without murdering each other because of the respect people have for his persona.” Cuz that was something big to me: Dyckman and Washington Heights together. It’s not looking very good, yo … But no lie, we shut down (local nightclub) NegroClaro Lounge. They hold, on the books, 300 people and we had, literally, 500 inside and 400 outside tryin’ to get in, offerin’ me shitloads of money. “Yo, please yo, sneak me in” to see Uptown acts. Part of this thing was because I was looking for a place to perform. But also because, and if another rapper says they don’t they’re lying, I wanted to steal their fans. Where are the fans hiding? Cuz I already got the fans I could find. But where are your fans hidin’ because I want them to see me, too.

What have you noticed since you’ve been doing more of the WHIN events?

People are more aware of what’s going on. The best way to say it: there’s an art scene Uptown. You couldn’t go on any particular day and catch a comedy show, a rap show or see an art gallery Uptown or see installations. Like my boy who is a graffiti artist, he displayed work at an event. All of this wasn’t there before. And I feel like Uptown is starting to embrace it and it did get bigger than we thought it was gonna get.

Recently, we’ve stepped back to see what happens. I think they do want it because I get tweets and texts all the time – like “yo, when’s the next one.’

> There’s Always A Bigger Picture

And, no lie, through WHIN I have met the most incredible group of people. True story, like my peers, my fellow rap artists, business people … I’m in (major hotspot) La Marina rubbing elbows with (NY Senator Adriano) Espaillat drinking, conversing about art. In my hood… I don’t have to go downtown to catch a show, I could catch a show Uptown. Like right now there’s a band playing on 207th Street and Broadway – just jamming out on the corner.

But, you know, I don’t want credit for that WHIN shit in that sense. I’m just somebody that’s hungry and wants to get my shit out there. But, in turn, if it’s helping my community – why not? When my daughter gets a little older, she could be like, ‘Hey, you guys wanna get brunch and see this gallery right down the block?’

> Perfecting Your Craft

Talk about the music you’ve put out?

I got four mixtapes out, got 35, 38 music videos on YouTube. I got Soundcloud shit out. All the previous shit it’s just me growing into myself as an artist. The best way I can describe it, the first time you get on a bike you’re not gonna pop a wheelie the first day. I’ve been working on perfecting my craft. And, recently, I’ve been releasing songs, but I’m working on a mixtape called Future No$tylgia. The best way to describe it is I want this shit so in the future people be like, “Damn, man remember this shit?” That’s why I named it that because me, everyone we’re all contradictions .. oxymorons. Today, I could be happy as fuck, tomorrow I wanna punch someone in the face. So that’s human. And that’s what I want to portray on the mixtape – all these aspects of one guy. I just want it to have a continuing thread. Below, Floydd performs at a WHIN event.



Have you spoken with any record labels?

I have not. I’m looking to be independent, but I’m not a fool. If someone can broaden, not in the sense of money, but broaden my reach I’m not opposed to that. I feel like I’m at the glass ceiling, I can only do so much Uptown. I can try to go downtown and talk that lingo, but if you don’t know nobody down there it ain’t going far. So I figure I make the best music I can make and it falls on the right ear and keep being me.

With Future No$tylgia, I wanna be named in the elite. Especially Uptown, I don’t feel like I get that credit, I get a lot of WHIN credit. But I don’t get the music credit. I love all the artists, but I make music, too. I wanna be named in the elite to get the looks, to be talked about in broader scopes. I want it to transcend time. I want my music to hit me like (Snoop’s) Doggystyle hit me. This is fuckin’ dope. That’s why I’m taking my time, I been working on this tape for two-and-a-half years. I’ve been putting my all in this to, collectively, have a 12-track CD. I’m formatting my work in the sense of Nas’ Illmatic. Nas did the most incredible thing in 10 songs. These guys, nowadays, are dropping 18 tracks and that shit ain’t stickin’ … a bunch of bullshit. But you play the Nas album 1-10 and it’s great. And I wanna show that lyricism is alive and that we as Dominicans and Latinos, in general, can do it.

The WHIN By Any Means initiative has produced several outstanding showcases all in Northern Manhattan. One 2013 show, titled “HerStory,” featured ladies who rhyme, sing and create in other expressive fields. Club was packed. A great event.

A few other notable acts: Dark, Ace IOD, Camille Safiya and Frankie P

The Movement continues gaining momentum … now you know – stay tuned.

Fabian Baez is a, New York City-based, Hip Hop Web Copywriter/Creative & Marketing Specialist focused on helping others succeed while advancing the Movement. Learn more about him, his work and connect: | @FabianBaez | [email protected]