What's His Name?

Fulanito fights for respect in the hip-hop world

"You gotta constantly change things," says Rafael. "At the same time we were working, a whole new sound developed: merengue house with Proyecto Uno and Ilegales."

Rafael couldn't help but notice the reception of those groups outside the United States. "We would be going into Latin countries, and they were actually doing arenas. We were doing little clubs." He decided to take house even further in a Latin direction, "kind of what we did with 740 and 2 in a Room but in Spanish."

To differentiate themselves from both of those earlier hip-hop-merengue groups, the four-man combined force of 740 Boyz and 2 in a Room added a fifth, Martino "El Bonito" Paredes. The first single from that experiment, "Guallando" ("Grinding"), became a cult hit in the United States. But when Cutting Records licensed it for Latin America, the house-ripiao sold more than any other album in Colombia in 1998, outselling even superstars Carlos Vives and Charlie Zaa.

"One week in Colombia we did 140 interviews!" says Paredes, still shell-shocked.

The second single, "La Novela," catapulted the group to even greater popularity. "We were going every week to Colombia." In 1999 the band spent eleven out of twelve months touring in Latin America. When police attempted to shut down an overcrowded show in Maracaibo, Venezuela, 50,000 rabid fans overpowered the law, and Fulanito went on.

Despite the so-called Latin explosion in the United States, opportunity has been scant for Fulanito to reach a mass public in this country. "There just aren't the outlets," says Paredes. "Radio stations can't play the songs. Even in Miami, it's totally different. It's an uphill battle." Still the struggle seems worthwhile. "We're also opening doors for groups like us, making people more accessible to our sounds," he says.

Recognition is coming slowly. A category for Latin rap was added at the 2001 Grammys, and a Latin hip-hop showcase is planned before the 2001 Latin Grammys. "Live at Jimmy's," the current merengue-charged hit by Angie Martinez with Cuban Link, D'Mingo, and the deceased Big Pun, is one of the songs following Fulanito's work. "That sound," notes Ovalles thoughtfully, "I hope it's embraced. I hope other artists get involved so it will be a bona fide sound. A lot of times people take a sound from another culture as a fad. We're talking about the mainstream, the power people. We're the majority of the minority now. It's time to get our sound across."

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