Thirty years later, you’re still here. Let’s talk about the creative process. Do you have a particular creative process of how you approach writing a track, or does it differ from situation to situation?
I leave it open to all things. I never had one particular process. It’s like the thought Bruce Lee had: Just flow like water. So if the idea came to me before I had the beat — boom! I’d lock that idea and I’d wait until I found the music that fit the idea, instead of just putting that idea on any old bed of music. ’Cause then that’s just raps and a beat. You want to make a song. And sometimes the music complements content and the style and the wordplay you’re doing. If you just come up with an idea and put it on any old beat that comes up, it doesn’t pop this way.
So there’s times that I’ve come up with ideas that I’ve carried for a couple years before I found the right music to put it on. Like “Rock Superstar,” for instance. I had that idea in my head before I had the music. And when I heard the music, for the first time, I thought, Oh, this is perfect.
I just always tried to stay creative. If you’re a boxer, to become a great boxer, you need to be training all the time, boxing all the time. And it’s the same thing with writing and performing. The more you do it, the better you get at it. So I think the fact that I took all these different types of writing styles, and just constantly pressed myself ... it became innate for me to just be creative anywhere.
Your voice is one of the most distinctive in music; it definitely cuts through. How did you come to have that voice?
We were all big fans of this rapper named Rammellzee. He was an old-school rapper from New York City. He was also an artist, and he had this crazy rapping style where he’d come all the way up. I said, “OK, I’m going to try to pitch my voice like him.” I threw my voice like Rammellzee, and the guys liked it. I didn’t think they would like it. I barely liked it. And it took me some years to get used to actually doing it. As the years went by, I got sort of settled into it. I went to an opera singer for lessons on how to breathe and project, without straining my voice.
You guys have always had a lot of different influences in music, whether rock, psychedelic or Latin. Is that something that you guys intentionally set out to do or is that something because of all the diverse influences that you guys had growing up?
We all listened to all these different types of genres. We were open to everything, even the stuff we didn’t listen to — you know, punk rock, metal funk, R&B, jazz blues, reggae. I mean, nothing was untouchable for us. Like a Spanish album, right? That wasn’t something that just happened. We’re Spanish-speaking guys, and the reason the record company signed us was because of a song we had in Spanish. And very few rappers at the time could rap in Spanish. So they saw a whole other market.
Look at other genres like rock, and the pioneers, the people who everyone built their careers on. They’re revered. What can we do more in hip-hop to shine a light on the people who helped build the foundations, because it feels like it’s “in with the new” — and whatever came before you, it’s just kind of discarded.
Yeah, it does sort of feel like that. Every other genre pretty much celebrates their old-school artists, and hip-hop is the only one that you get left behind in. I think they mean it to be this way, because it’s such a powerful genre, and they were afraid of it from the beginning, you know. A lot of us were laying the groundwork as the foundation for hip-hop and some of us were a little too controversial. So we’re always going to get that sort of second-class citizen type of treatment.