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photographing nyc's young latinx rap community

Stephen Velastegui captures hip-hop artists from Brooklyn to The Bronx, and asks how heritage shapes their sounds.

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Aug 14 2018, 11:36pm

Photography Stephen Velastegui 

In his recent series Papi Chulo, Queens photographer Stephan Velastegui captured NYC-native Latinx boys from Dyckman, Inwood to Ridgewood, Queens. Velastegui is interested in how upbringing and environment shapes his peers' relationship to masculinity and other men, using portraiture to confront stereotypes in the community. Papi Chulo also exposed the photographer to a vibrant emerging rap scene spread throughout the city. Now, Velastegui captures the most inspiring young Latinx hip-hop artists in the five boroughs, and asks how their upbringing has shaped their disparate sounds.

AUTUMN, 19, Harlem

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Describe your sound in three words:
Melancholic, melodic, moody. Kevin Parker.

Who are your musical influences?
Travis Scott, and Flatbush Zombies.

How does your heritage shape your music?
Being Latino definitely allows me to use a lot of more musical elements in my music, and, through the years, gave me a totally different sense of rhythm that I will try to incorporate as best as possible.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
Honestly, NYC can be harsh. At times one can get discouraged but you just have to use it as motivation and shine bright. If you make it here, you can make it anywhere.

@atmn98

Henry Ruiz, 18, Brooklyn

Describe your sound in three words:
Unorthodox, free, opposite.

Who are your musical influences?
J.Cole, J Esko, and my pops.

How does your heritage shape your music?
My Mexican background definitely plays a part on my music because without me growing up to my strict ass parents and super religious grandmother I wouldn’t have separated myself from the world the way I did. There were many very negative down points in my life due to me growing away from people but it gave me a lot of time to reflect and think about my actions and why I made the decisions I made. Things don’t happen for no reason, they happen for reasons.

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Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
NYC Is on the map right now, so definitely. There’s a lot of talent in New York but I also feel like it’s a “every man for themselves” type of thing going on. But it’s just natural. We all hungry and we just wanna be set for life.

@spliffhappy

Javal G. Minor, 22, Queens

Describe your sound in three words:
Emo, ethereal, aggressive.

Who are your musical influences?
Some of my music influences are Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Kurt Cobain, My Bloody Valentine, Lil' Peep and Chief Keef.

How does your heritage shape your music?
My family on my mom’s side are Afro-Latino immigrants, and mostly African on the other side from the South. I find heritage and connecting to your history important–it shows all the trials and tribulations that came into play for me to be here today and make the music I make. That history and experience and the pain gained from that point to now influence how I compose music and the subject matter.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
It depends on who you know, and how you market/present yourself. Some people are lucky, but even the most reckless of artists had a good team beside and behind them. A lot of people think it's easy and everything can happen overnight, but that's not the case for everyone. NYC does have this sense of hate for it’s own, compared to the atmosphere of places like Atlanta that are more communal.

@grimguapo

Kcid, 14, Brooklyn

Describe your sound in three words:
Smooth, intelligent, reminiscent.

Who are your musical influences?
My music influences are Biggie Smalls, Lauryn Hill, BDP, Big L, Peaches, and Los Panchos.

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How does your heritage shape your music?
My heritage shapes my music by sometimes affecting the content matter of my lyrics, and using my rap and poetry as a method of processing the treatment of Mexicans historically and currently in my country.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
I don’t think NYC is friendly to emerging artists in that although you might quickly receive recognition if you are competitive enough, you still won’t be getting paid enough to live off of, and at the same time the spaces for artists fluctuate in energy, and at times we can enter spaces that feel so draining and ingenue to who we are. To be quite honest, I think in NYC there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad just like anywhere else, and when people anywhere have money on their mind they end up not putting your wishes as a priority.

@funloops87

Lorey, 19, Queens

Describe your sound in three words:
Aggressive, unique, futuristic.

Who are your musical influences?
Some of my music influences are Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar.

How does your heritage shape your music?
Being Dominican is like having 1% of every country/culture in my blood; I’m able to take two different genres and make it into my own. I can grab samples that people don’t use at all which helps me have a very unique sound, and for that I’ll be forever thankful.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
In all honesty, I feel like that all depends on the artist and how they present themselves. Some NYC artists come into the game with a very big ego and a lot of them don’t make it far. My goal is to remain as humble as possible.

@iconiclorey

Luis Palacios, 21, Brooklyn

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Describe your sound in three words:
Atmospheric, syncopated, sample-driven.

Who are your musical influences?
Some of my influences in music are Detroit-based producer J Dilla, Haitian-Canadian based producer Kaytranada, and artist/producer Toro Y Moi.

How does your heritage shape your music?
As I grow more mature, I’ve begun to manifest my Mexican heritage into my Artwork. Growing up I had family members that would come from Mexico and live at my place and they would play soul, freestyle, and hip-hop music, which helped me develop my interest. I have titled my most recent songs and projects in Spanish in an ode to my ethnicity. I’ve begun exploring the different genres of music that Mexican musicians have created and impacted and plan on incorporating the sound into my upcoming full-length Prohibido Volumen 3.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
NYC is a city where artists come to collaborate whether they are on the come up or just starting out. You see a lot of DIY shows scattered throughout the city which is a great way to meet new artist.

@loupalace

Lucy, 20, Uptown Manhattan

Describe your sound in three words:
Dark, angry, heartfelt.

Who are your musical influences?
My Influences are Tyler, the Creator, $uicide Boy$, The Doors, Kid Cudi, XXXTentacion, and Kendrick Lamar.

How does your heritage shape your music?
I mean, I’m a person of color. We started this shit. It’s ours, in whichever way we manifest it.

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Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
I feel like depending on what type of crowd you’re going for you meet different people, so the energy is always different. There may be people who genuinely fuck with you and your sound and there might be people or other artists who might be intimidated by you and your sound. To be honest, from what I’ve seen there’s a shit load of people who will kiss your ass because of who you know or what moves you’re making — so because of that, some artists are pretty closed in. Only fuck with they circle. And I get that. A lot of people try to use you for the clout. I’ve met a lot of people who just believed in my vision, and off that alone I’ve gotten farther than I’ve ever thought. So it’s kinda 50/50. Just gotta be careful who you fuck with. So with that being said, shout out to my gang SUPA KLIQ, we on the way up. YA KNOW THE DEAL.

@kkfb_

Roemello Velez, 20, The Bronx

Who are your musical influences?
My influences in music would be Pharrell; I’m a huge N.E.R.D fan. Maybe Metro Boomin’ depending on the beat. I really like Key! at the moment and Kenny Beats’ project, that’s good. I’m a Drake fan haha! So I really like that direction too. Pop music is really what I’m trying to accomplish, as far as R&B and hip-hop goes.

How does your heritage shape your music?
My heritage, being half Black and half Puerto Rican, has definitely shaped my music. I feel as if I’m trying to make my beats for Big Pun sometimes, because I am so fascinated with the early 2000s hip-hop era. Being born and raised in The Bronx, that culture was always around me. I was surrounded by both my Hispanic friends and my Black friends. I wouldn’t say, oh yes I use Spanish music to help me make beats, because that wouldn’t be true. I would say that I do appreciate the music of course. That was something I remember listening to at family parties and events as a kid. But I really liked R&B and alternative rock more.

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Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
I don’t really think NYC is the most united place right now. We need to have that ATL vibe and really fuck with people that can take our music and craft to the next level. Too many people are just eaters, and they want to leach off clout to make it in music. I make music for fun regardless, my real focus is my skateboarding company K9 HARDWARE. People have just been gravitating towards my beats, so I’ve recently recorded like three songs and took down all the instrumentals on my SoundCloud. There will be more stuff with my beats involved with other artists soon. I’ll be poppin’ up more, just waiting my turn!

@roemellovelezforthewin

Sloth, 22, Manhattan

Describe your sound in three words:
Witty, true, relatable.

Who are your musical influences?
Kid Cudi, Pusha T, and the Wu Tang Clan.

How does your heritage shape your music?
I can’t say my heritage has shaped my music in particular, but it has definitely played a part in it. Shoutouts to being able to throw Spanish into a verse as I please.

Is NYC a friendly city for emerging artists?
In all honesty, no. NYC is a place where anybody can network and meet tons of people. But at the end of the day, you have to watch your back because people are always going to try to knock you off of your high horse.

@shutupslothy

This article originally appeared on i-D US.

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