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Interview with hip hop artist Rubén Borrero

By Jacklyn Nowotnik
On November 23, 2010

Do you remember the first time you heard hip-hop? The first time you ever heard "A Tribe Called Quest", "Common", "Big Pun" or "Immortal Technique", and felt the originality that spoke to your soul and made you bob your head to the beat?

   That's exactly what Rubén Borrero's "The Color Brown" will do to you.

   The Color Brown is a recipe for musical perfection, as the sagacious lyrics flow along with beats that represent the solidness of hip-hop and the slickness of a Jazz bass line. As you begin to take in every lyric and sound, you soon begin to feel a sense of pride for the color brown, regardless what shade of brown you may be.

   As John Diaz said in Pasitos Andinos, "The color brown baby, yo se que te gusta" (I know you like it).

Jacklyn Nowotnik: Who made "The Color Brown possible?"

Rubén Borrero: The Color Brown was a project made possible by the musical talent of John "Skeptic" Diaz and my lyrics. This past summer I sat down and listened to John's beats, and my mind just went crazy. I always had the poetic talent to express what I feel, but I was never comfortable using a specific rhythm or pattern to utter those feelings. Skeptic's beats provided me with this opportunity and I took it.

JN: What's the story behind the name "The Color Brown"?

RB: After coming to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, I had a newfound love for the Latino culture in general. Not only Puerto Ricans, but also Mexicans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Colombians, Venezuelans—just everybody that identifies themselves with this mix of cultures that have to go through the same struggles in this country, regardless of their country of origin. I also realized that white Americans often referred to us as "brown" people not as an offense, but as a way to categorize us. I guess "The Color Brown" is an attempt to re-conquer this word and this color that all Latinos share in common in one way or another. It is, in short, my tribute to the struggle of all those brown people in the United States.

JN: What made you want to put this album together?

RB: It was a mixture of things. During my first summer in the United States, I was missing the Island, so it inspired me to canalize my feelings through music—something I've never done before. I also wanted to experiment with music, and this was my opportunity to do it. But the main reason was my experiences as a Latino in the United States. It's something really powerful, something you see everyday in other people, and music was the best way for me to canalize all those feelings.

JN: When is the release date?

RB: "The Color Brown" is still in the making. There was a lick of these five tracks because a lot of people convinced me to put something out there, but the project is still "under construction," so stay tuned!

JN: Personally, your flow reminds me of Calle 13, but who influences you as far as music goes?

RB: Yo soy salsero [I'm a big salsa head]! So, people like Ismael Rivera, Hector Lavoe, Cano Estremera, Sonora Poncena, Gran Combo, Ruben Blades and Frankie Ruiz have inspired me since I was very little. I also grew up listening to Cultura Profetica, Siete Nueve and Vivo C. My music is a mixture of different genres, just like my musical taste, but I will say that Caribbean rhythms are the basics in this musical project, as well as my main musical influence.

JN: For our readers who may not understand Spanish, can you sum up each song you've released so far?

RB: "Gigante ven pa'c": Basically a short shout out to "mi pueblo" (my hometown), Carolina, Puerto Rico.

"Nacio Hip Hop": The story of hip hop and how it came to be; there will be a second part to this track. For all those Common fans out there. It is kind of a Spanish version of "I Used to Love H.E.R."

"Pasitos Andinos": A feel-good track that describes one of my many muses. Saludos, nena!

"Skeptic Le Llama Rumba": I consider this track to have the best musical arrangement of the album. In this track, Skeptic made a good musical composition that complimented El Jooks on the guitar; I just put some raw lyrics to top it off. It is a shout out to all of those that believed in me, and for all of those that didn't—coñaza pa' ti (shame on you)!

"Ya Nadie Sabe": This track describes the issues that made me start writing. From love to social inequalities…this is an ode to all my muses.

JN: Have you performed any of these songs yet?

RB: I have performed my music in different places around the Chicago area. I performed in the "Bandera a Bandera" (Flag to Flag) festival down at Humboldt Park. I have also performed in numerous colleges across Illinois, [like] Loyola University, Northwestern and Elgin Community College.

JN: What separates your album from the other music that is currently getting played—both commercial and underground?

RB: I think "The Color Brown" is very different from every single artist's music out there because of the style and the content of the lyrics. It is really uncommon to come across an artist who appeals both to the musical senses and the lyrical senses in a composition, since an artist usually focuses on one of these two things. As an artist, I understand that the musical aspect has to be appealing to the audience, but at the same time, I always stay true to the essence of hip-hop. This is not to say that my lyrics are confusing, because they aren't, but at the same time I feel that is my duty to tell a story to the audience, and that story unites us.

"The Color Brown" seems to have a growing popularity within the college community. Is that popularity growing elsewhere, to your knowledge?

RB: The college communities in Chicago and in Puerto Rico are the two main audiences of my music right now, although people in Ecuador are also listening to my music—the wonders of Internet! But I hope and believe that it will transcend from a college campus to a national and international [audience]. Como diria mami "ojala y se de!" (as mom would say, "I hope everything goes your way!").

Once "The Color Brown" is done, what do you want to come out if it?

RB: This is an artistic project that could go beyond music. I think it is everybody's duty to clean the image that urban music has of being a misogynistic and hyper-masculine concept. The origins of hip hop were not those that the mainstream media show to us everyday, but rather the history behind communities of color in the United States. I believe "The Color Brown" can also accomplish its mission in Puerto Rico, which is lacking, besides showing few examples of musical intuitiveness and originality. [Basically], it's an attempt to unite communities of color in the micro level (Chicago) and hopefully in the macro level (the U.S.) too!


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