Celebrating Latin Freestyle
Each year, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month to recognize achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans that inspire others. This month, we honor the genre of Latin HipHop or “Freestyle”, as well as the artist Corina, who paved the way for megastars such as Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, or Camila Cabello.
What Is Freestyle?
The Early Days:
Freestyle, a hybrid of HipHop and Dance, has beginnings that trace back to the early 80s, with roots in HipHop and Disco. HipHop started in the Bronx, where local DJs would play extended instrumental versions of Disco for MCs to rap or sing over. This is when we were introduced to artists such as Africa Bambatta, Sugar Hill Gang, The Sequence and Kurtis Blow. This new music was loud, and Black HipHop artists started heading towards the mainstream.
In cities such as New York and Miami, Hispanic producers were creating a new sound, mixing that HipHop street beat with Latin flavor. By 1985, songs like Lisa Lisa’s “Can You Feel the Beat”, “Please Don’t Go” by Nayobe, and Expose’s “Point of No Return” were radiating from the streets, to the clubs, and across Radio. This new sound was so popular, that it helped spur the original “HOT” and “Power” Radio formats. Audacy Miami’s Power96 was there! To this day, Power96’s 5PM “Throwback Thursday Mixshow” has more listening than any other day of the week (+88% vs other days).
In New York, our own “Broadway” Bill Lee (WCBS-FM), and Deborah Howell (KTWV-FM), were across town at HOT 103/97, bringing artists and fans together. I specifically remember “Broadway” introducing New York to a new local artist, Corina. I was lucky enough to catch up with Corina for this article.
Corina, 1st generation “NuYorican”, was raised in New York City’s South Bronx and Harlem. She described her childhood as challenging and tumultuous, and found an escape by performing. The mainstream back then was mostly either Black or White, and she identified most closely in appearance with Cher. Her escape was performing along the Radio to Cher’s music, and staring deeply into a mirror, envisioning performing to an audience.
By her late teens, after training and studying performing arts in high school, Corina signed to an independent label, and recorded three top 40 freestyle/dance hits. She was what she called “neighborhood famous”, and had her eyes on the top alongside Janet Jackson and Madonna. By the early 90s, she signed to Atco/Atlantic Records, and released her self-titled album, which finally earned her a top 10 position on the Billboard Hot100 pop chart with the single “Temptation”.
No longer neighborhood famous, Corina was now touring with artists such as Mariah Carey, New Kids On The Block, and MC Hammer. She recalled the first time she shared a stage with them at a benefit concert on the west coast, with 60,000 fans waiting for her to enter the stage. Stage fright struck her, and she froze. She saw “Broadway” Bill Lee on stage left, and he looked over, and reminded her of how amazing she was. She hit the stage, and 60,000 fans were chanting her name, waiting for her music to start. It was at this point Corina knew she made it. This was the mirror, and these were the fans she’d been performing to all her life.
To Corina, fans are everything. Whether neighborhood famous, or on a stadium tour, Corina’s mission was to always be a voice for the voiceless, and to heal people through music. At the height of the AIDS crisis, Corina visited fans who were hospitalized, and sang to them as many struggled to survive.
While Freestyle music faded from popularity towards the mid 90s, Corina continued to follow her passions by venturing into acting and producing, including the role of Frida Kahlo in “The Cradle Will Rock”, alongside Susan Sarandon and John Cusack, and her own one-woman-shows, performing to sold-out audiences. She’s also been writing and producing her own music, and has an album set to be released this fall.
Decade after decade, Freestyle has a loyal fan following, selling out arena concerts across the country. Celebrate Freestyle music with Audacy’s exclusive station “Freestyle Flashbacks” all month long. https://www.audacy.com/freestyleflashbacks/listen