Felix Rodríguez, more widely known as DJ Negro, was a key figure in the early days of reggaetón in San Juan, PR as his work on the turntables and in club management contributed to shape the genre. In an interview with NYC Tastemakers, Rodríguez spoke about the start of his career and the difficulties he faced to receive the recognition he deserved in the music industry.
From a young age, Rodríguez felt attracted to the world of music, so much so that he began to work as a DJ in La Perla in San Juan, PR at birthday parties and small low-profile events for payment. Things for him had been going well as he was booking gigs and was widely recognized in the barrio. However, Rodríguez said, his situation changed sometime in 1986 when he was coming back from a wedding gig.
“My father kicked me out [of the house] at two in the morning after coming back from a gig,” he said. “My father was very strict, and he used to tell me that I had to be home by midnight. I would tell him that midnight was when most of the gigs actually began, but he didn’t understand it that way. That night, we had a disagreement, and I was forced to leave my house.”
What is more is that his father also confiscated the van in which he transported his equipment, making it almost impossible for Rodríguez to be able to work.
Despite having to leave La Perla, Rodríguez made the best of it by moving to a subbarrio in San Juan known as Puerta de Tierra to live with a family friend in an apartment complex. Rodríguez said that his friend had one of the empty apartments fixed up for him to use for his gigs.
Rodríguez had been hosting an English rapping competition at a gig when he set his eyes upon a duo rapping group, giving him the opportunity of meeting the widely recognized father of Latin hip-hop Vico C. As he watched the duo’s performance, he was impressed by their rapping skills and talent – more specifically Vico-C’s. By the end of their performance, Rodríguez approached Vico C, told him that he sung well in comparison to his counterpart, and proposed a partnership between the two of them.
“At that point,” said Rodríguez about his partnership with Vico C, “we started working together, we started selling cassette tapes, and I started to distribute them to people I knew. And that was when Spanish rap was born in Puerto Rico.”
In the late 1980s, Rodríguez and Vico C started to work together on live shows and put out their first record, La Recta Final. And throughout their career together, they recorded two more albums: Misión: La Cima and Hispanic Soul. But despite the successes of their music together, Rodríguez found out that he had been dropped from the music group before the release of Hispanic Soul without having been given prior warning.
“I was like you going to work tomorrow and them having hired a new secretary to take your place,” Rodríguez said.
Given the circumstances, Rodríguez went back to his parents’ house and was able to mend his relationship with his father after being able to explain what his given career entailed. But unfortunately, without having his musical career to make ends meet, he recurred to selling hotdogs in La Perla. While he had been working there, a friend of his who owned a nightclub called Joseph’s Café approached him about doing some DJ work at his place of business. He worked for $300 per gig and was able to make more of a living than he had been before taking the job.
“I was packing up his place, I was able to help make a lot of money,” he said, “but the same thing that happened before, happened again. I go to the restaurant for the gig, and there was a sign up that read ‘We Moved.’ Apparently, the owner had been planning on opening another place up.”
The events of that night incited Rodríguez to work on launching his own nightclub because wherever he would play his music, people would follow. He said, “It’s because of me. They follow me when I play.”
After opening the nightclub, which he named The Noise, he began allowing aspiring rappers to record singles and perform at his club to gain experience. Rappers such as Big Boys and Palo were born from having performed at the nightclub. But because of unforeseen circumstances, the nightclub was shut down and Rodríguez had to move the club to another location in which another round of artists came to life including artist Don Chezina.
Later, Rodríguez put together a contest to select artists to perform for an album that would become the first of many that paid homage to The Noise nightclub. The group Baby Rasta & Gringo won the competition and introduced rappers like the Point Breakers and Las Guanabanas. These artists would become part of The Noise album.
After the success of the first The Noise album, nine more of them were released and featured artists such as Zion & Lenox, Tito & Hector, and female rapper Ivy Queen. The purpose of The Noise, Rodríguez said, was to “give new artists” the opportunity to work.
In terms of how he became interested in music, he said that “when God puts any talent in your path, it happens in the moment, and you identify yourself with it. Music, since the beginning, was my inspiration for everything. Did being a rapper and a musician start as a joke? Yes, definitely, but my inspiration for music has always been there, since I was a kid.”
He said that his mother would buy him five dollars’ worth of lunch money, and he would go to the record store to buy himself music album or two. Rodríguez said, “I’ll die being a musicologist.”
As a Puerto Rican in the music business, Rodríguez feels “incredibly proud” of having made it. Where he was raised in La Perla, Rodríguez said that the gender of underground reggaetón was born because he brought it to the island of Puerto Rico. “It wasn’t something that existed,” he said.
“People used to hate reggaetón,” Rodríguez said. “They used to say it was like the plague, but you can’t go anywhere nowadays where you don’t hear it.”
Like many people, Rodríguez had a hard time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making music had become difficult and many of the opportunities to produce were taken from him as they came. He said that the pandemic “left its mark everywhere it went.” And unfortunately, because of the COVID lockdowns in Puerto Rico, his 25-year-old daughter Danya Rodríguez committed suicide in December 2020.
“She couldn’t handle the pressure of being locked down,” Rodríguez said about the death of his daughter. “She was happy, and all of a sudden she wasn’t allowed to go out, or maybe there was something else she didn’t tell us.”
Rodríguez also told NYC Tastemakers that Danya had recorded an album with him that was going to be released prior to her death, but ultimately went unreleased. She can be found on YouTube.
Since her death, he has not been able to return to the studio because the last time he had been in one, was the last time he was in one with his daughter. Rodríguez said that he’ll return to the studio “someday” because he’s feeling the “itch to produce something soon.”
For now, however, Rodríguez opened up a pub in La Perla where he said people can “drink and have fun for a bit.”
To listen to DJ Negro’s work, readers can find him at this link.