Tego Calderón: Keepin’ it Real

When Hip-Hop meets Reggaeton, Tego Calderón is chillin’ at the intersection. The non-Spanish speaking audience may not understand his lyrics completely on remixes of Fat Joe’s “Lean Back” and 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” but they are sure drawn to the voice. Making his worldwide debut with El Abayarde (his alias meaning a Puerto Rican insect similar […]

When Hip-Hop meets Reggaeton, Tego Calderón is chillin’ at the intersection. The non-Spanish speaking audience may not understand his lyrics completely on remixes of Fat Joe’s “Lean Back” and 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” but they are sure drawn to the voice. Making his worldwide debut with El Abayarde (his alias meaning a Puerto Rican insect similar to a fire ant) in 2002, Tego returns with El Abayarde Contra-Ataca (El Abayarde Counter Attacks). While his music covers the struggles of poverty and racism coupled by strong political beliefs, his life is dedicated to keepin’ it 100% real. Currently being backed by Warner Music Latina, Tego explains why he has turned down some very tempting business ventures and opportunities. Completely open and honest, Tego keeps one thing a mystery – how he keeps his afro lookin’ so fresh! Maybe we’ll have better luck next time, but for now we’ll take what we can get!  AllHipHop.com Alternatives: How do you keep your afro lookin’ so nice?Tego Calderón: [laughs] I got my tricks. It’s all my life doing it, so I got a lot of tips.AHHA: Many label you as a street artist. Why do you feel you appeal to the mainstream audience?Tego: The mainstream always relies on the streets to see what’s hot. I always keep it simple. I started doing Hip-Hop in Spanish, I always kept it real. When I came out with my first video, everybody was renting cars and renting jewelry. I came out, my first video I was changing tires. Instead of having cars, I was on a bicycle, people were like, “Yo this n****’s crazy or something,” but it became a trend. Everybody was like, “This is kinda hot.” You don’t gotta be rich to be hot. I think that’s a big part of me being honest – being proud of who you are.AHHA: Do you feel that skin color plays a role with the mainstream success of Daddy Yankee and Sean Paul as opposed to other artists?Tego: [laughs] Putting it like that, I think yes, definitely. You take Elvis, for instance – all Elvis’ music was stolen from Black artists back then; it’s history. People rather see a white dude doin’ it than a Black dude ‘cause when they see a Black dude doin’ somethin’ funky, it’s normal. But when it’s somebody who is white – like when Eminem came out, it was different. Eminem sold a lot of records, and it’s definitely ‘cause the white audience appeals to him because of his skin color. I don’t think it takes nothing from them, I think they talented. But it does help them out. AHHA: How did you feel when you were headlining a sold out show at Madison Square Garden in New York?Tego: To me it doesn’t matter. it’s not a highlight in my career at all. I don’t even like going to [MSG]; I don’t like big shows like that. I like to do simple stuff – small audiences; that’s what I enjoy the most. AHHA: Why do you feel the non-Spanish speaking fans are drawn to your music?Tego: People tell me it’s because of the flow. The voice it sounds different. I don’t know about the crossover thing. It was something that was put into my head at some point. I didn’t want that, and I realized that right away. It was like for a minute I was drifting on it, but all of a sudden I was like, “That’s not me. F**k that.” I don’t want all these Americans on my albums, for what? The people who got me here were Latino and this is me. Even though I did this mixtape with Whoo Kid, all of a sudden the Game jumped on one of the songs singin’ in Spanish. I felt like, “Oh s**t, that’s Game rappin’ in Spanish to my song.” I felt like we need to be who we are. Even though other artists wanna do that crossover, it ain’t gonna happen. We gotta be proud of who we are and that’s it. I think people are gettin’ it these days. People who are tying to do that are failing. AHHA: How did the “Lean Back” remix with Fat Joe come about? Were you feeling the song and wanted to get on it?Tego: No, not at all; it’s crazy. At some point he got mad at me, ‘cause he wanted me on that Terror Squad. I said no. He wanted me to make it official. 50 wanted me on G-Unit too and all that. But Fat Joe, I said no to do the song with him ‘cause I was doing my album and stuff. Then, all of a sudden I go to the studio with Tony Touch and he’s like this song is hot. The song was already out, I said, “Let me do something.” So I did it like in an hour and it became a hit. And he said, “Oh s**t.” The same thing happened with “P.I.M.P.” I did some lyrics and all of a sudden 50 was lovin’ it. He invited me to the show in Puerto Rico with him. Everything that I’ve done has been off the street, it blows up like that. AHHA: Rumor has it that you have turned down roles in the movies El Cantante and Feel the Noise. Tego: Oh yeah, the roles I didn’t like ‘em. When John Singleton called me [and said], “I have this role ready for you,” and I read the script – [John’s] a gangster but good-hearted – I liked it. I know I could do well with that one. Plus I’m a big fan of John, what he represents for the African American community. He’s an independent guy. He’s my friend, I just follow my heart. AHHA: As leading star Choco in Singleton’s film Illegal Tender did you feelany strong similarities between yourself and your character?Tego: Yeah, a lot. I been on the street when I was younger and I was like Choco, man. Like that guy – even though I’m doing what I do I still got a good heart – I like justice, I like to be fair. That’s how it was when I was on the street. The character was like that…very cool guy. AHHA: Do you have any interest in playing any other roles?Tego: Yeah, yeah. John told me that he’s thinkin’ about doing this movie, it’s gonna be like The Bad News Bears but Latino, in which I’m a third base coach for a little league World Series. Luis Guzman will be in this movie. He came up with this idea, because I don’t wanna portray gangsters always. I don’t wanna fall into that even though people love those characters. Everybody do that so I wanna do different things. I rather do comedy and s**t. AHHA: Before you were doing your music, did you want to become an actor or it came afterwards?Tego: Yeah, when I started watchin’ movies with Hip-Hop artists, the first one was Boyz ‘n the Hood ‘cause I’m a big fan of Cube, NWA I’m a big fan. I became interested and started watchin’ all those movies and I was like, “Yo, I would like to do this.” The funny thing is that whenever I wanna do something, it happens to me. I met Premier the other day – you know people who I respect a lot they come my way. Cats who I grew up listening to with friends, a lot of things happen to me like that.AHHA: That’s dope. You have covered real life struggles in you music such as poverty and racism. Have you felt its effects within the Latin community? Tego: Of course, you can see it. Now that I’m Tego it’s different. I live in Puerto Rico, but sometimes I get people who don’t know me and they act funny. In reality, the people who feel miserable gotta step on somebody to feel better. Puerto Ricans do it to Dominicans in P.R.; Dominicans do it to Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The human being is like that. Men try to step on the woman, it’s like that. You know you never see handicapped people on T.V. It’s not only about race, it’s about people who different, who don’t fit that certain image. AHHA: A few years back you turned down offers to be in various ads for Sean John clothing and a Times Square billboard ad. Is that because you don’t want to be connected with the current pop culture?Tego: There’s people who I admire, and there’s people who I don’t. Sometimes I like people, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t like you, I don’t like you and that’s it. It don’t have nothing to do with the culture. I don’t want to appear to have pop quality either. When [Diddy] approached me I didn’t like the offer business-wise,because I didn’t feel that I fit that image of Puffy. We not in the same state of mind, I didn’t wanna do it.AHHA: Who is one person that you respect and admire?Tego: I respect my father a lot; [I also] respect Bob Marley a lot. I love him, I think he’s a prophet. There’s not many people that I respect like that. The others I can’t say or I might get in trouble.AHHA: What incident in your life had the greatest effect on you?Tego: I think jail; the jail thing for me was great. That’s a great experience. It was supposed to be a punishment, but it wasn’t. It was a wake up call and it was fun for me.AHHA: I’ve never heard anyone say jail was fun.Tego: It was for me. I felt right at home. I was like, “Yo, this is a piece of cake.”AHHA: How was life for you growing up?Tego: I was the one to always look to poverty, to be a part of it. I was impressed with how these people survived. When I wanted to be a part of it, that’s when I got in trouble. I think there’s a lot of people like that, you see these kids tryin’ to be Black or tryin’ to be ghetto and they’re not. They fascinated by it ‘cause they can’t survive even a day under those conditions. So that’s what it is. It happened to me too.AHHA: What’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up?Tego: I always love to see my kids. I always think about my kids. I got a daughter that doesn’t live with me. [I think about] how she’s doing ‘cause it’s two of ’em that live with me. The ones that live with me I want them to be cool, but I always got on my mind how’s Ebony doing, how’s she feeling, how’s her day going. It always f***s me up a  little bit not having her with me.AHHA: Anything you would change about yourself?Tego: Nothing, ‘cause the way I feel, everything happens for a purpose. A mistake is a mistake when you do it twice. That’s how I see things, and wherever I was, whatever I did I feel proud everything has been a part of who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t a heavy metal drummer, if I wasn’t in jail at some point. I love heavy metal. I like it, I enjoy it. It’s aggressive and I like that.AHHA: You still listen to heavy metal?Tego: Yeah, not as much as before. I don’t listen to much music these days. I listen to things that people don’t expect me to listen to. But I like [heavy metal]. I listen to a lot of Cuban music. I love percussion. I love the sound of Rumba, I listen to a lot of Salsa, Amy Winehouse. I love all that stuff, but I don’t listen to Hip-Hop that much no more. It really don’t appeal to me no more, about bling, about clubbing, maybe I’m getting old. I came from that ’88 era. Now, when I listen to these kids I’m like, “Yo, this s**t is wack!”