Those who have survived the night’s unforgiving darkness cherish basking in the light of dawn, in the warm promise of a new day. Every so often, in the world of music, an act emerges like a beacon of light, proudly proclaiming its uniqueness, its disinterest in the norm, and its potential for sparking a sonic revolution. In 2007, just like with The Fugees and the Black Eyed Peas, a new era in urban music will be ushered in thanks to a group fittingly known as The DEY. Composed of Divine, Élan, and Yeyo (DEY), the bilingual Latino trio fuses hip-hop, R&B, pop, and Afro-Latino influences for a unique, singing/rapping fusion-heavy sound that celebrates Latinos’ rich cultural heritage while also inviting non-Latinos to share in the festivities. Their innovative Epic Records debut promises to unify English-only, Spanish-only, and bilingual Latinos, and to address the interests and concerns of today’s generations of multicultural urbanites.
Each of the group’s members boasts an extensive artistic resume. Puerto Rican MC Divine started rhyming as a young kid living in the South Bronx. He had a strong influence in the underground world of hip hop, earning the public's respect for his hard-edged rhymes, particularly for the single "Babyface," which was released in a mixtape. Aside from his growing reputation as a clever lyricist, Divine received accolades within the Latin market due to his work with the Afro-Cuban hip-hop band Yerbabuena, for which he co-wrote the Grammy-nominated “Guajira (I Love You Too Much),” which has been featured in films like Honey, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and HBO’s hit series Entourage. But the key to Divine’s creative destiny lay in Puerto Rico. When a family crisis arose and he moved to the island in 1998, Divine met a like-minded MC, Yeyo, with whom he would form a creative partnership and establish the foundation for a boundary defying movement.
Born in Cupey, Puerto Rico, to a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, Yeyo was raised in a musical family: his father played drums, guitar, and piano, while his mother sang in the choir. At 9 years old he began writing poetry - which, in Yeyo’s mind, “later lent itself to being translated into hip-hop.” Inspired by Kool G Rap and NWA, Yeyo immersed himself in the local hip-hop scene at age 13, when he bought his first turntable and proclaimed himself a DJ. By 1992, he was rapping at impromptu neighborhood parties and recording homemade mixtape cassettes. But Yeyo truly found his artistic niche in 1999 when, alongside his collective, the Shanghai Assasinz, he independently released the Spanish-language rap single “Viequez.” The song addressed the Puerto Rican community’s hostility toward the US Navy for occupying Vieques and transforming the land into an epicenter for military activities. In April 1999 David Sanes, a US Navy employee and Vieques native, was killed during a routine bombing practice, leading to mass protests and calls for the US Navy to leave the area.
“I wanted to honestly address the realities of what was happening in Vieques,” Yeyo says. “My father is a product of the Cuban Revolution and he was always making me aware of the fact that there are circumstances beyond your control, such as politics, that can have dire consequences, such as you having to leave your homeland. I think that’s why I harbor a sense of responsibility about the type of music I make and that’s why I’ve done songs like ‘Viequez.’”
Without the assistance of any major labels or marketing gurus, Yeyo arranged for a music video to be released and independently distributed an EP containing the single. Though the EP wasn’t a commercial success, the reaction to “Viequez” made Yeyo one of the most buzzed-about artists in the underground hip-hop realm.
It was Yeyo’s dedication to socially conscious music that drew Divine to his work. Though the two weren’t acquainted, Divine was already interested in Yeyo’s brand of work. Fate intervened one night in 1999 when Yeyo, who had started tinkering with production, received a call from a friend raving about a young MC from New York who was defeating every opponent to come his way during a freestyle bout at a local nightclub. Curious to meet this phantom lyricist, Yeyo asked his friend to arrange a meeting later that night. Right away, they knew they were kindred spirits.
“I was really inspired by Yeyo,” Divine says. “He wasn’t some super conscious revolutionary - he was just a regular guy that didn’t like the things taking place around him. I think that’s where everybody needs to start. Instead of trying to read up on history and become this revolutionary, can you start by identifying the conditions that are destroying you now?”