He’s an international icon in Latin hip hop, a record label owner and a Latin Grammy award winner.
But Tego Calderón – who burst on the music scene in 2002 with hit albums like "El Enemy De Los Guasíbiri" and subsequently in movies like "Illegal Tender" – had a bumpy and "frustrating" path to success.
“It was one of the hardest phases of my life,” Calderón said.
“El Abayarde,” as he calls himself, is about drop a new album called "El que sabe sabe" and is on board to for the 2012 film about Roberto "Manos de Piedras" Durán, "Hands of Stone," starring Al Pacino and possibly Michelle Rodríguez.
The household name, however, was anything but in his senior year in Miami Beach Senior High School. Up to that point, when his father decided to move to Florida, he had been enrolled in an art school in Puerto Rico.
“It was a huge culture shock,” said Calderón, minutes after a recent performance at “The Spot by Heineken.”
Dropped in a "different world," the dark-skinned Puerto Rican got a reality check on racism.
“When I arrived in Miami, I realized that there is a racist world out there. That was very rough and very cruel with me,” he said. “It was a very important time in my life in the negative sense, but it prepared me for who I am today.”
Far removed from those trying days in Miami – a place he now has much love for – Calderón travels throughout the world as an established artist. But he says no place has had as much of an impact in the way he looks at life as the mine fields of Sierra Leone.
He said he visited the West African country with Raquel Zepeda, a Dominican writer, and members of the Wu Tang Clan.
“We visited the mines and the rehabilitation centers, those hurt because of the war. It was a very frustrating situation which made me a lot more sensitive,” Calderón, who says he has refused to wear jewelry since the trip, said.
The journey also made the artist reconnect with his roots.
“My father raised me with a very Afro mentality,” said Calderón, who grew up in Río Grande and Carolina.
Calderón took that consciousness to the studio, too, with “El que sabe sabe.” His favorite song out of all the tracks is a single called “Por Burro,” which Calderón says is “the anthem of the album.
“In that song I explain the situation of ‘el barrio,’” he said. “Many of our teens living in communities where immigrants live in experience a double standard from the government as well as from the education system.
“Many times the education system wrongfully classifies them as less than others," he continued, "and pushes them to do negative things.”