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Frankie Needles and the Urban Latino Movement
8/7/07 - news


Frankie Needles picture

Frankie Needles is taping three episodes of his music TV show One Nation under Hip Hop back to back at mun2 studios in Los Angeles, and he's a tad tired. He gives his trademarked signoff at the end of one show Latinos stand up! and tells the audience hell see them "Tomorrow." "No good, this is Friday's show and there's no show on Saturday. Lets do it again" the director says. "I'll bet money I didn't say that," Needles protests, but he gets back on the set and reshoots the ending. This time he falters in his lines. Third try, he gets it right.

Now he does a quick change from mauve sneakers and sunglasses into the black Daddy Yankee outfit for the next show. One of the top personalities at NBC Universals bilingual youth cable channel, Needles is working on becoming the urban Latin version of Russell Simmons, building an entertainment empire for the burgeoning population of bilingual, bicultural Hispanic youth.

"I see myself as a trendsetter. I want to brand myself," he says in his smooth baritone. "That's the level I want to take it to." Needles, who bears a disarming smile and an easy manner, is well on his way. He has the TV show, a syndicated radio show, Top 20 Urban Latin Countdown, a merchandise line and an upcoming album with Pitbull. He's also launching himself in movies with a recent stint on the soundtrack of Illegal Tender, an action drama to be released in August.

"Frankie is really plugged into the pulse of young Latino Americans," wrote Illegal Tender producer John Singleton, in an email to The Miami Herald. "This generation of Latinos is united by their interest in music and fashion and the urban lifestyle. Frankie is the voice of this generation." Needles, who grew up in New York and Miami, was an early proponent of urban Latin culture, which encompasses music genres such as reggaeton, Spanish rap and hip hop and styles such as souped up sedans and backward baseball caps.

It's a market that is increasingly luring the attention of media companies. MTV recently launched MTVTr3s, and a Los Angeles independent station, Hispanic youth music channel LATV, announced national distribution on digital frequencies. SiTV and mun2 are earlier entrants. "The fact that you have four channels targeting young bicultural opportunities says a lot about the richness of the opportunity," says Manny Gonzalez, vice president/managing director of Abece in Miami Beach, the Hispanic marketing division of Hill Holiday.

Big marketers are also showing interest. Corona, Pepsi, Chevrolet, McDonalds and Burger King have all sponsored Needles shows and tours and Starbucks recently sponsored a California reggaeton festival. That puts a veejay like Needles in the catbird seat. His competitive edge is that hes truly urban Latino. That gives him instant license in this segment, Gonzalez says. "I think he has a strong future."

The 30-year-old Needles, whose parents are Cuban with a dash of Jamaican, started his DJ career as a teenager spinning tunes at weddings, quinces and bar mitzvahs. "That's the grind you got to put in," he says. "I learned how to interact with the crowd."

Needles says being a role model for Hispanic youth is a key part of his motivation. As a teen in Kendall, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, doing petty crimes such as stealing car radios and shoplifting, until his parents packed him off to military school in Georgia. He was one of a handful of Hispanics and was the butt of many a racial slur. The experience taught him discipline, as well as gave him pride in his heritage and created in him the impetus to start a network of youth centers in urban areas. "Everyone was ashamed of being Latino," Needles says. "I say always be yourself and proud of what you are."

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