Al “Papa Rap” Lopez is a man who marches to the beat of his own drum, yet he has no musical training.
But for 25 years, his songs have galvanized those young and old in our area, all with one simple phrase, Seamos Amigos! Let’s be friends! Lopez says, “Music for me is a very important element, because it’s non-threatening.”
The music for Lopez, was always inside of him. Born in New York City, Lopez was raised in Puerto Rico, surrounded by the flair and pageantry of Caribbean rhythms. But his love for music almost ended, just as it was beginning. “My first song that I wrote, I was 12 years old. And I went to my dad. And I remember the song. And he said, ‘Absolutely not!’ I remember. And he just (makes ripping sound) and I really didn’t think nothing of it.” says Lopez.
It was a huge blow, as Lopez put music on the back burner. It took almost 20 years to recapture that melody. And it all happened while visiting a friend and his band, during a practice session. Lopez says, “And it was like in the living room, with an eight piece salsa band. And I sat there and my mind, I felt like went, ‘Bam!” And that night, I went and wrote about five songs.”
And many more would soon follow. But it was one song that gave him his moniker of “Papa Rap”. It was a tune, dedicated to his 16 year old daughter, who at the time, felt they were growing apart. “It was just about a dad, trying to reach out. To understand their children. And I showed her and she hated it, but her friends loved it.” says Lopez.
Lopez moved to Northwest Arkansas in the mid 90’s, landing a job at a Northwest Arkansas school district as an interpreter. That’s when he saw first-hand, the division within the high school. He says, “Kids were not getting along. Kids were just hating on each other…they were like, ‘Where are you from and why are you here?'”
So just as he did for his own family, ‘Papa Rap’ once again turned to music, writing his first bilingual song. “I said that I was going to write a song about, ‘What’s up Que Pasa? What’s your name? Where are you from? Lets be friends!”
The anthem, was a huge success — bridging different cultures. More importantly, it re-established a bond with his father. “I was looking for so much acceptance always from him with my music. And that’s when my dad and me bonded. And he told me, ‘I’m so sorry son.’ Because what I discovered that my dad, the reason he tore that song when I was 12, was because he had been a musician. And my mom had brought out songs that he had written. And I also found out that his father was a composer. I was one of those things that he knew that it was a hard life.” says Lopez.
Life for “Papa Rap” has been a far cry from his time in Puerto Rico. But after a quarter-century in Northwest Arkansas, his music, now has a different harmony. Lopez says, “This is my home.. tell the Arkansas story. How it wasn’t easy in the beginning, but people reached out and we got to know each other.”