You could say Cardi B’s “I Like It” is the ultimate Latin crossover track: an English-language song performed by a Dominican-American rapper that samples a track by a Bronx-born Nuyorican and features a Puerto Rican and a Colombian rapping in Spanish and English.
In fact, the new “I Like It” pays beautiful homage to the original “I Like It Like That” (which one journalist called “the soundtrack of Nuyorican culture”) and its two prior incarnations, staying close to its Bronx roots and underscoring just how much Latin music is part of the story of popular music in this country.
Here is a brief look at the who’s who and what’s what in the history of “I Like It.”
“I Like It Like That,” Pete Rodriguez, 1967: The original Pete Rodriguez hit (written by Tony Pabon and Manny Rodriguez) was released in 1967 on Alegre Records, a Bronx-based label that was also home to the likes of Tito Puente and Johnnie Pacheco (and was eventually purchased by Fania in 1975). Alegre was home too to Pete Rodriguez, the Bronx-born musician who served in the Marine Corps and rose to fame as the leader of Pete Rodriguez y Su Conjunto. He earned the nickname “The King of Boogaloo” from the title of his second album. His most enduring track, though, may be his 1967 hit “I Like It Like That,” an irresistible boogaloo with vamping piano and pulsating horns and English lyrics. Side note: A later Pete Rodriguez album, De Panamá a Nueva York, featured a young Ruben Blades’ debut as a vocalist and composer.
“I Like It,” The Blackout All Stars, 1994: A new generation discovered Rodriguez’s boogaloo when the drama/comedy film I Like It Like That featured a cover of the song, titled “I Like It,” performed by The Blackout All-Stars. It was the only track recorded by the supergroup, made up of legends Ray Barretto, Sheila E., Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Valentin and Grover Washington Jr., with a young Tito Nieves on vocals, adding a splash of Spanish to the English lyrics. Their remake reached No. 19 on the Dance Club Songs chart after the movie’s release. But the real beauty of this remake was the film itself: the story of a struggling Nuyorican couple in the Bronx that deals with female empowerment, sexual abuse and transgender issues from a uniquely Latin perspective. Starring Lauren Velez and Jon Seda, it was written and directed by Darnell Martin, who became the first African-American female to helm a major studio film. And ironically, such topics, with a Latin cast, have yet to be replicated on the big screen — even today, with all the talk about Latins in media.
In 1996, the group’s cover was revived in a Burger King commercial and it rose to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 26 on Radio Songs and No. 15 on the Rhythmic Songs airplay chart in 1997.
“I Like It Like That,” Tito Nieves, 1997: Tito Nieves reprised the song as a solo act, in a version that benefited from multiple remixes. Signaling the song’s enduring appeal, it debuted at No. 25 on the Latin Digital Song Sales almost 15 years later, in January 2011.
I Like It Like That, The Musical, 2016: An off-Broadway musical titled I Like It Like That had a run in 2016, featuring music by the likes of Eddie Palmieri, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and, of course, the title track, performed live by Nieves, who had a lead role. Featuring a seven-piece band, the musical was described by producer David Maldonado as a “historical musical journey” and a social chronicle of New York in the ’70s.
“I Like It,” Cardi B. feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin: The Cardi B version samples Tito Nieves’ trademark “Yeah, I Like It!,” and the original “I Like It Like That” chorus, but Cardi B’s rap is another thing entirely, focusing on her very broad range of likes, and on newfound Latin swagger.