Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
Power Fuerza, Ghetto Brothers
Release Date: 1972
Good For: Summer barbecues, confident power walks through a bustling city, any moment when the sun is shining
Standout Tracks: “Got This Happy Feeling,” “Ghetto Brother Power,” “There Is Something In My Heart”
In 1971, when Benjy Melendez was 19, he did what no one else up to that point could do: unite the gangs scattered throughout the South Bronx. As leader of a gang that identified themselves as the Ghetto Brothers, he and the other gangs in the neighborhoods came together for a historic peace treaty that brought massive change to the area. Gargantuan street block parties became commonplace, and eventually led to the rise of DJs and MCs taking part in the parties.
The Ghetto Brothers — and their monumental peace treaty — paved the way for the rise of hip-hop music. While the treaty itself was fairly short-lived, it made an impression on youths who would go on to nurture hip-hop culture. The Ghetto Brothers’ 1972 album Power Fuerza was a capsule of newfound positivity in the area; it was a response to the decades of violence, oppression and abuse that plagued the South Bronx.
Drawing from their Puerto Rican roots, the Ghetto Brothers mixed Latin sounds with a boy band romanticism akin to that of The Beatles. Despite their surroundings, the Ghetto Brothers almost entirely avoided topics linked with gang life. Instead, their songs spread messages of love, heartbreak and passion to whoever would listen. Power Fuerza comes from a time and place with a lot of upheaval and disruption, yet the Ghetto Brothers focused on positivity.
Consisting almost entirely of cowbells, guitar, bongos and maracas layered beneath boy-like vocals, Power Fuerza thrives on its simplicity and honesty. The Latin undertones on the poppier songs like “There Is Something in My Heart” give the album a sense of distinction from other Beatles-influenced sounds from the era. Additionally, songs like “Viva Puerto Rico Libre” — which is sung entirely in Spanish — show the Ghetto Brothers’ authenticity, never claiming to be something they’re not.
Recorded in a single day, Power Fuerza is rough, unpolished and perfectly amateurish. Upon its release, the record was lightly circulated in the South Bronx, then practically vanished. Up until the 2012 reissue of the album via Brooklyn label Truth & Soul, it practically didn’t exist. Now, it’s on streaming services and Amazon.
Power Fuerza is the only record the Ghetto Brothers ever released. For the next 40 years, they went on performing across the country, spreading their messages and uniting the people they met along the way.
With the release of Power Fuerza, the Ghetto Brothers cemented themselves in the archives of music history, opening the floodgates for decades’ worth of creative expression and innovation in what is now the most popular genre in the world. The Ghetto Brothers paved the way for the beginning of hip-hop culture, and the world is a better place for it.