On a cold March Sunday evening, Mario Collazo and Marcus Albaladejo were in Scott (link is external)Stallone(link is external)’s studio in South Philadelphia recording their latest work, the long anticipated Lost in Space album. More than a few trials and tribulations have kept this album at bay, including Albaladejo’s stage 3 cancer diagnosis in 2013. He has triumphed over the disease for now and is healthy. When he spoke about it, Albaladejo brushed it off, as nearly inconsequential. A bump in the road among many they have overcome. An attitude of perseverance both he and Collazo believe comes from their shared culture.
“Being Puerto Rican,” Albaladejo said, “even, the household you’re brought up in, there’s always something to remind you of where you’re family’s from. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, but my family wasn’t. My father is from the island; my mother is from the island and they would always remind us: Look these are your roots, always be proud of who you are and where you come from.”
For Collazo, being Latino rappers “Makes us go harder. There aren’t many of us, you always feel like the underdog, it makes you try different stuff, or go harder, or be a little bit more arrogant. We have the same thing. It’s a cultural thing and it’s an American Philly thing.”
That night, in the studio, they were in a competitive mood. Around 8pm, I walked into Stallone’s studio, a place Philadelphia rappers like Beanie Segal have walked into, and saw Albaladejo and Collazo sitting next to each other listening to the music on a new track, both of them writing. They hardly looked up from their pages. We pushed the interview back a few hours, so that they could get right to laying down the words they furiously wrote with such inspiration.
Albaladejo and Collazo met years ago, when they were young teenagers in Philadelphia. They formed OuterSpace(link is external) in the early 1990s as a trio, with their mutual friend Richard Cruz, but it was the duo that would remain. Later that decade, they were recording with DJ Jazzy Jeff’s production company and they met up with the group Jedi Mind Tricks, lending their vocals to many tracks on the Illegaliens EP in 1999. The Jedi Mind Tricks collaborations eventually morphed into the Army of The Pharaohs, a hip hop super group developed by Jedi Mind Tricks MC Vinnie Paz. The group has seen a rotation of artists, some that were briefly members like one of Philadelphia’s favorite female MCs, Bahamadia, and long lasting members, like OuterSpace, Reef the Lost Cauze and David Albaladejo, also known as King Syze, Marcus’ younger brother.
OuterSpace are more than brothers in music, they are brothers in law. Collazo is married to his high school sweetheart, Melissa Albaladejo, Marcus’ sister. The Collazos now have four children. Both members of OuterSpace love their music, but their first love, and their first priority, are always family. As Collazo explained it, their inspiration and motivation come from family.
“That whole concept helps us make music.” Collazo said. “When your life isn’t organized, your regular life isn’t organized, it kind of makes the motivation die down. We both accepted in our lives that we really don’t care to be famous. When we were first touring and we first started seeing all that (fame could offer), we thought ‘Oh, this could actually go here, if we really really want it.’ But we started having kids and thought, we didn’t want it. And I think it made us go back to, like he (Marcus) said, to doing it for the love of the music, and we kind of always compete, in a friendly competition. The real life shit converts to the music, I think it makes it better for us now, because we’re more comfortable, we work, we have good jobs, we can afford to do this. We just put our lives first.”
The group is never ashamed of putting their real lives out there. Whether it is the pride they have in their families, their work outside of hip hop, or their personal struggles, it is all out there. For Albaladejo, it is important to his self expression to be true to himself, but he is also thinking of the listener. “Somewhere down the line, there is a fan going through the same thing.” Even if some of the fans question Albaladejo and Collazo’s choices. One such fan once asked Collazo why he even had a job outside of hip hop. “I shouldn’t work?” was his response. “I got four kids at home, what you mean I can’t work. Working a full time job and wanting to do this is wanting to do this. We do it because it’s in us.”
“We have careers to support our family and to be here.” Albaladejo added. “No matter what, you can’t live off music, you’ve got to have a backup plan.”
Sometimes, there are situations, where the music can help, and OuterSpace has seen this in the past few years. They may have performed for thousands of people on European Tours with Jedi Mind Tricks and Army of The Pharaohs in 2011 and 2012, but for them, there is nothing like coming home and doing a benefit show for something important to their family. The benefit show they are getting ready for this year is an Autism Awareness Benefit(link is external) for the Variety Club April 25. Albaladejo’s oldest child, his son Nicko, was diagnosed with Autism at an early age.
He and his son’s mother have been actively involved in every aspect of their son’s life and education, experiencing firsthand the support needed to help children on the Autism spectrum grow and thrive. Somehow, like the nearly nonchalant attitude about fighting stage three cancer, Albaladejo brings that same attitude to his son’s Autism diagnosis, he recognizes it is a struggle, one that he faces head on with no illusions while also turning it into a triumph, instead of letting it be a tragedy. For Collazo, their real lives have them “making better music, for the fun of it. Now we just do it to do it. We made a mark, that’s all that matters.”