His success is a long way from his youth selling sodas for pennies at Panama City concerts. "Girls would faint on top of me", he remembers,"and I would dream that one day they would faint for me." Today they do, from Latin America, Europe and the U.S. to Japan and even Beijing, China. El General-who's won the Best Latin Rap Artist Award from Billboard magazine four times and whose smash hit Muevelo earned MTV International's Video of the Year Award -proves to us with every album that his music breaches barriers of culture, language and radio format. Living in New York City since he was a teenager helped educated him to the universal nature of music."Life and music are mixtures of different flavors. I love everybody's music. I go to clubs that are Greek, Brazilian, African, everything. I'll drop my song and if the don't move to it, I don't release it."
Edgardo Franco was born to Catherine (of Jamaican and Trinidian Descent) and Victor (shown in the photo with Edgardo of Panamanian and Colombian parents) in the tiny-poverty stricken town of Rio Abajo where Jamaicans who helped build the Panama Canal settled. Money was scarce for the family of nine children so when Edgardo was six years old his mother left him behind and went to New York in pursuit of a better life. By age 10, he was selling sodas, washing cars and shining shoes. "I thought my life would be a struggle and always shining shoes, " says El General.
At 12, he started to write and sing songs about what was happening in Panama City. The media often ignored tragedies in his ghetto neighborhood. Edgardo, however, would deejay the reggae songs and record them on cassettes. He'd then distribute them to bus drivers who would play them on their daily routes, spreading the songs throughout the community. "When someone was shot or the police didn't do the right thing, we put it into a song and made people aware. We were like a newspaper." A politician running for mayor asked El General (the deejay name given to him because of his leadership) to create a campaign song. To express his gratitude after winning the election, the new mayor gave him a scholarship to study in the U.S. Edgardo was reunited with his mother in New York, where he attended Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, graduating in 1987. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from the borough's Medgar Evers College.
In 1990, childhood deejaying partners encouraged him to write again. When a Jamaican producer offered to record his song, El General took a chance: The single, Tu Pum Pum, was a hit in the underground reggae market and, though in Spanish played on Anglo radio months before it was picked up by Latin stations. When he performed at a festival in Miami, "I could not believe they came to see me. It was amazing." Te Ves Buena, from his debut album of the same name, was the first non-English record to chart in the reggae Top 5 in Jamaica and at the New York Reggae Music Awards he was named Best International Artist. " Reggae is slow," he explains "but I saw rappers like Run-D.M.C. and sped up the tempo so my lyrics would flow." He also used Latin instrumentation, congas and timbales instead of drums. What he had done was unique and others tried to catch his style but the original moved on. "What others do is just American rap in Spanish.I look for something new."
Signing with BMG in 1991, Muevelo Con El General (Move it With The General) proved to be his global breakthrough, reaching platinum status in several countries. He then performed at the Viña Del Mar Festival in Chile, one of Latin's music's most celebrated, and was hailed as a hero in Panama when he returned for the first time since emigrating. There has also been controversy. Some in the Latin community felt his lyrics were too strong. Says El General, "I say what they want to say but are too scared. I write about everyday life. Yes, I talk about women because they are the most beautiful creatures God put on earth. That doesn't mean I'm a womanizer. I never do anything to degrade women." Even his name and recognizable uniform (he has 100 of different colors and styles) has instigated problems in some countries. One dictator banned both, saying, "There's only one general and that's me."
The 1993 release of El Poder De El General (El General's Power), which included Caramelo, was followed the next year by Es Mundial (It's Worldwide). It featured Rica y Apretadita (Tight and Sweet), which spotlighted his discovery Anayka, and Latinos A Ganar (Latin Let's Win). The latter was adopted by Spanish-Speaking fans as their anthem for the World Cup Games and was heard throughout stadiums in the U.S.
After releasing the mentioned singles, the dance music market watched how one of the greatest hits of its history was borned, "Rob's Boricua Anthem" from C + C Music Factory. Without a doubt, most of its success was due to El General's participation who knew how to blend his style to the extraordinary percussion made by David Cole and Robert Civilles. This song open the doors to the American-market for Edgardo; to the point that Power 106FM from Los Angeles registered the record number of 10 times that the song was played daily for the above mentioned song, breaking the previous record set by none other than Michael Jackson with the song "Thriller" with 7 times a day that this song was aired daily. Due to this amazing success, BMG decides to postpone the release of the new album and they make a new version of "Es Mundial" including the house version of "Las Chicas" that was mixed by C + C Music Factory and becomes the most selling album by El General with BMG. The success also brought Edgardo Franco to be invited by Power 106 to headline their party at Disneyland being the only Latin artist since everyone else represented the American hip-hop.
In September 1995, El General released his fifth album with the name "Club 555", which means 'a career of five years, five albums, and a General of five stars'. Musically this album mixes a lot of different rhythms like: rockabilly, house, reggae, batucada, industrial rap, etc. with his own style. With this album the first single "Funkete", Edgardo Franco visits for the first time Europe and starts a tour of 70 dates across USA, Mexico, Colombia, Perú, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Aruba, Curazao, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Also, for first time, he performed in the Madison Square Garden together with Ruben Blades and in the Hollywood Bowl sharing the stage with Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
A year and a half later he puts out "Rapa Pan Pan". With the request from BMG to compose an album raw, going back to his roots, the sound that made him an original in rap music. Sadly after he informed the executives of the company that he wasn't going to renew his contract, the release of this album is limited to a few countries and the album wasn't promoted by the company for understandable reasons. Because of this problem that the songs "Rapa Pan Pan", "Samba Hey" and "La Medicina" do not become known to the public the way that they deserved to be.
Finally, at the end of February of 1998 comes the album that everyone was waiting for: El General in English with the title "Move It Up". The new single of this album is a very personal version of the '60s hit by Miryan Makeba, "Pata Pata".