(AllHipHop Features) Rapper and actor Armando Cadogan Jr. takes great pride in carrying the flag for his parent’s native country. The Brooklyn born performer embraces his heritage so much that he adopted the rap name Panama as the ultimate representation of the Central American nation. With the release of his latest mixtape ThePanama Canal, Cadogan wants to shine a light on his people and provide them with an authentic voice in Hip Hop culture.
Panama is now focusing on his rap career, but the University of Maryland Baltimore County graduate’s first major break in the entertainment business came as an actor on HBO’s classic crime drama The Wire. Panama’s turn as the tormentor of fan favorite Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins made his character one of the most hated in the run of the series. That hate is now transforming into love as the bilingual, dual threat builds an international fan base for his musical progression.
AllHipHop spoke with Panama Cadogan to ask the WOPA Family leader about what led him to Hip Hop, how he got hired for The Wire, and his personal definition of success in “5 & Done.”
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What lead you to first want to pursue a career in Hip Hop?
It was a combination of a few things. One of the main motivational tools that led me to pursue Hip Hop was the storyline of my country. Reggaeton originated in Panama. Puerto Ricans would come over to the country, linked up with Panamanian artists, take the sound back to Puerto Rico, and then have that market place from Puerto Rico to the United States. Them having a platform to come to America without a visa or passport and debut the sound to the masses and not really bring it back to the original source, that was the light to the fire. Because in my country it’s hard for us to get visas or passports to come to America to showcase the same talent, even on a more skillful level.
I’m an American born citizen but came up under a cultural household all Panamanian. Everything in my house is Spanish. Because I’m being showcased on MTV, the blogs, and social media I have a platform now to give my country a voice. Even though I don’t rap in Spanish, because I carry the name, pump the flag, put images out there, and I speak highly of my people, my country’s receptive and supportive of my music back home. That goes to show they’re looking for a voice in the urban market.
My best friend Shawn Smith is definitely one of the guys that introduced me to the mixtape game. His passion ran through me. He understood and respected where I come from, and wanted me to speak on that. He wanted me to hold that Spanish kid throne, that Panama throne. I have to reward the story of my country, my upbringing, and my best friend Shawn which steered me into getting into Hip Hop.
How did you land your role on The Wire?
It came from working hard and networking my a** off. Before The Wire, I did commercials, plays, and background work. Every time I did anything regarding acting, I made sure I connected with the right people.
Throughout my process I was hearing about a lady named Linda Townsend. I was hearing about Pat Moran. I was hearing about the certain companies that really controlled the DMV. I consider myself a special breed, a black man that you would never know I’m bilingual. That’s how I would pitch myself. That led me to my manager Linda Townsend. She literally controls the DMV. Pat Moran Casting casts all the big shows that come out of Baltimore/D.C. I’m now repped by the biggest agent Linda Towsend. The Wire came down at that same time. It was like perfect timing. I then auditioned for Pat Moran. She enjoyed my performance and told me to come back the following day. The next day I performed in front of Ed Burns and David Simon who are the producers and writers of the show. Two hours later they called my father and told me that they wanted me for season one.
Your character is one of the characters people really hated the most.
I love it though. I love when people meet me and they go, "he’s a cool guy." Then when I tell them I was on The Wire, and I was that character you see the change in their personality like “Oh my God. I hated you.” It’s love though. It’s like basically saying I loved your performance, but I hated you on that show. I can only respect that.
The track “Come As You Are” on your mixtape samples Nirvana. We all know what happened to Kurt Cobain as far as what the fame did to him. As your buzz continues to grow how do you manage to keep yourself grounded?
Honestly, at the end of the day I’m not a fame whore. I want people to respect me for my craft. If I become popular from it, I’m cool with that. But fame, like I can’t walk into the store because cameras are out crazy, I’m not looking for that type of attention. I do it for a different purpose. I carry a name that's bigger than me.
I’m doing it for close to 2 million people in my country who don’t even know I’m doing it for them right now. I’m not even performing the same language for them to even know I’m doing it for them. My job is stay loyal and humble, not only to them, but to myself. I’ve traveled so much around the world that my appreciation for life and people is at an all-time high. It’s probably going to be even higher once things continue to grow. I am who I am. We’re all equal.
That’s how I remain humble. I’m not in it for the fame. I’m here to progress on this personal journey and help others as I continue to move on my own merits. As long as I have that mentality that I want to help and unite through my story, I’m going to be fine.
How would you define success for yourself?
I’m already successful. The experiences I have encountered. The things that I’ve seen. The people that I’ve met. The conversations that I have had. I’m successful in my own right.
The mixtape The Panama Canal was an appetizer. The next project is very detailed. It has a little more thought, a little more detail. It’s more lyrical. There’s more storytelling. I get what the tastemakers and socializers want, but it has to come from a personal space. It has to come from the heart; what I think is right. It’s not me following no Waka Flocka lead or no T-Pain lead or no Kendrick Lamar. It’s just Panama. It’s just yes you like him or no you don’t. And it’s all love.
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Follow Panama on Twitter @itspanamababy
Stream Panama's The Panama Canal mixtape below.