Born in the Bronx, New York, to Puerto Rican parents, José "Papo" Rodríguez spent most of his childhood in the city of Philadelphia, after his parents moved there from New York City. Papo's father, Cruz Rodríguez, was a local conguero in Philadelphia and as a child Papo remembers listening to recordings by Tito Rodríguez, Tito Puente, El Gran Combo, Machito, Joe Cuba, and Joe Valle.
By the age of six, the precocious Papo had embarked upon his career as a Latin percussionist. He entered a talent show at the Puerto Rican Theater in Philadelphia and was awarded First Place. The winning prize was a trip to Puerto Rico or its cash value and he opted to take the cash, using it to acquire musical instruments and to help his parents with household expenses. By the age of 14, he was working professionally with his father. Papo Rodríguez considers himself a self-taught musician who developed his skills and style by listening to master bongoseros José Mangual, Sr., Armando Peraza, Johnny "Dandy" Rodriguez, and Jack Costanzo, whose LP Conga Fever he used for practice every day for hours.
At age 16, Papo ventured out on his own, playing with several local salsa bands, including José Barretto and Rafi Hernández y Los Galanes.
By 1976 he began working with Orquesta La Paz in Philadelphia, recording for the first time with this group. His efforts led to work with the Larry Harlow Orchestra. He worked with Harlow for several weeks, then decided to change of direction. In 1978, he relocated to Los Angeles, California, with his wife and two young sons. Immediately he began to work with Orquesta Mazacote, recording five albums with that group. He also worked with the Johnny Nelson Orchestra and Orquesta Versalles.
By the mid-eighties, Papo decided to form his own group, calling it Orquesta Taino, with Johnny Nelson as the lead vocalist. The band became one of Southern California's top salsa bands, until Papo became the co-director of a new group featuring the Panamanian singer Azuquita. After Azuquita left Los Angeles, Papo formed his second salsa band, La Sorpresa.
By the early 1990s, Papo began freelancing with various well-known salsa acts, including Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez and La Sonora Ponceña. He traveled the globe with the renowned Latin rock group El Chicano. Soon thereafter, he was called to substitute for Johnny Rodríguez, the world-class bongosero with Tito Puente, at Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach, California. This was a turning point in the career of Papo Rodriguez. After that memorable evening with Tito Puente, Papo was asked to become a member of the Poncho Sánchez Latin Jazz Band.
He continues working with Poncho Sánchez to this day, traveling extensively around the world. He has thus far recorded nine CDs with the band. Papo has also recorded four CDs with Tito Puente for Concord Records. Other recording credits and accomplishments include The Simpsons television show soundtrack for an appearance by the Tito Puente Orchestra; The Mambo Kings movie soundtrack; a pilot for 77 Sunset Strip; the soundtrack for the Vanessa Williams movie Dance with Me; recording with the group War on an album that featured José Feliciano; filming of videos for B.E.T. network with the Poncho Sánchez Band; recording with the legendary bassist Al McKibbon, and recording with jazz trumpeter Bobby Shew, among several others. Papo Rodríguez continues to prove he is one of the world's most diverse and enduring percussionists in the world of Latin jazz.