Having stated a commitment to covering more latino rap artists several times on this website, I must confess that I haven't done a fantastic job of living up to that promise. I could offer a plethora of excuses for this situation including regional preferences (I'd have a much easier time finding albums in California or Texas) and record label servicing (we get a disproportionate amount of records from non-hispanic artists) but they'd be just that - excuses. I've been far too complacent, far too content to simply wait around for the next Baby Bash, Lil Rob or SPM CD. "The Definition of an Ese" will hopefully be a step in the right direction but I encourage readers of the website to write to email@example.com if the coverage starts slacking or you'd like to suggest albums from this subset of hip-hop music and culture. If it takes ordering a few things online that aren't available locally the expense is worth the satisfaction I'll get from broadening the scope of this site's reviews.
Moving on to the album at hand, I have to question why Juan Martinez couldn't make up his mind on whether his nom de plume was Down or Kilo. The last time I picked up a Shawn Carter album it didn't read Jay-Z a.k.a. Jay-Hova a.k.a. Jigga and so on. Perhaps the issue was explained on one of his earlier album's that I'm unable to find such as "California Cowboys." For simplicity's sake I'll refer to him as either Mr. Martinez or Kilo; in particular he latter can be justified by the fact that in the hand-drawn artwork on both the front and back of "The Definition of an Ese" he can be seen wearing a custom platinum chain with that name. Then again the promotional sticker on the shrinkwrap refers to him as Down and it's one of the longest stickers I've ever seen slapped on a CD. In fact it promises so many features and extras I'd be remiss not to quote the blurb in its entirety.
"Includes DVD with five exclusive Down videos and exclusive Down interviews by Khool Aid of Pocos Pero Locos! Guest appearances by Lupillo Rivera & Jenni Rivera. Features the street bangers: 'Lean Like a Cholo', 'Definition of an Ese', 'G's Need Love Too', "I'm Coming Home to You' featuring Nate Dogg & 'The G Way' featuring Snoop Dogg!!"
Holy shit that's a lot of features! I'm afraid I simply don't have time for the bonus DVD (another day another review) but clearly there's a lot going on in Kilo's attempt to define what an ese is. Before getting into the Fingazz produced title track I'd like to give my own definition of an ese which is admittedly from a gringo's perspective. Whether spoken by B-Real of Cypress Hill or the late great wrestler Eddie Guerrero, the usage of "ese" always implied "homie" or "friend" in context. Now UrbanDictionary.com takes a slightly different tack and implies that the definition of ese may be prevalent only among the gangs of Southern California, and that dissemination of the word to the mainstream is as offensive as yuppies calling each other "nigga." I think we'll let Kilo sort this one out though.
"The definition of an ese, straight up cholo
Mexican hood, ballin in a low-low
The definition of an ese, creased up khakis
Nike Cortez-es and white tees
An ese, tu sabes, a baldheaded loco
Hard as steel, blowin up in the barrio
He's a gangster, an Aztec warrior
Brown and proud, always hold it down for his culture"
There you have it - to Kilo an ese is everything from a fashionable pimp to a proud soldier in defense of his heritage. While the word can be used casually to address a fellow ese, it can also be used specifically to define someone AS an ese, a latino or latina defiantly proud of their roots that has not been co-opted with the subsequent loss of cultural values that often comes with assimilation. Kilo's brown pride shines throughout on "The Definition of an Ese" in his style, his accent, and his attitude and that strong identity offsets the large number of guest stars on this short 11 track album. While crooner Nate Dogg often makes or breaks tracks with his cameo vocals, Mr. Martinez refuses to be usurped on "I'm Coming Home to You" and tells a story that makes the song all his own:
"Yeah I know what it looks like
Comin home after midnight, smellin like
perfume; smellin like cigarettes
Smellin like chronic, and a little Bud Light
But that's the life that I live, girl
Feel the love that I give, girl
Understand, I am what I am
I do what I do to get the grands
Yeah, gotta get this cheese, so we can live
easy, believe me
These other chicas all around me
They don't mean nada, I'm tryin to dip you in Prada
But right now, I'm out on the block and it's hot
Tryin to dodge haters and the cops
I - won't stop, and I, can't stop
Comin' home to you when I'm through - so why you trippin!"
Fingazz is the featured producer on this track, as well as for all but one song on Kilo's CD. The understated electronic melody, whistling sounds and pulsing bass of "Be About It" scream to be cranked up and pumped out your trunk. It's not hard to see why "Lean Like a Cholo" got released as a single - it's the Southern California answer to tracks from Young Dro's "Shoulder Lean" to Fat Joe's "Lean Back" but coming from a completely different perspective. "G's Need Love Too" featuring Nikki Diaz is that kind of radio friendly hip-hop crossover track that's hard to hate, while "Got to Hustle" featuring Butch Cassidy balances it out by offering nothing but hard raps from a "brown king down to do anything." As for that one track not produced by Fingazz, the producer is also a guest rapper on the track "Just Like You" who you may well know by the trademark phrase "Who you tryin to get crazy with ese? Don't you know I'm LOCO?" That's right, Cypress Hill's own B-Real teams up with Kilo but once again Kilo manages to hold down his turf and not be outshined:
"'Fore the days of a young'n, learned to count my cash
Only then, nicks and dimes is what I kept in the stash
I get turned on the block, got my game from my elders
Working part time and such, with the neighborhood welders
But I knew back then I was a hustler for real
When I sold to a welder, his own piece of steel
I was twelve years old, I had to grind on my own
Chippin up cable boxes and them big block phones
I was raised on the block around rock cocaine
I understand figures early why you'se playing with trains"
It's appropriate that this song closes out the album, since Mr. Martinez has defined all the different aspects of being an ese, only to bring out the man who helped mainstream the word "ese" in the first place. Even though Down a.k.a. Kilo's definition may be very culturally specific, there is a broader vein which Martinez taps into as a hip-hop artist which makes both his music and message universally accessible. I'm not telling you to go to your local bodega and start calling everyone you see an ese because you bought and listened to this CD, but if you've got pride in yourself and your heritage then Kilo would say you've defined the "ese" in you too. I look forward to hearing more of Kilo's work.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: February 26, 2008