Posted by Dub G
For the past 15 years, Chicano rap has been an underling in the music industry. No television appearances or radio promotion, not even a single magazine interview. All they had in making their music heard were the record stores, the swamp meets, the internet and their fans. Because of their limited involvement and distrust in the music industry, the chances of their music ever being sold in stores or getting reviewed were slim to none. Therefore, trust among fans was heavily required.
When I was a member of the Upstairs Records Forum, I composed a theory as to why Latin Hip Hop and Chicano Rap were forced into these extreme measures. Their topics of everyday life as depicted by the Hispanic rapper affected the public by the way of instant response. If the beat wasn’t hot enough, or if the lyrics weren’t up to par, the artist wouldn’t be worth their time. In the case of a Chicano rapper, if all they talk about is being gangster, there goes their chance of ever making it to Billboard.
I find it very peculiar that the other Latinos in the Hispanic race - Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and Columbians - are not affected by my proposal. Maybe it’s because their songs have a theme that is easy to understand, or their music style is definitive, top notch and hits a note straight to their heritage, or maybe, just maybe, they all have it better than the Mexicans. All Chicanos do is copy other people’s styles that have existed during the era of music, and apply whatever they have of their Mexican culture to their verses.
What I'm thinking is this: if you're a Mexican-American/Chicano and want to rap your way into the music industry, I say...
Prepare to give up that dream. You will never make it.
The people who work in the music industry get very anal when it comes to a Mexican-American rapper. They don't see no Lil' Demon or Mr. Criminal. They can't understand why Lil' Rob is a "Mexican Gangster", why Mr. Shadow's voice is the "Sound Of A Heata", or why Psycho Realm represents the "Psycho City Blocks". In fact, no one in the industry cares about Chicano Rap, unless you are prepared to talk about Kid Frost. The people knew what "La Raza" was about - a young Mexican-American, blood and spirit of an Aztec warrior, dwelling in the city suburbs of Los Angeles, fearing the other races for donning that skin color that is neither black nor white, and having the courage to stand up for their beliefs. Frost had a N.W.A. motif: rugged, raw and ruthless; he even had the privilege of working with a member of N.W.A. - DJ Yella on the vinyl release "Rough Cut". As N.W.A. became a household name due to their tales of corrupt police brutality in the gangster sense, the industry feared that a Latin gangster saying the same things as N.W.A. would be worse. How worse? Had Kid Frost succeeded, Chicano Rap would have been accepted alongside N.W.A.
Unfortunately, "La Raza" was the only hit single that gave Frost his recognition. What caused his demise? “Thin Line,” a slow jam homage to the 70's hit "Thin Line between Love and Hate" performed by The Persuaders. Combine that, with a disappointing follow-up to his debut platinum release that showcased an eager, strong-willing Mexican rapper, Kid Frost was dropped from Mercury Records.
So what's left for the Mexican-American rapper? One can try cleaning up their image by talking about what their lives are like when they are not clapping their .357's. The Mexicans know how to grill carne asadas; fill up the coolers with Tequila, Pisto and Patron; and dub their girls heinas in hopes of knocking the boots with one such mamacita at a motel. It's all about proving to the mainstream that Mexicans aren't really a bad influence. You have A Lighter Shade of Brown, a Riverside hip hop duo consisting of members ODM (One Dope Mexican) and DTTX (Don’t Try To Xerox). They came into the game as brown and proud "Homies" who followed up their first club hit “Latin Active” with the oldies-influenced “On A Sunday Afternoon,” a take on the 1967 rock hit “Groovin’” by The Young Rascals.
“On A Sunday Afternoon” is helmed as the Latino anthem to perfectly describe an image of la raza having a good time. In fact, the media took this single pretty seriously. There weren’t any hints of gunplay or futile racial disputes in their lyrics; it was just drinking, partying and conversation. ‘92 saw the addition of sex when the Bay Area’s N2Deep crept into the charts with their ode to knocking the boots “Back To The Hotel.” The words were written. Drinking, partying, conversations and sex became the musical stereotypes of a Mexican-American party dude, a Latin Lover. When you think Latin Lovers, you key in singers. The media would feel much safer if a Mexican-American sang his way to stardom instead of rapping, for one spoken verse from a Mexican was all it took to be labeled a gangster. R&B vocalist Frankie J., the man behind the chorus of Baby Bash's "Suga Suga," used to be a member of the famed Latin group Kumbia Kings, well known for their mix of cumbia with R&B and hip hop. Frankie’s ambition was to hit the MTV market as a solo R&B artist, but the Kumbia Kings didn’t like it one bit for it was deemed too risky. He left the group and sent his demos over to various record labels, gaining an incredible number of interest from the A&R’s, along with a slew of lawsuits filed from the Kumbia Kings management, just for wanting to branch out from the Latin market. Funny that it had no effect on Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin. He started out as one fifth of the Puerto Rican pop heartthrobs Menudo, then returned to the music scene some few years later as an adult, blazing the Billboard with his English-Latin crossover smash, "Livin' La Vida Loca." Sex and lust: two of the Latin Lover stereotypes which was noticeable in his debut single, but that didn't stop him. For Frankie J., he just had to deal with talking to highly dedicated Kumbia Kings fans about the departure.
This year, immigration played a nasty role in the music industry. Follow me to Houston, Texas, where Mexican American rapper Chingo Bling takes the cowboy gimmick to a new high. Stylized ostrich boots, baggy blue jeans kept in place with a belt buckle, NBA jersey fitted, teeth grilled – not to mention the broken Spanglish language. At a first glance, he’s your Mexican Weird “Al” Yankovic, but better. He takes the slickness of Slick Rick and transforms your favorite hip hop hits to Mexican-themed parodies. If 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" was sweet and delicious, wait until Chingo took you to his "Taco Shop," where gordita and horchata are more than mere fast food delights. Hurricane Chris screamed "Ay Bay Bay." Chingo responded, "Ay Huey Huey." Not only is he good at mocking the music, he plays pretty well in the marketing business. He sells bobbleheads to rappers, hot sauces and tamales for the food goers, and even coloring books to the children. He's got down with some of the finest rap musicians in the game - whether it's Texas (Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Trae), Florida (Pitbull, Smitty), or New York (Noreaga, T-Weaponz).
Then, there's his political view on immigration. If any of you can remember, on the day of August 14, 2007, you might have been to your favorite record store, where on the shelves stood his newest release, They Can't Deport Us All, a product of Big Chile Enterprises, distributed by Asylum and Warner Bros. The cover with Chingo breakdancing over the U.S. border as he was being changed by a Texas sheriff. This was the album that blazed a rousing discussion over Mexicans of all backgrounds, immigrants and citizens alike. In his album, the Mexicans are being treated as lethargic, lethal Latinos that plan to overrun the U.S. grounds with their gun-toting gangster motifs, while in reality, the average Mexican just wants to live a better life for their family, away from the guns, drugs and gangs. In accordance with conservative journalists and pro-immigration supporters, Chingo Bling is trespassing U.S. soil. Earth to Michelle Malkin: Chingo Bling has no means in promoting immigration, territorial gain or violence.
Speaking of "Taco Shop," let us look at the way how they choose their beats. Many Mexican-American rappers have tried many ways to enter the scene with originality. The question was how to do that. Chicanos couldn't copy what the blacks and whites have already done with their choice sampling or original melodies, so the producers felt necessary to sample the oldies. Not songs that were done in the 80's or 70's that today's famous producers lay out. For example, Kanye West and J Dilla take soul and old-fashioned R&B influences into their singles. Chicanos go further. Some 60's, maybe 50's. The time of the Rock N' Roll Era. You know? Ritchie Valens.
Here are some Oldies throwbacks:
- Mr. Capone-E. All the artists in Hi Power have used Motown music on their songs. "Angel Baby" and "Take A Chance On Me" from Mr. Capone-E are sure standouts.
- Lil' Rob. "If You Should Lose Me" featured a sample from Rancid's "Tropical London." "Pachuco's Night" had a snippet of "Dedicated To The One I Love" by The Shirelles. "Natural High" was based on Bloodstone's version of the same name.
- Knightowl - "Here Comes The Knightowl" took the stylings of Tony Allen and shaved him bald in the process.
- Spanish F.L.Y. - "Soy 18 With A Bullet" was inspired by Pete Wingfield's "Eighteen With A Bullet."
- Cypress Hill - The deep drops of "Duke" in "Duke Of Earl" were based on the ones made by Gene Chandler.
- Kid Frost - "Thin Line" took on "A Thin Line Between Love And Hate" by The Persuaders.
You can see that a lot of Chicano Rap is influenced by the oldies, or songs that are played on oldies radio stations. Mexicans grew up listening to Ritchie Valens, The Shirelles, Brenton Wood, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Chandler, The Supremes, and other long forgotten legends. It was the only genre that the Hispanics could relate to without being referred to as gangsta rap ripoffs, a criticism that occured when Chicano rap was getting exposure underground from the 90's and into the new millenium. The only people that ever listen to 50’s-60’s rock today are veterans of the Rock N Roll era, so if a Chicano song featured a sample from either War ("Lowrider") or Dion and the Bellmonts ("Teenager In Love"), listeners are going to wonder about the single's longevity. Will it be enough to spark interest, or is Chicano rap phased out like Rock N Roll? That's when they start taking the most drastic road ever taken.
Chicano rap is often looked in the music industry as chameleons. They copy other people's styles and songs that have hit the airwarves so that they can get into the mainstream. Some have even hopped on the band wagon for a rebelled style that is not Mexican called Reggaeton. It is ironic to even mention Reggaeton in this topic, for it was this very subgenre of Latin Hip Hop that gave one Chicano rapper the voice he needed to be heard. I'll explain who that artist is later. Allow me to illustrate two scenarios regarding copying and following:
1. If you copy somebody else's song, not only are you making a mockery of the original artist, you are shaming them, yourself and the fans. "Nothin' But A Southside Thang" by Capone-E and ODM was a disappointment. I say it now and loud. UTTER PIECE OF SHIT. They should have never jacked Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg's classic joint. It's very important to leave timeless tracks like this one alone because they can never be reborn. Kid Frost tried remaking "La Raza" for his East Side Story album, but that song came up empty handed. If they wanted to do a Southside Anthem, do so without copying. Be original. Learn your flows and techniques before taking this dangerous path. We all know how chameleons sound like when they try to blend within their surroundings.
2. If you jump into the band wagon for Reggaeton, chances are, you're going to make it. It did benefit Chingo Bling for his ability to stick to his heritage and mix his lyrical bringers. The one who needed that boost was San Diego rapper Roberto Flores, known to the bald-headed cholos as Lil’ Rob. In 2004, Julio Voltio, protégé of Puerto Rican rap star Tego Calderon, released an exclusive version of “El Bumper” to the syndicated Latin Hip Hop network Pocos Pero Locos. The buzz was phenomenal, for it finally gained the Mexican community the recognition it deserved, after 14 years of semi-successful Chicano rap releases. When summer approached, Lil’ Rob rounded up the calles of San Diego with the help of I.E.’s rising producer Fingazz, and gave us a glimpse into the world of “Summer Nights,” a Chicano version of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime,” Spanish slang, brown pride and all. This is the single you all know and love.
There was a catch. A lot of fans who looked up to him since '95 as a "Mexican Gangster" who lived the "Crazy Life" and celebrated "Pachuco's Night" were aghasted when they heard him on "El Bumper". It did not fit well within the Mexican community. Mexican R&B artists, they can accept. Frankie J. did a remix of "Obsession" with the music duo, Luny Tunes. In the case of Flores, he was put on the hot seat where he faced many of his dedicated fans backing out, claiming that he betrayed the raza by going Puerto Rican and hooking up with the Cubans. What the fans forgot was his undying loyalty to the Chicano lifestyle, and how he was able to keep that going. He appeared on The Game's "My Lowrider," for a respectable eight bars alongside seven other rappers. He was recruited by up and coming R&B singer LaLa for a remake of The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Going Back To Cali.” Both of these songs showcase his roots and respect for Chicano rap, yet the fans don't want any part in supporting the artist who jumped on Reggaeton. The perception is, if one person goes Reggaeton when they started out Chicano, they are no longer supporting that artist.
If that was the case, there needed to be a leader, a motivator that would lead these Mexican American rappers in the right direction. If you believed that ex-KPWR radio personnel Khool-Aid and Latin Hip Hop producer E-Dubb were responsible for artists like Lil’ Rob, Baby Bash, Omar Cruz, T-Weaponz and Joell Ortiz to hit the airwaves, you're partially correct. At one point, Chicano rap was under the supervision of Eric "Eazy-E" Wright and his Ruthless Records label. Alongside Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and a fairly unrecognizable will.i.am and apl.de.ap, Eazy E introduced a Mexican trio who went by the names Toker, Wicked and Danger: the Brownside. Wright had a couple of followers in his Ruthless roster: Slow Pain, A.L.T., Sleepy Malo, Mister D, Kid Frost and J.V. He planned for all of these rappers to invade the hip hop scene before the rise of Death Row, Bad Boy and the East-Coast-West-Coast war. His dream, unfortunately, never came to pass when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the year of '95. When Eazy died, so did their chance of getting their music marketed.
The tradition of passing the torch to an absent runner continues to this day. Consider if you will the Pico Rivera, California duo Psycho Realm. The Gonzales brothers, or as you’d call them Sick Jacken and Big Duke, gained a great deal of assistance from B-Real of Cypress Hill. Big steps were about to be made in their ongoing legacy, but when the album was released, conflicts between the group and Sony Records surfaced, signaling their release from the contract. “Moving Through The Streets,” Track 9 off their independent release A War Story, finds Jacken alienated from the industry where only the fans are worthy of their presence:
I'm from the
Family, Sick Symphonies, underground crowds are into me
Got out the industry cause the label became my enemy
It wasn't meant to be, the machine was just trying to censor me
Didn't do it for Sony, so they ended up releasing me
No longer locked down for an infinity
So my vicinity remains true
To my identity
Exploiting the sound, verbal attacking
Ear drums, from where you're standing, you'll catch the rapping
Music Of The Mask, infiltrate past, blast out
Your loud speaker, haters get ass, we get the Last Laugh
Look at the picture
Tell me what's wrong
Earthquake weather turned L.A.
Into a flood zone
We dry it up
Come with the raw, when we transmit the
Rhyme network, Psycho Realm, that's my conecta
In Houston of 2000, Carlos Coy A.K.A. South Park Mexican was making "Power Moves" of his own when Dope House Records got distribution assistance from Universal. He and his independent label were about to get into the major leagues until Universal pulled out. At the time, there was a rumor going around that Coy was molesting children, including his own daughter. It went all the way up to Texas courts, where SPM was confronted and found guilty for aggravated sexual assault – without any need for physical, factual evidence or cross examination. The reason: the jury and the courts did not give him a chance to explain his side of the story. His team had more factual evidence and valid testimony than the prosecutor's, yet the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff. He was sentenced to 40 years at the Texas Department Criminal of Justice. Even during his long term sentence, Coy had the brains and the brawn to write a bank of verses that wound up in the 2006 release, When Devils Strike. Still, SPM feels betrayed.
This is called The Chicano Curse. When a Chicano rap artist emerges, you're hoping for that Mexican American lyricist to hit the mainstream. What prevents the rapper from making an impact is the media's perception of a Mexican performer, the public's view of the Mexican, the codes they go by, the fear of betraying their own race, and the fear of being betrayed. Even if they do make it to the top, there will always be someone in the line that is plotting to take them down, and eventually succeed. Mexicans will always be looked at as the desperate determined immigrant who works at a measley fast food restaurant or at a dangerous chemical plant, lieing, cheating and stealing their way to stardom as if the spirit of WWE Superstar Eddie Guerrero was still within them. The government sees this as a problem, and they intend to protect the United States of America by removing all immigrants from the country - even if it means to deport citizen-born Mexican-Americans like me.
How can we prevent the Chicano Curse from spreading?
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