Hip-hop, Tejas

Latinos take on rap music and make it their own

Roll back about a dozen years. Back then, most Hispanic kids were into either Tejano or the darkest of dark metal -- bands like Slayer, Pantera and Metallica. Being a metal or Tejano fan was as much a part of Tex-Mex culture as listening to the brown-eyed soul of bands like Thee Midnighters remains a part of East L.A. culture.

"Back then, everybody wanted to wear jeans, Ropers and a cowboy hat," says Jumpin' Jess Rodriguez, a local concert promoter and oldies/Tejano DJ on the Internet radio station "Now they all want to look like [New York Puerto Rican rapper] Fat Joe."

Homie Marco Arias, on the Party's format: "We're right 
in the middle."
Daniel Kramer
Homie Marco Arias, on the Party's format: "We're right in the middle."
SPM: Houston's Latin rap king had a lot in common 
with Tony Montana. Too much, in fact.
Deron Neblett
SPM: Houston's Latin rap king had a lot in common with Tony Montana. Too much, in fact.

The Box -- the first FM hip-hop station in Houston -- can claim the credit for some of this seismic shift in fashion. The Box started broadcasting in 1991. Already back then there were years of pent-up demand for a hip-hop station, but then there were still a bunch of people who were saying that hip-hop was just a fad and would soon be going the way of disco.

"When the Box came along, it was all Geto Boys and Fifth Ward Boyz," remembers Chavez. "Majic 102 had the Quiet Storm, the Box had the Thunder Storm. Hip-hop was becoming a culture, not just a type of music, and the Box took advantage of it. And back then, their listeners were a third black, a third white and a third Hispanic. People from Sugar Land to Fifth Ward were into the Box. And they still try to play records that everyone will like."

But now they have competition. Not only does pop station KRBE play about four hip-hop tunes out of every ten it spins, but now there's a Latin-run competitor in the Party. Unlike the Box, the Party plays no R&B. Unlike KRBE, the Party spins no ballads or pop songs. "Party 104 came on and said, 'We want to play the hip-hop records that Hispanics like,' " says Chavez.

"That was huge," says 24-year-old local Latin rapper H-Town Slim. "I flipped immediately because they were Mexicans, you know? I knew there was not gonna be so much R&B stuff. I can't stand a lot of that Top 40 R&B."

"You'd be surprised at how much the Box is trying to accommodate the Latino market," says Andres Garcia-Lopez, who owns a small studio with Slim called Broadway Recordings. "Now they have Hispanic DJs. And now they're sponsoring car shows. An African-American station and they're sponsoring Los Magnificos, a Mexican thing."

"When Selena died it seemed like none of the young kids wanted to listen to Tejano anymore," says Mark "Homie Marco" Arias, KPTY's program director and the station's man-about-town at local hip-hop clubs. "Their idol died, and they were looking for something. So our idea was to have a hip-hop station geared to Hispanics. We knew that hip-hop was the most popular music."

It's important to remember that it's a Latin-run hip-hop station, not a Latin hip-hop station. The playlist is dominated by the likes of Ludacris, 50 Cent and Chingy. "From doing our research we found out that not all of them like [West Coast Hispanic rappers] Lil' Rob or Mister Shadow, but that almost all of them liked Eminem, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z."

There is a noticeable Latin tinge to the Party's playlists, though. "When Fat Joe and Ashanti came out with their record, we blasted it," says Arias. "When Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez came out with their song, we spun it first. We always looked out for the leaning Latin edge hip-hop records that were still mainstream. We knew KRBE would play 'em, we knew the Box would eventually play 'em, but we would be first. Baby Bash, Frankie J., Angelina, Amanda Perez -- she's No. 1 in Australia and Japan right now and we were the first to play her."

Chingo Bling, a 24-year-old rapper/ comedian who fuses norteño culture with that of Houston's wards, thinks the station is right not to play exclusively or even mostly Latin rap. "I think the way the Party is doing it is great. You couldn't force-feed a bunch of Latin rap -- Latins wouldn't even like it. You've got to know who you're talking to. If you're talking to Hispanics, I'm gonna give them what they want. I'm not necessarily gonna give them other young Hispanics. If they want to hear [black rapper] Big Moe, so be it. If they want to hear [black rapper] Slim Thug and Chingo Bling followed by some Amanda Perez and Beesh and then some more Slim Thug on top of that, so be it."

Arias says that their target is Hispanic females. They play the records that get the women in the clubs, which keeps their advertisers (often Latin-predominant hip-hop places like Coco Loco, the Perfect Rack and T-Town) happy. "We play hip-hop for everybody that loves hip-hop, so we hope everybody will come to the Party. But Hispanic females are our main target."

Then there's the on-air talent. Most but not all of the DJs are Hispanics and they are encouraged to throw in a little Spanglish. "We talk bilingual on the radio, we do things like 'Mañanitas in the Morning,' we do 'Fiesta Fridays.' Cinco de Mayo's a big celebration for our station. We're in the Martin Luther King Day Parade and everything, but Latin events are huge for us. And I think Hispanic kids can identify -- we're not as R&B as the Box, we're not as Top 40 as KRBE, we're right in the middle. And when Hispanic kids listen and they hear our DJs dropping a little bitty bit of bilingual stuff, they like it."

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