Hip-hop, Tejas

Latinos take on rap music and make it their own

In five years, SPM went from high school dropout/crack dealer to rap mogul, written up by Newsweek and a mainstay on the Billboard charts. To the kids in Houston's barrios he was something more: He was a folk hero. He was signed to Universal, and he and his family also controlled their own local label, Dope House Records, with about a dozen hip-hop acts in the stable. And he did it all on his own terms.

"He was one of the ones who inspired me, who showed me that we could do it," says H-Town Slim. "This dude is Latino like me, he's from the same neighborhood as me, and if he could get a deal with Universal, then so could I."

"SPM got pretty far, and I'm not counting him out 'cause he will get out someday, but when he was making his big move, people really embraced that," says Chingo Bling. "People were like, 'We saw him come up, he's from my neighborhood, he raps about stuff we know and we like…' He was relevant. The stuff that's really relevant to us isn't [often] represented."

Andres Garcia-Lopez: Playing rap got him branded a 
naco in the Valley.
Daniel Kramer
Andres Garcia-Lopez: Playing rap got him branded a naco in the Valley.
Charles Chavez chilling with Ice Cube.
Courtesy of Charles Chavez
Charles Chavez chilling with Ice Cube.

"It was a big deal how he set the tone," says Garcia-Lopez. "You could be Hispanic and be from Houston and be a rapper. He did a lot of things with a lot of people that nobody had done before. Yeah, there were rappers before him that were Mexican, but nobody got around as much as he did. You could go to a music store and see him guest-appearing on all kinds of albums. I won't say he broke doors down, but he really got his name out there."

Prior to the revelations about his sexual proclivities, even the older generation saw Coy as more of a force for good than evil. "I think he tried to be a positive figure," says Jumpin' Jess Rodriguez, the oldies/Tejano DJ and concert promoter, who adds that he used to play Coy's music on his radio shows. "When you sell that product, you've gotta go with that gangsta situation, talking about weed and girls and going out partying. But later on, some of his music did have a positive message. It was about going out and getting an education, being positive, fighting the fight and having respect for yourself. A lot of it did say to be proud of who you are…And he also said that music was his new drug, which encouraged a lot of young people to want to get into music, which is a positive road."

While on the stand at his trial last year, SPM made a characteristically boastful statement in his defense that had most in the courtroom scoffing. "Y'all all credit [Mayor] Lee Brown with calming down the gang problem," he said. "I think y'all should thank South Park Mexican."

H-Town Slim, a former gangbanger himself, doesn't see it as being all that laughable a claim. "When SPM came out, gangbanging was still really popular, but when he got huge, the whole thing kinda died out. After SPM came out, every kid wanted to be a rapper, not a gangster."

But as popular and influential as Coy was here, he was never able to crack the market in California. Los Angeles is the Mexican-American New York and L.A. rolled into one, and until a Houston rapper makes it there, he hasn't made it anywhere, at least in the eyes of the major labels. And cracking that nut is not as easy as an Anglo might think. After all, Mexican-Americans are Mexican-Americans, right? Wrong.

As seen at Los Magnificos, blacks and Hispanics in Houston get along pretty well. Not so in parts of California. "In California the strife is real bad," says Chingo Bling. "I don't know if it's a cultural thing, but in Texas we just blend better. Northern California, [blacks and Hispanics] get along, but Southern California, phew. They do not mix. I've heard [San Diego Latin rapper] Lil' Rob interviewed, and people ask him, 'Why don't you use the N-word, and some of your peers do?' And he's like, 'Well, I'm not black, and we have our own slang.' I won't call it an old and traditional view, just kind of different. I think the prison system has something to do with it."

"Out there it's all about la raza and Brown Pride," says H-Town Slim. "There's just more Mexicans over there -- L.A. is more Mexican than Houston."

Slim believes that Houston is comparatively much more integrated. "Out there East L.A. is puro mexicano. But here, if you go over to the north side, like by Elysian and Hardy, where is the line between the black and Mexican neighborhoods? We share our cultures."

And Angeleno Hispanics and those from elsewhere see this cultural fusion as a sellout. "They're like, 'Those Texans think they're black,' " says Chingo Bling. "They call us brother-lovers."

And worse. There's the Mexican-Spanish "M-word," mayate. Bring it up to Chingo Bling and he sounds like every white Southerner who doesn't want to be branded a redneck. "I don't use that word, and nobody in my family uses that word," he says.

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