Hip-hop, Tejas

Latinos take on rap music and make it their own

"What people overlook is that hip-hop was created by Latins and blacks in the Bronx," says Garcia-Lopez. "It wasn't just black people, it was also the Puerto Ricans."

"I wouldn't say they were trying to be Mexican, but every black dude in L.A. wears Dickeys, house shoes, the wife-beaters," says H-Town Slim. "You can listen to Dr. Dre records and they're all talking about those clothes, and that's straight-up Mexican stuff. And then there's the low-riders; Chuck Taylors were a Mexican thing. But no one ever talks about that -- they always talk about Mexicans trying to be black with the braids and the rapping and that stuff."

"They all eat tacos on the down-low, you know?" he adds. " 'Go on out to the sto' and go get me some tacos right quick!' "

Old meets new at the Los Magnificos Car Show.
Daniel Kramer
Old meets new at the Los Magnificos Car Show.
Dope House reps peddle the works of a fallen star 
(SPM) and a new one in Lucky Luciano.
Daniel Kramer
Dope House reps peddle the works of a fallen star (SPM) and a new one in Lucky Luciano.

(And there was War, the almost all-black L.A. band of the early and mid-'70s that sounded all-Hispanic. It was War that gave the world the still-cool, Latin-sounding tunes "Low-Rider," "Spill the Wine," "The World Is a Ghetto" and "The Cisco Kid.")

And whether they be black or Hispanic, whether they're from South Central or Fifth Ward or East L.A. or Harrisburg in Houston, they all get to deal with the Man, who is still a white guy. He's still pretty clueless, too. He hasn't realized the size of the English-speaking Hispanic market, though he's waking up to it a little now. After all, green is his favorite color, too.

"A lot of people see Hispanic stuff as not marketable," says H-Town Slim. "When they think Hispanic, they automatically think of someone who can't speak English, a wetback or something."

"Charro hats and margaritas…," puts in Garcia-Lopez.

"They don't think of an American, but that's really who we are," finishes Slim.

"Me, I want what's coming to me."

"What's coming to you?"

"The world, Chico, and everything in it." -- Tony Montana in Scarface

Proving that reality is a battle Charles Chavez fights every day. In a three-room office suite in a Sharpstown high-rise, the head of Latium Entertainment sits behind his desk, working the phones. A few feet away, his wife taps at a computer keyboard, and in the next room his brother and another assistant are hard at work. The walls are lined with photos of Charles Chavez with a gang sign-throwing Ice Cube, Charles Chavez with a smirking Clive Davis, Charles Chavez with stars and bigwigs all over the place. Through the windows, there's a panoramic view of downtown about ten miles distant, and the Southwest Freeway -- the proverbial two-way street to Mexico and back -- looks close enough to touch even though it's about a hundred feet below.

"I don't want to target Hispanics, I want to take Hispanics mainstream," he says.

And he's doing it. It was from this office that Chavez and his company helped launch Baby Bash and Frankie J. from scufflers on the Texas and California scenes to national names, presences near the very top of the Billboard charts and on to The Sharon Osbourne Show and to an upcoming Cleveland gig with Mr. White-Bread himself, Clay Aiken. A 30-day planner on the wall tells the tale of Bash's then-ongoing 30-city, 45-day tour, which took him from coast to coast and into Chicago.

"We're not turning our back on our people, we just want to grow so the next Frankie J. can come out," he says of the Mexican-American R&B crooner he represents. "We had problems with Frankie J. when he came out. He peaked at No. 4 on TRL, but then the record stores put his record in the Latin section. And he wasn't singing Latin music. If John Mayer was Irish, they wouldn't put him in the Irish section. That's something we're trying to overcome today. It's just marketing -- Frankie came from the Kumbia Kings, so it was just assumed that he was Latin even though he had a Top Ten pop record in the country."

Five years ago, when the Chavezes started up a record label, they gave it the name Latium Records. Latium was a contraction of "Latins going platinum." That dream may have seemed a little far-fetched then, but right now their dreams are this close to coming true. "Back then I was trying to find people I thought were talented, that we could mold into something," he says. "And I went broke.

"What I do now is invest in artists that are already ready. New artists bring me stuff all the time and I tell them to pay their dues and go make a hit record, and then look for someone like me."

Today, Chavez does radio promotions for L.A.-based Geffen Records. "Bash and Frankie brought me a hit record and I went and got it played," he says. "I told them I would get it played and then we would go get a deal." (Next in the pipeline: local rapper Gemini.)

Right now, Baby Bash and Frankie J. have made a hit record. The rapper and the singer brought it to him, and it worked just like he said. Chavez got it on the radio and both Bash and Frankie got record deals with major labels. Their rap-R&B duet "Suga Suga" rocketed to very close to the top of the charts. Many who heard it in places like Des Moines and Louisville probably never knew that the singers were a couple of Latin guys.

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