Hip-hop, Tejas

Latinos take on rap music and make it their own

Chavez likes it that way. He's not looking for any affirmative action-style handouts. "There's Nelly, Eminem, 50 Cent," he says. "To me, a Latin rapper has to be just as good. It definitely has to start in the underground. You have to create a fan base, hone those skills. The biggest artists all started somewhere. The Latin people are gonna have to come to them first. From there, they can go on to become a mass-appeal artist. But in order to do that, they have to be just as good as everybody else. It's all about the song at the end of the day."

Well, that and a few other things. He's currently at loggerheads with Bash over an image thing. He wants the handsome Bash to take his shirt off on stage. Bash ain't havin' it.

"He's saying, 'Aw, come on, man, I'm hard.' I told him he would sell a million records. I'm trying to convince him, and he's trying to keep it real. 50 Cent don't have a hard time performing in a wife-beater."

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.

("If he works out, he should do it," says Slim, when told of the idea. "50 Cent takes his shirt off. Most of his fan base is females. And it's like Tupac said: 'Rap to the bitches and you will sell records.' ")

Chavez sees "keeping it real" as three of the most harmful and misunderstood words in the music business. "I'll tell an artist in a second -- 'You want to keep it real, you'll just keep it real broke.' There's a way to make it where you can stay real. People talk about selling out -- yeah, those guys are selling out of record stores and that's what it's all about -- making good music that people like. When people say they want to keep it real, what they mean is that they want to keep making music their way, which is not a problem so long as people like it.

"Everybody that's changed music history has been somebody that's kept it real their way, but their way was good. Kurt Cobain kept it real, and he became a platinum-selling artist. The early rappers kept it real and they changed the game. But if nobody likes your music and nobody's coming to your concerts, guess what -- change your ways! Find something else real."

Chavez isn't interested in Latin rap or Latin rappers. For him, the only Latin rap is the stuff that is performed in Spanish, and the only Latin rappers were people like Coy. "I don't think Carlos wanted to cross over into the pop world. He wanted to stay true to his people, but I want my artists to become pop stars," he says. "It's a battle I have to face every day. Baby Bash is getting 9,000 spins a week and MTV's still not playing him. Do you think if he was either black or white they would play him?"

As it happens, hip-hop is thriving across the border. Mexican groups such as Molotov and Control Machete are legendary names on both sides of the Rio Grande, but increasingly, so are black American rappers such as Big Moe and Ludacris. The Beat -- the McAllen sister station to the Party -- can claim credit for that.

Chingo Bling's family is from northern Tamaulipas, well within earshot of McAllen radio. "There's this circulation of music and culture and all that stuff because it's so close to America," he says. "If you cruise out there on Saturday or Sunday night, half the cars have Texas plates, and you hear Lil' Troy, whatever's hot here in Houston. Hip-hop's the voice of the youth, and the Beat's signal reaches about an hour's drive into Mexico. The Beat's taking over."

So now hip-hop's making inroads on certain elements of the norteño market, much the same way norteño and hip-hop ganged up on and all but destroyed Tejano's presence on the radio. Jumpin' Jess Rodriguez is one who knows this all too well. Like Arias, Rodriguez sees the death of Selena as being vital to hip-hop's rise in popularity. He says that after Selena died, Tejano radio ratings flatlined. The playlists stagnated, and program directors at the stations -- most of which were bought and sold a few times in the '90s media consolidation boom -- thought the easiest way out of the rut was to tinker with the format. They started adding norteño tunes -- music from across the border -- in an effort to broaden the market. Tejano-norteño playlists pleased nobody -- neither the first-generation immigrants nor the Tejano fans whose families have been in Texas for decades or even several centuries.

"When the big corporate companies came in with all their research and the tight rotations and the same music that they're playing over and over again, then the young Hispanics and Tejanos tuned out," Rodriguez says. "My children grew up with Tejano, but after Selena and Emilio's heyday, radio stations didn't promote new artists. That prevented growth. Consultants like Bob Perry at KQQK started mixing in more norteño music because they thought the Mexican national market was bigger than the Tejano market."

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