Forever Roc La Familia

Aztek Escobar talks about life after leaving Jay-Z's Latin record label.

"I didn't know somebody in the crowd was watching me," he says today, referring to the Crown Royal representative who interrupted his interview. "This lady comes out of nowhere and said, 'Hey, you can't talk like that. You can't say stuff like that.'

"By the end of the thing, she and a couple of other black suits were around me telling me, 'You can't talk like that.' That bothered me," he continues. "[I thought] 'This is not right. This is not what it's supposed to be.'"

Aztek maintains that it's ten times harder for a Latino rapper to make it in hip-hop than a black artist. Not because corporations don't know how to access the Latino consumer market, he says, but because they don't know what product to give them.

"It's not [that] they don't know how to target the Hispanic people, it's that there's not corporations set up to give them what they really want [musically]," says Aztek.

"Putting Latinos through the current major-label process doesn't make sense for us in the barrio. It doesn't reach the right people. A lot of people don't want Latinos to make it because once we set up our own process, it's going to be our own process and no one's going to be able to fuck with us."

Or could it be that if Latino artists are put at the forefront, will their community's spending power be diverted to these musicians rather than the current pool of non-Latino artists? It's a nonsensical fear Aztek says the music industry has.

In reality, though, it's just another revenue stream. There's enough of the pie to go around, and Latinos' buying power is in no danger of spreading itself too thin.

"Hispanics, who are they buying?" asks Aztek. "They are buying black artists. What happens when Latino [rappers] pop off? 'They are going to buy him and not buy us.'"

"We are just giving them another option," he continues. "There will be enough money for everybody."

In the end, Aztek says his separation from the label came down to business moves and music he simply didn't want to make. In other words, his life's vision clashed with Roc La Familia's plans for him.

"They wanted me to make a certain kind of music, certain kinds of songs," he says now. "It wasn't part of my vision. I can't stray from this vision. If I stray from this vision, I'm dying, and I don't plan on dying anytime soon."

So he met with Jay-Z and other Roc La Familia executives.

"Sometimes following my heart, what I believe in, clashes with the game," he says. "I sat down with [Jay-Z] in the meeting and said, 'Legally, let me go. I don't want to make these moves.'

"Jay said, 'Take a week to think about it. I told him, 'I've been thinking about it and I've made the decision.' He said, 'No problem, done deal.'"

"That's what a real leader does," continues Aztek. "His followers follow him, not because they have to, but because they want to. I don't represent the Roc because I have to, but because I want to."

Institutionally, according to Wikipedia, Roc La Familia doesn't exist anymore. The site says four albums by artists signed after Aztek were never released, including Aztek's Colombian Necktie.

Aztek was indeed in good company. Hector "El Father," N.O.R.E., Tru-life and Dimitri "El Boss" made up the rest of Roc La Familia's roster. For Aztek, Roc La Familia lives until he decides to let the movement die.

"When we did Roc La Familia, it was a whole other thing born into the universe," he says. "Seeing the people throw their [country's] flags up, people not being afraid to be Hispanic, proud of how they look and seeing [Latinos] make a name for themselves in hip-hop, giving my people opportunities and jobs, those were my greatest moments."

"Jay is always going to be a best friend of mine," he continues. "Jay's always going to be familia. When you say Roc La Familia, you can't say that without saying Aztek. When you say Wolf Pack, you can't say that without saying the barrio, and when you say the barrio, you can't say that without saying the people and that's what this was for — it was for the people."

Whether "they" like it or not.

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