Alfonso Cook is Rasheed, the "Texas Chainsaw." And Rasheed is a "WetBlack."
We told Rasheed ourselves that for a long time we didn't know he was Black. He laughed. It wasn't the first time he's heard it. His huge following in Mexico probably doesn't know either, and they keep requesting him to go to Monterrey, Mexico to do a show. A bit of cultural insight: Many native Mexicans don't know how to react to seeing a black man, if they didn't grow up around them. Even within our borders in homogeneous South Texas, which looks like Mexico to the naked eye; our uncle who lives there once asked us if we had any black friends and wondered what it would be like to have black friends. It was an innocent question, but a telling statement of the still pronounced segregation that exists today. So Rasheed, when you finally go to Mexico, promise to take us, because we want to witness that shit.
But Rasheed's a WetBlack. He's one of us. No, we didn't spell it wrong. It's WetBlack, not wetback, a term he and Low-G came up with to describe the work they do together, this fusion of Spanish-language hip-hop and black chainsaw flow. Hailing from the streets of Philadelphia, the reason Rasheed came to Houston is the same reason the Fresh Prince left Philly for Bel Air: He needed to get out of trouble. Only Rasheed didn't act like a damn fool, wear those stupid rainbow colors or move into a mansion. He went from one hood in Philly to a Houston hood in South Park. He went from falling in love with hip-hop after seeing his now deceased cousin's two turntables and a mike in Virginia to battle rapping with South Park Mexican (SPM) in a trailer home. He went from rapping on the block in Philadelphia to becoming a Dope House Records jewel and someone who'll be written into the Texas Latin rap history book, though he's not Latino at all - at least not on the outside. But he became so on the inside. He did it for two reasons. The first was a Kid Frost track called "Los Katrachos," featuring SPM, Low-G and Mad One. It was in a California studio those rappers and Rasheed wrote lyrics for the track. Rasheed wanted to be on it, but the crew decided it would be an all-Spanish track. Game over. The black guy in the room didn't speak Spanish, but never again would that be a reason he wouldn't be on a track. "At that point I knew I had to switch my game up," Rasheed told Rocks Off. "That motivated me to [rap in Spanish]. "I wanted to communicate more with my people. I didn't make 'Los Katrachos' and it broke my heart." Yeah, he said it. "My people." It's how he saw it.
The Latin rap game embraced him, so he embraced its followers that fell in love with his style - those in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Iowa. But at the end of the day, Rasheed was down for the brown because of SPM. Despite that man's success and fast-rise, there were people who didn't want to see a Mexican-American rap and Rasheed can attest to that fact. "Once I started hanging out with SPM, I started seeing the way people would treat him as a Latin rapper," says Rasheed. "By me seeing how people would treat him and underestimate him, it was just like the way people would treat the slaves back in the day.That made me down for the cause. That made me motivated to get down." He listened closely to Low-G and Juan Gotti, and eventually picked up enough Spanish to incorporate it into his lyrics. In our last blog on Low-G, we talked about "Que Onda" being one of the hardest tracks to come out of the Latin rap game, period. It's because of that track we thought Rasheed was Latino, because of the Spanish that heavily peppered that track's opening verse belonging to him. But it wasn't until Bun B went inside Dope House in the late '90s or early 2000s, we believe, to interview SPM that we first got a physical look at Rasheed. Fast forward to 3:05 and Rasheed, SPM and Bun B run through a freestyle session, and hands down, Rasheed chainsaws through everybody, which is why Baby Bash gave him the name "Texas Chainsaw." Since, SPM's incarceration, Rasheed has started his own label, 21st Century, and is currently finalizing a potential national distribution deal with E1 Entertainment Distribution for his upcoming April album,Dope House General
. Living through the days you sold cassettes in flea markets to seeing the days of digital sales, Rasheed has found a way to stay relevant and on the radar from a business perspective. His formula mixes a little bit of the old with some of the new. Even without a show, Rasheed hits the road to states that don't look anything like Texas but sound lots like Houston. That's the old-fashion, still effective way of doing things that regardless of music pirating and cherry-picking digital downloads that dissect bodies of work, still prove financially fruitful. "There's a war on hip-hop as well as the hip-hop culture," says Rasheed. "There are unseen forces that have made it harder to sell music. I've always been a person to go on the road. When you are in this business it's like you are running for president." "Any relationship that you make, whether you are selling a CD to somebody, or you're doing a verse or signing the poster, that same support system is still there regardless of how the game has evolved," he adds. "As long as you stay accessible, you are going to generate currency."
The new part of his business strategy is teaming up with the new generation of rappers and producers. He's formed an affiliation rap group called BadHabitz made up of Felony, Sed, Risky, GT Garza, Willie-P, V-Nice, Chuey, By-You, Bunz, Smoak, Marcus May and Tony Wreckz. "You have to become part of that new generation by participating with them," says Rasheed. "In other words, reach out and help the next person. You have to reach out to that crew over there, those not rapping about the same stuff you are." His thinking has evolved, and so has his style. Rasheed gave us a peep of his Dope House General album and we were surprised. From a production and lyrical standpoint, it's not the old Rasheed. He admits he's slowed it down a bit. It sounds cleaner and has more mainstream appeal. We're excited that if the E1 deal happens, what that might mean for him and that first generation of Texas Latino rap legends who laid the foundation for the second one. Yeah, we wrote it. He's a Latino rap legend. Putting it any other way wouldn't sound right. Follow Rasheed on MySpace and Twitter. Rolando Rodriguez is the managing editor of www.redbrownandblue.com. Follow him on MySpace and Twitter.
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