Cesar Lozano, Illegal Alien, Is Now Big Cease, American Dream Come True
The video that usually crowns our Latino hip-hop blog is going to come at the end of our story today, because without explaining how the American Dream has evolved, the music video won't be given the meaning it deserves. First, you need to know that the American Dream takes on many forms. The American Dream is not only what corporate commercials sell us. It's not only a two-story home with a white picket fence and a two-car garage. It can actually embody a person. It can embody a six-year-old illegal alien named Cesar Lozano. We know. Your politics or your stance on immigration might disagree with that statement, but what if we told you that the six-year-old grew up to become a law-abiding American citizen, that he went to college, that he's more articulate than most Americans, that he taught himself how to make music thousands of people want to listen to, that he opened up his own business that sells his music, that he expanded and created multiple revenue streams for his entrepreneurial venture, that he's humble and loves this country for the opportunity it's provided him, whether he chose it for himself or not? What if we told you his mom worked her way up from a maid to working at a hospital, and his father went from dishwasher to chef at the Sheraton hotel? After all of that, could the concept of the American Dream now merit being Cesar Lozano?
We wish we could tell you that what we just described to you is unique, but it's not. It's actually very common, but these stories don't make headlines. What makes Cesar's story unique is not so much his journey as it is how hip-hop paved his path. Today, Cesar Lozano is Big Cease, head of Hata Proof Records, a record label/7-day-a-week thriving retail business that manages rap artists, produces and sells their music independently, puts out the popular Screwed Video Mix DVD series, manufactures its own clothing line and is also a video-production company that makes music videos for rappers throughout Texas. It's all housed out of 3500 Little York in North Houston. "I'm a mojado," Big Cease tells Rocks Off. ("Mojado" is Spanish slang for "wetback.") "My family came illegally to the United States. I grew up in West Dallas and Oak Cliff at a time when break-dancing and crack was at its peak. It influenced my life but I chose to take a different path." The path started with Ritchie Valens, the rock and roll pioneer and forefather of the Chicano rock movement. Rather, we should say it started with the 1987 movie about Valens' life, which was really the only positive cinematic image that Mexican-Americans could trophy in the '80s. "When I was eight, I saw that movie La Bamba," says Cease. "My dad taught me how to play every song on that movie. He taught me how to play guitar. It all started from there. I was really fascinated by the movie."
He was also fascinated by DJs, but not the kind you see setting the roof on fire in the club. In the '80s, Cease's father became smart on the amnesty laws of the time and was able to get his family resident alien status, which means they could travel back to their native Guanajuato during the summers to see Cease's uncles DJ huge dances, spinning Cumbia and Ranchera hits amidst flashing lights and projection screens. "All my tios [uncles] were sonideros [DJs]," says Cease. "It opened my eyes. And that's how I came into the world of hip-hop." Fast-forward to Cease's days at W.H. Adamson and Sunset High Schools in Dallas, where he was the kid with a locker filled with stacks of self-made mixtapes with white sticker labels. But the aspiring DJ knew his work was "too loud" or "too bassy" and that there was a science to perfecting a mixtape. "I wanted to learn to make it sound right," he says. He enrolled in Cedar Valley Community College and took audio engineering courses, but he was 19 and married with a kid, so Cease took a job at Guitar Center to finance college and his family. "I learned how to record from going to work," says Cease. "I had to learn how to use the equipment to sell it." He was perfecting his art and soon his boys from middle school and high school, aspiring rappers themselves, got back in touch with him and they started recording music of their own. The album, 100% Hata Proof, was their first major project and it had no major label backing it, just major hustle. Cease and his crew hit cities across Texas approaching any potential-looking customer. It was Houston where they found the warmest reception to pop-trunk sales. "We were really fascinated with how people responded to the independence and grind," he says today.
In their first Houston visit, Hata Proof arrived with 400 CDs and left with none, having sold each of them for $5. By six months time, they had independently sold 10,000 units. They would drop one more album and two more mixtapes while in Dallas, each exceeding 10,000 units in sales. "We really put ourselves in a lot of danger," says Cease about the price for six-figure success, meaning they put lots of work in club parking lots at 3 a.m. "Being out late, there was a bunch of hard heads. We were hungry. We weren't afraid. We were getting it. We'd walk up to someone, and they were mean-muggin' you and ready to fight. "We'd want to get to know them, and that mean-mug would turn into a supportive handshake and positive energy. Drunk dudes ready to fight would be pulling out their wallets." While the come-up of Big Cease is inspirational and admirable it's what people don't know about him that make the term "illegal alien" inappropriate and not humane. Because Cease is a human being, not from outer space, and he took the plunge, from selling his music in flea markets across Houston to putting all he had into a retail space. Because he didn't have any money to have a place of his own when he decided to move to Houston so he slept on the floor of his shop and washed up at trucks stops. Because during the immigrant marches that captured the nation in the middle of the decade, he lectured kids, who thought the day was an opportunity to skip school, that the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 should not be made a mockery and should be taken seriously because it would impact them and their families directly. Because he wouldn't tell Rocks Off how he got into this country because somehow he feels that he would be disrespecting those who didn't make it, those who died in the desert. Big Cease has probably been called lots of things as an undocumented immigrant. Recently he's been called a YouTube producer because he is still perfecting the art of making music videos, but he reminded Rocks Off that the root of the word "amateur" is "amor" - which means "love" in English. "They disrespect people like me and people following in my footsteps like my boy T (Dat Boi T)," says Cease about the criticism he's received on his music videos, despite not having any formal training. "They call us YouTube producers and directors. But lots of those people don't have love for what they are doing. We have love for it. I don't come from a rich family and we learned how to be resourceful. You've got to give it all you got because this is all you got." It's a spirit that embodies the ideals of America at its core - far from alien, far from illegal. Now, enjoy the video.
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