Low-G: From E.S.L. Mockery to Historic Spanish Hip-Hop
"When I'm on my last line I'm gonna let ya'll know." "Yo, yo I want to welcome... welcome everybody to Hustle Town. Are we recording? Alright, let's do this, fellas." True Houston Latino rap fans don't need us to cite the opening lines of this track or what album it appeared on, but maybe you need us to let you know who held down the whole damn song. Here's a hint:
"Guess who's back from the pen out the wind sippin' gin with my kinfolk/ Gots the grin on my face when I come through/ If you ain't down with these G's muthafuck you/ Cuz there's a straight up struggle in my barrio/ Second Ward getting high on the patio"
You know the rest.
The first time Rocks Off heard Low-G, we were standing on the driveway of a beat-down house in a neighborhood called La Colonia in a town nicknamed the Dirty Berg in 1998. Drunk off we don't know what and high off you already know what, our boy Adam Gamino jumped into his ride just after midnight, popped the sun-roof and played one of the hardest gangsta' tracks to hit our very intoxicated senses, but we remember that moment as clear as day.
When it comes to "Block of Rock" - or "For Years" (the Screwed version of "Block") - it's rivaled by very few when it comes to Latino rap tracks that hold the crown for songs that make gangsta' Meskins howl at the moon and small children weep with fear, but we have the right to change our mind and probably will by the end of this blog. More importantly, Low-G is worth the words of this blog and much more, because one day he will be one of Houston's historians when it comes to this city's rap history. Very few have literally lived with DJ Screw. Very few have had the honor of spending several straight weeks with Screw, only leaving his home to get chicken wings and rice. Very few are identified as one of Dope House Records' most prized possessions (the other being Rasheed). Very few can describe what it's like to open up for Jay-Z, or witness Fat Joe request to be on a Screw tape. Very few can testify to seeing California hip-hop fans sing along to Dope House rap lyrics for the first time at a Los Angeles car show. Low-G can do all of that. For anyone who holds Latino rap of the '90s dear to their heart, Low-G's part of the embrace. Some will identify with us when we say that he was one of the first dudes to rap in Spanish in a way that made the listener feel that you were truly hearing a native Spanish speaker, not occasional Spanglish. Remember "El Jugador" on SPM's Power Moves?
"Mi querida/ Centro America/ Aqui en Houston ganando mi feria/ En la esquina la vida es fina/ Le pido a Dios que me cuida a mi nina..."
Talking to Low-G, we feel like we're talking to a wise old wizard. Though only 31, a hard-life will do that to you. It'll age your speak. To understand why he sounds beyond his years, you have to go back to when he was a twinkle in his father's eye, or more appropriately, when he was just a drop of his father's blood on his mother's clothing. When Low-G's father was clinging to life after being shot during El Salvador's civil war, he did what he was trained to do... get to the river that separated his country and Honduras. His Honduran mother was washing clothes on the river dumbfounded by the pink showing up on the clothing she scrubbed, so she followed the red dye in the water. Upstream was a man bleeding to death, Low-G's father. When you're born of those circumstances you know life isn't going to necessarily deal you a full house. Low-G arrived to the U.S. as an illegal alien in New York at nine-years old. He made his way to the Rio Grande Valley, then up to Houston. He couldn't speak English and would soon have to put together a Second Ward gang called GTC (Gangsta Type Criminals) to fight his own people, Mexican-American kids and Black kids who made fun of him and his fellow ESL students for not speaking English and wearing L.A. Gear tennis shoes versus Air Jordan kicks. It led to a life of serious gangbanging and eventually a murder charge he was acquitted of in 1995 at 16 years old. The thing about Second Ward's Latino rappers is that they're no studio gangstas. They've truly lived the thug life and have lost friends to bullets and to jail time, as a result of shooting bullets. Not glorifying the life (we'll let hip-hop do that) but we can't help but think that maybe it took those kinds of nuts, and "I don't give a fuck" attitude to enter a genre of music that you know already wasn't going to have a warm welcoming. Regardless, it's thanks to artists like Low-G and all those Second Ward cats that helped pave the way for the wealth of Latin rap we have available today in Texas. Low-G is also special because he's one of the few artists that rap in Spanish in a way that resonates with the streets. If you're a fan of music, you might spit off a few rappers in Latin America or Mexico that do it, but it's different. Low-G is from the Houston streets and if you know anything about rap, where the messenger is from is just as important as the message. Low-G took the Texas Latin Rap Awards' "Best Spanish Songwriter" in 2009 and twice before that. For those whose assimilation swept them away from their native language and could only take with them a handful of words in the process, or those like us, who were born three, four or five family generations into the United States and didn't have the opportunity to learn it, but wanted to, Low-G's work gives you the only precious chance to know Spanish for a few bars and sound cool speaking it. Whether he knows it or not, that means the world to so many not Mexican enough or not American enough - those trapped in the middle. It's a gift of temporary belonging and cultural pride. "When I started rapping, I felt like I had to rap in English to defend myself and be equal," Low-G tells Rocks Off. But SPM encouraged him not to hide his accent, not to feel compelled to rap in English. Low-G was bringing something new to a community of hip-hop where Spanish was fast becoming lost or extremely diluted and the people needed to hear it so he gave it to them and it's become his trademark. And as we predicted, we changed our mind about the hardest Latino rap track to echo the blocks of Houston. We'll leave you with a blast from the past. It's called "Que Onda," and yes, Low-G wrecked that hoe, too.