Step into the hip-hop elevator of the Dirty South with Rocks Off. We're going on a field trip. Don't worry. We'll let you "press the button."
Right now we are on floor "B," which stands for basement...more like rap basement, where Houston's Latino rap underground is bubbling with heat ready to volcano into the mainstream with the eagerness of Mount St. Helens. Don't worry; we'll be back. But today we are taking a journey to the top floor. When we get there, you might see A-listers like Chamillionare, Pitbull and Play N Skills, so spare us the star-struck squeals, OK? You're looking for "PH" in this elevator, naturally, because in any other building, the penthouse is the pinnacle. Not in this building, and not on this Alief block. Look for the button with "RG" on it. Did you find it? Good. Press it with the eagerness of a young child. Now allow us to elevate to a floor that is the life of Rob G, Houston's great brown hope. As we slowly ascend, we're going to tell you about Rob G and why he could be instrumental to the Latino hip-hop scene, not only in Houston, but in America. Rob G's important, not because he's going to drop an all-English and an all-Spanish album on a major label in 2010, or because he toured and has a close relationship with Pitbull, who is one of only a handful of Latino hip-hop artists in the history of the genre to go from Latino breakthrough star to a mainstream one, or because he expanded his brand footprint beyond the Houston scene not attached to a traditional Houston label like Swishahouse or Rap-A-Lot.
No, Rob G's important because when you look at the pieces of his career puzzle, it looks like a perfect storm is brewing. When you look at his U.S. acculturation scale, he might just have the perfect measurements of American and Latino dosages to appeal to a hemispheric audience, not just a Houston or Texas one. Let's put aside the petty bullshit criteria that inspires some of these Rocks Off Latino rap blogs to get 99 fucking comments based on whether an artist is legitimately from a specific area of Houston, or whether he is lyrically better than Lucky Luciano, or Coast, or Stunta, or Lil Young. Fuck all that. Let's get business about this shit, because regardless of how many hearts and souls hip-hop has captured or how many hearts and souls hip-hop lives in, marketability is the name of this game. That's a business term and it's something Rob G can pronounce in either language. He's fully bilingual and can execute that in his music delivery. He's a damn good rapper. He toured with Pitbull this summer across the country. He's got the co-signature of Trae, the best rapper in Houston, possibly the universe (right, Shea Serrano?). And he's linked up and done features with Latin American household names like Looney Tunes in Puerto Rico and Joey Montana in Panama. Now that's drinkability - eh - marketability. Sorry, it's Friday and we need a beer. So you might look at Rob G's track record and think he's gotten a good start, but if he indeed is going to go mainstream, he probably needs to distance himself from "being Latino." You'd be wrong. To do that would deny his familial roots that aren't two, three or four generations away, but just one.
Rob G's parents came to the United States from the small Latin American country of Uruguay. Spanish was his first language. He grew up ingrained in his culture, so he's not going to deny it. "Latinos Stand Up" featuring Dallas' Gemini and Play N Skills, which became something of a national Hispanic cult hit, is what help put him on the scene, but it was the traditional rap battle circuit where Rob G put in work and knuckled his way through where he got discovered. A first-place finish in a 97.9 The Boxx/MTV rap battle competition took him to New York to do this thing on a nationally televised stage. He got disqualified for cursing, but he was on the radar in a time when Houston's rap scene still had a national spotlight of sorts. He hooked up with Charles Chavez of Latium Entertainment, whose name in the music industry is almost synonymous with the success of Pitbull, Chamillionare, Natalie, Frankie J and Play N Skills. Rob G's first individual success with Latium was "Reppin' My Block," featuring Slim Thug and Lil Keke, and many remixes of that song followed.
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But perhaps it was Rob G joining forces with Trae that showed he was seeking the support of hip-hop's black following as well as his own community. In February of this year, Trae and Rob G joined forces to drop Both Sides of the Fence, an album-length declaration, entirely true or not, that Blacks and Latinos in Texas stand together. It featured Rick Ross, Chamillionare, J-Dawg, Chingo Bling, Coast and GT Garza, to name a few. "It was one of the best Black artists and one of the best Hispanic artists, who both have substance and are bound by hip-hop, working together," Rob G told Rocks Off. "In many other places, there's a lot Black and Brown beef. Trae, himself, has a huge Hispanic fan base. Growing up, 70 percent of my friends were black. "We did not want it to be overbearingly on the black and brown thing where it took away from the actual music, but we wanted to stay close to the meaning. This was about unity in the community and throughout music. Blacks and Browns live in the same neighborhoods and are going through the same struggles."
The album was a cultural statement as much as an attempt to be respected as an MC and a lyricist before the community that invented and has driven hip-hop to an ongoing national phenomenon that's taken hold of youth of all colors. "Trae looked at me one day and said 'people need to know that you can rap how you can rap,'" Rob G said. "'Maybe because you are Hispanic, Black people might not give you the time of day.' Trae opened the doors to his community to me. That really did a lot of help in validating who I am." In 2010, Rob G will put out a mix tape series called "Rob Jesus," which will be released from January through April. Rob says he's not the rap messiah but it draws a comparison between he and the Holiest in that they were both underdogs. He's in talks with major labels about releasing one all-English and one all-Spanish album this summer, but under the advice of his lawyers, can't disclose much more. "I'm not trying to be black," said Rob G. "I'm just a rapper and an artist who is bringing my experiences, my life and my culture into your speakers, making me not just a Hispanic guy who raps, but a legitimate contender you have to pay attention and listen to." It's the transition they're all trying to make: hoping to go from being seen as a Latino rapper, to a rapper that happens to be Latino - hoping that one day the elevator doors of hip-hop's penthouse level open and stay open for a new sea of talent. Follow Rob G on Twitter and MySpace. Rolando Rodriguez is the managing editor of www.redbrownandblue.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.