We think "Weird Al" Yankovic screwed it up for everybody. There aren't lots of times you can use the word "weird" in a good way. That's one of those words we need to take back, on the real, because when you put "weird" into the right context it can be a positive thing - a differentiator from the norm. And to be honest, we're tired of using "unorthodox," "untraditional" and "against the grain." They're a little too nerdy for hip-hop. There's a 29 year-old hip-hop artist sitting in downtown Houston right now that's weird. If you've been following us, you probably expect to hear that he was inspired by DJ Screw. That he sold drugs to put himself through the game. That he samples the Screwed Up Click's catalogue in all of his tracks. That he dresses the part. That he claims a side of Houston. We can't tell you any of that. No, this guy's from Brownsville. Yeah, you heard right. He was inspired to rap in Brownsville. Yes fool, we said Brownsville. But he got his real start just across the border in Matamoros, Mexico, doing shows at local nightclubs, learning how to hype a crowd that didn't necessarily have an ear for what he was spitting - yet, at least.
He also got his stage name from a club bouncer, who told him "Espérate, Primo," which means "Hold on, Cuz. Not so fast." Preemo likes to rap with a guy from Tanzania, Africa. He can't go to his favorite DJ to continue to make mixtapes anymore because he was deported to Mexico... again. Instead of the hood block corner, he makes videos in grocery stores featuring harmonicas, not half-naked chicks. That's weird in a good way, baby. Aaron Manuel Beltran, a.k.a Preemo - spelled that way because the correct version was trademarked - is one of those guys that make you take a deep breath of relief in this age of recycled lyrics, hooks and beats. When we heard his stuff, it brought back the same feeling we got when we first heard Coast or Drake. The message wasn't necessarily groundbreaking or new, but the messenger packaged the words differently, so we wanted to open the box, because when they handed it to us, they were standing outside of it. It was a beautiful thing. Preemo isn't your ordinary underground artist. He has friends in high places, like his independent label's co-owner and Ice Cube's full-time engineer, David Lopez. Before hooking up with Lopez, though, Preemo actually got his start with the same guy that broke R&B singer Amanda Perez back in 2002, Los Angeles radio DJ and A&R music producer, Mighty Mike Quinn. But Preemo quickly learned that often times compromising your music creativity, no matter who is producing it, is the price of stardom.
"It got so bad I had to check myself in to an emergency room," says Preemo. "They told me, 'You're stressed out. You're having anxiety attacks.' These people were controlling my music, changing records while I was out of town. 'I can't do this anymore.' I walked away from the situation." Preemo wasn't going to sell his soul to the music-label devil. That's what kind of makes Preemo real and respectable. He could have probably been a huge breakout star had he drank the mainstream Kool-Aid, but he chose the independent route. He chose Houston. "You can't do this in L.A.," Preemo tells Rocks Off, referring to standing on the block and selling your music independently. "You can try but people are going to look at you like you're crazy. Out there, it's, 'Let's get it to the label. Let's get it to the radio.' In Houston, you don't need anything but your hustle." "'Yeah, I'll support.' Those are the words they used. Here people take pride in supporting an artist that they see grinding. They respect that. There's a reason why they call it Hustle Town. If you got the hustle you can do what you want here." Preemo's originally from Phoenix, but moved to South Texas when his stepfather landed a gig out there. And we had to ask, "What was it about Brownsville that made you want to rap?" "It's what it wasn't," says Preemo. "There was no hip-hop in Brownsville at the time. There was one record store right near the bridge. There was one place in Brownsville where you could get vinyl records. They didn't even have hip-hop on the radio station down there. It was a culture shock for them." Not anymore: "Now you go down there everybody is a rapper. Everybody has a record label." After Preemo's first label disaster, he hooked up with Lopez to put together his first album in 2003, called Two Days Under the Sun. It's called that because it literally took two days to make it. He sold his first CDs in Brownsville and booked it along the Southwest to towns in Phoenix and all the way to Los Angeles, selling 5,000 units out of his trunk. He then partnered with DJ Morpheus, to do a mixtape the next year in Dallas and pushed out 10,000 units independently with that project. Morpheus later got deported... again. In 2007, Preemo put together Firestarter, a throw-together project to keep the lights on. It sold 4,000 units, again out of the trunk. The last three years, Preemo has been perfecting his anticipated second album, Concrete Dreams, which according to him, is an intentional play on words. It symbolizes dreams dreamt from the concrete streets and the dreams that are actually attainable. His dreams are to be the first mainstream Hispanic rapper in a long time and to do that, yes, he's going to have to be different from every current Latino rapper out there. "I take pride in being different and breaking stereotypes," says Preemo. "My music is unexpected and that's my favorite part of doing music. You don't hear me rapping about selling dope. There are realities we deal with but I'm not trying to be hard for anybody. I don't need anybody to look at my album cover and go 'damn he might shoot me.' All I want to do is make the best possible music I can make." Damn you, Al Yankovic. Why couldn't you be more like Preemo. "Weird" could have taken on a whole other meaning.
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