A lot of rappers establish street cred by talking about hittin' licks and sellin' rocks. Chingo Bling raps about slangin' tamales and hot sauce -- which is what brought him to the Southern Foodways Alliance annual symposium last weekend.
Known as the Masa Messiah, or the Taquero Vaquero, or, according to Houston Press staff writer John Lomax, "the walking embodiment of where Aztlan meets the Dirty South," Chingo spoke about the man behind the sunglasses, growing up in an immigrant family in urban Houston, and what he calls the "Taco Circuit."
Selling his independent records in flea markets and mom 'n' pop shops under the mainstream radar, Chingo described the dilemma of Mexicans in hip-hop and the challenge they face in finding widespread success. While the entertainment industry as a whole is taking baby steps toward more inclusive representation, hip-hop is a ways behind, he says.
"Mexican-American comedians tour with comedians of all colors, Mexican chefs are on the Food Network next to white, black and Asian chefs...so maybe it's just Mexicans in hip-hop that are stuck in this weird space where the mainstream just doesn't 'get it.' It goes back to that 'I'm too brown to be American and not brown enough to be Mexican' thing that we experience so much," Chingo said.
He described the network of underground venues he and other Mexican-American hip-hop acts play as the "Taco Circuit," a spin on the Chitlin Circuit African-Americans depended on during the times of Jim Crow. "We are self-segregated; it's not like we're not allowed in white venues, but we have to play where they book us," he said.
Much like black jazz and blues musicians in the 1950s, Chingo and his Mexican-American hip-hop colleagues bounce around to pockets of fans spread out across the country. "I was surprised when I started getting shows in Idaho, Atlanta, Wichita, Nashville--there's Mexicans everywhere!" he said.
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What it means to be Mexican-American, especially in hip-hop, is constantly evolving. "The Taco Circuit says a lot about the duality of having Mexican roots but living in an American urban environment. We really don't have our space or role clearly defined just yet," Chingo said.
One example of how he shapes his music to his fans--he's just finished a track called "Abercrombie/Hollister," a fun, goofy song about Mexican kids in the suburbs merging skinny jeans and Hollister shirts with cowboy hats and boots.
He "rapped up" the session with his cameo verse from the song "Grillz" with Nelly and Paul Wall-- "sopitas de rice, sopitas de pollo/I got dientes de ice, you got dientes de foil."
Whether it was the clever rhyme, his trademark comedic delivery, or the mention of sopitas so close to lunch time, the crowd roared.