Driving a New Beat
By Mario Tarradell / The Dallas Morning News
Imagine this scenario: The traditional music of Northern Mexico, predominantly
banda and norteño, crosses the border en route to South Central
Los Angeles, where it soaks up the heavy, urbanized sounds of rap, hip-hop
and street corner funk.
The regional urbano movement is born. Like tropi-pop, the new, hot fusion
of tropical and pop music, regional urbano meshes styles from different
cultures. The results are seamless, mainly because both regional Mexican
and hip-hop are grassroots genres. The inspiration to craft beats, whether
by scratching a turntable or blowing into a tuba, comes from a deep connection
to the neighborhood, the city and the people who populate them.
So the movers and shakers of regional urbano are largely young artists
with a desire to share their duality. Newcomers Akwid, David Rolas and
Jae-P are all products of Mexican parents and Los Angeles rearing. They
listened to Los Tigres del Norte and José Alfredo Jiménez
alongside NWA, Snoop Dogg and Big Daddy Kane.
But then you have Los Razos, a veteran norteño band dipping into
hip-hop waters with El Enhierbado, its controversial latest album.
Here's a look at four acts driving regional urbano:
The history: Brothers Francisco and Sergio Gómez began their recording career as Juvenile Style, finding early success in the DJ circuit of L.A.'s underground club world. A couple of independently released albums followed, both combining hip-hop with English rapping. In 2000, the duo christened itself Akwid, a conglomeration of their disc jockey monikers, AK (Sergio) and DJ Wikid (Francisco). By 2002, the siblings are paying tribute to their heritage by incorporating regional Mexican music.
The album: Proyecto Akwid, released in June, merges banda instrumentation with hip-hop beats. Throughout the record you can hear the brass - tuba, trumpet, trombone, clarinet - mingling with the funk-fortified thumps. Both brothers rap, often in unison, and the songs are sometimes salacious and sometimes socially conscious. Sex is a hot topic, as are relationships and the rich life. But on "Subir Arriba" the boys wax about being strong, working hard and rising above.
The history: Mexican-American Mr. Rolas, son of a Durango-born mother and a father from Jalisco, worked his way into the upper echelons of Los Angeles' hip-hop community. He became a sought-after disc jockey at the city's most influential hip-hop radio station. That led to club gigs, where he was known as David Jams and where he met Latino rappers such as Mellow Man Ace, Kid Frost and Proper Dos. But his heart brimmed with the traditional regional Mexican music passed down by his folks.
The album: Nuestra Vida, Mr. Rolas' debut CD released in October, closely follows the motto proclaimed in the title cut - "Nuestra vida es el hip-hop, el tequila, los corridos, la tambora, el desmadre y la familia." That means his brand of regional urbano comes drenched in banda; "Con Mi Botella" in particular relies on the tuba-fueled sound. He also has plenty to rap about, from the struggle for a good-paying job in a foreign land on "Compita Si Se Puede" to the uplifting "Cambiará Mi Suerte," a pep talk for all immigrants pursuing the American dream.
The history: Born Juan Pablo Huerta in South Central Los Angeles, Jae-P grew up heavily influenced by his Mexican parents (Mom is from León, Guanajuato, and Dad hails from Colima). The songs of legends Chalino Sánchez, Ramón Ayala and Vicente Fernández filled his household. But outside, he was digging the Chicano rap of Kid Frost and Little Rob y Night Owl.
The album: Ni De Aquí Ni De Allá revels in a societal and familial mood. Unlike many MCs, Jae-P chooses to rap about the sacrifices his mother and father made to help his family prosper, the importance of his Mexican nationality, the violence of the ghetto and the weaving of cultures and music to create a fresh style. Accordion and the brassy notes of Banda Nuteck supplement the slinky hip-hop sounds. Jae-P raps mostly in Spanish, but he's not afraid to go Spanglish. That lingo's a huge part of his reality.
The history: Formed in the late '80s by founders Sacramento Ramírez and Reynaldo Sanabria, Los Razos cultivated a following playing traditional norteño swimming in accordions and polka rhythms. Corridos are the order of the day, even narco-corridos about drug traffickers in the late '90s. The band has been prolific, recording eight albums since signing with BMG U.S. Latin in 1997.
The album: El Enhierbado has caused a mini-stir in the months since
its October release. Some diehard fans have rejected the group's brief
excursion into hip-hop. But brief is the operative word. The extent of
Los Razos' hip-hop trip consists of the CD cover, where the quintet dons
baggy T-shirts, jewelry, caps and bandanas to pose next to a couple of
vintage cars, and one song, "Resbalosa." Penned by Mr. Ramírez,
the track employs a thick bass and synthesized beat that alternates with
the norteño groove. Mr. Ramírez complements his singing with
some rapping. That's it; the rest of the CD is pure norteño.