Saturday, September 24, 2011

America's Least Wanted

Albucrazy hip hop has never risen to the same level of success as homegrown rock music. Yet, on the streets Hip hop is ubiquitous, it's everywhere, at stop lights, car washes, parking lots, parks etc. However, its mass popularity has never resulted in a cohesive local scene. Venues are hard to come by, even for established acts. The "Chitlin Circuit" for Hispanic rappers consists of car show appearances, private clubs and impromptu party gigs. No self respecting club or bar will book them, not to mention that most of their posse of fans are under 21. 

On the national scene, rap has evolved from underground street music into mainstream radio fodder. Today's rap stars have been scrubbed clean of street influences. Rap now seems far removed from it's big bang boogie genesis. For most rappers the street is a place to park your ride and not a place to find inspiration.  If rap's connection to the street is waning, you better not tell the Chicano rappers of Southern California. These homeboys are keeping it gang related. Everyday is 1989, bumpin' old school beats... gangsta rap never left, it just moved from Compton to the Varrio  * L.A. gangs pronounce it "varrio", everywhere else it's "barrio" I'll be damned if I know why they do that.

There's been little evolution, the attitude, the posture, the lyrics and to some degree the music remain unchanged.That's to be expected, this is a lifestyle that places high value on passing down traditions and customs. Which is why L.A. gang bangers take such pride in being third, fourth or fifth generation gangsters. Strength in numbers, everyone fits in and belongs, gangs don't want introspective moody loners.  It's a bizarro world full of unibrowed scowls, Zapata mustaches, mad dog sunglasses, bald heads, Raider gear, pitbulls and prison ink. There's little variation to the uniform, individuality is not encouraged. 

If I had to torture someone using loud music, Chicano/Latino Rap would be my weapon of choice. If they had blasted this at Noriega down in Panama, he would've ran out of the Vatican Mission begging for mercy.  The music is that bad... the lyrics, by design cover a narrow range of topics. It's semi-autobiographical boastful bullshit that rarely breaks from the script. The music itself is a soundtrack of old school beats lifted from 50's oldies, 60's soul music or early 90's gangsta rap. It's an indoctrination for the phony tough, a "Sesame Street" primer for pee wees wishing to become cogs in La Vida Loca.  

“If I didn’t have rap, I don’t know where I’d be. Maybe I’d be back in prison.”

Fahd Azam is better known by his stage name Mr. Capone-E, he’s an underground rapper, who made a name for himself with a rap style he calls "Sureño hip hop." Azam who is of Pakistani descent, grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, gang banging led to prison, from which he was released in 1998. Once out, he started performing as Mr. Capone-E (not to be confused with Capone, a rapper he feuded with when both recorded for the same label) Eventually he would start his own music production company, Hi-Power Entertainment and secured a distribution deal with Thump Records.

Mr. Capone-E claims that he no longer bangs, but he can't ignore where he's from. Most of his fans came from the same place, through the same circumstances.  “I thought that’s all the world had to offer,” he said. “When you were really into that lifestyle, that’s all you see, and that’s all you know.” His facial features are reptilian, he hides his eyes behind sunglasses and his bald head glistens like a fresh roll of salami.  His cultural heritage is fodder for his enemies, who constantly remind everyone that "He's not even Chicano."  A common theme for comments that accompany Capone-E's videos on YouTube, he doesn't dwell on this “It’s about growing up in an environment." he says, "We’re all under one umbrella, Sureño means we're all from Southern California.”

Azam has albums by the score, but his combined catalog is less than impressive. It's one track after another of the same old shit, although over the years he's backed off from the hardcore street themes. These days, he also raps about women or heinas (pronounced hi-naws) although his approach is more pimp than lover boy. He's proud of the song "Amir Kahn Knocking Them Out" which he wrote for the WBA junior welterweight champion. The pugilist uses it as his ring intro music. The two met in Las Vegas and hit it off, this resulted in Kahn flying Capone-E to England. Which in turn, led to an effort by Mr. Capone-E & Hi Power to expand their fan base into Europe.

"Ideally we don't want them... period"

The irony is that Mr. Capone-E and the Hi Power stable will find expansion easier outside the U.S. than they will at home. Here they are ostracized for their gang ties (real or imagined) A recent tour in Washington was cut short when police met them at the airport to inform them that they would not be allowed to perform. Pasco, Wa. police cited Hi Power's alleged affiliation with known street gangs (Sureños) as the reason for barring their performance. A smirking television news anchor reporting on the story then added,  "Police in Yakima have also been advised to cancel a show scheduled for that city." 

This menace to society then ran into the same situation in Greely, Co.  where the mayor and a district attorney put pressure on a local promoter to cancel an appearance by Hi Power. Greely government officials were concerned that Capone-E's music would glorify gangs. Is Racism alive and well in America?, of course it is. Mr. Capone-E and his entire entourage can travel overseas, (with Homeland Security restrictions in place) and perform in Europe, but not here at home? Mr. Capone-E and Hi Power have also journeyed to Japan for a series of concerts. Japan a nation with strict entry restrictions, had no problems with the artists. 

Like most indie hip hop labels, Hi-Power pools its roster of artists into an in-house collective. In this case they're The Hi-Power Torpedos (a name that led one YouTube commenter to suggest that it sounds like something you would buy at a sex shop) The Torpedos include: Mr. Capone-E & Mr. Criminal (who can only be described as the Chicano Snoop Dogg) Ms. Lady Pinks (a bleached blond who is often referred to as a tranny by her detractors) Triste Loko (a freaky guy with a small head and no neck) Menace (looks like he's never lifted a weight in his life, sports ink over his right eyebrow) they're supported by a sad array of rappers who call themselves "Hi-Power Soldiers."

"These vatos are really trying to clown on me" 

It wouldn't be fun if there wasn't drama and with street rappers there's always drama. Hi Power entertainment is engaged in an escalating war of words with former label mate Big Lokote and New Mexico's own Juan Gambino. Lokote the self styled "King of Murder Rap" broke away from Hi Power to start his own label. For that he drew the ire of the entire Hi Power clan, who now gleefully call him out in a series of YouTube videos. There's an element of kayfabe at work here. You get the feeling that all parties involved are working the same angle, " Pass if off as legitimate and we all get paid"  Still, it wouldn't surprise me if either  Capone-E, Big Lokote or Juan Gambino met with a Biggie Smalls ending. 

Both sides accuse one another of being internet bangers or studio gangsters, all claim to be real street soldiers.  Hi Power led by Ms. Lady Pinks (whom Big Lokote calls Mr. Pinks, Juan Gambino refers to her as Ms. Stinks) pounds on Big Mokote (Booger) who answers with a stream of response videos and songs, these include titles such as: Fuck Mr. Lady Pinks, Fuck Triste Joto, Hi Coward Killaz etc. He also gets in a few jabs at Juan Gambino (who hails from Roswell, N.M.) on "Tard Fuck Mr. Mona"  My favorite video has Ms. Lady Pinks, Menace & Triste Loko traveling to New Mexico in a van, searching for "Big Mokote." 

They pull into a Gallup convience store, camera in hand and start asking people if they've seen him around. The customers, most of whom are Navajo can barely hide their contempt as Pinks bellows out "Has anyone here seen Big Mokote?" Next they arrive in Albuquerque and cruise around town looking for Lokote (who lives in Los Angeles) While signing autographs for fans, Pinks asks what they think about Juan Gambino. One Duke City chola calls out "Fuck him! he's not even from here." They never do find Big Lokote, or as one commenter put it: "How the hell do these idiots think they can go to a big ass state and find one person?" Well said homie!

"Cheaper than a bowl of menudo for two"