For the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native, the ink symbolizes her dedication to music and family, the two elements that have inspired her young career. At age 27, Perez has already released three successful solo albums, a classic street ballad in “Angel,” and a new single, “Candy Kisses,” that is in heavy rotation at urban radio stations across the country. And, perhaps predictably, San Antonio was one of the first markets to embrace Perez’s distinctive brand of Latina soul.
Perez attributes her steady rise in the R&B game to the early influence of an Indiana Tejano band called The Sombra Chicana USA, which happened to be comprised of her uncles and cousins and whose presence was felt in her immediate family.
“Every day I woke up to music,” Perez recalls. “There are five of us, three sisters and one brother, so everybody kind of had their own little attitude. It was rock and rap and country and Spanish, so I listened to all kinds of music growing up. I picked up a lot of different kinds of styles of music, plus my uncles had their own band, so I watched them practice and do music. So music was everyday for me.”
By age 11, Perez picked up keyboards and the accordion, both of which she learned to play by ear, and fronted a band of her own. The Sombra Chicana Chiquitos were named in honor of her uncle’s band, whose members allowed Perez and her friends to perform during their gigs’ intermissions. The Chiquitos’ sound was noticeably different than that of her uncle’s band, which Perez attributes to demographics and her sister’s Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn records.
“I grew up in an area where there wasn’t a lot of Latinos around,” she says. “It was majority blacks and whites. Growing up, you go with what is hip, so R&B and hip-hop was the thing. I loved the sound and everything that went with it. I got involved with it and decided this was something I wanted to do as a Latina to show that it really isn’t about color or nationality, that everybody can do it. It comes from the soul.
“It was really fun because it was an opportunity for people to get to know who I was, and my band, and that’s how everything started. I knew from the moment I was a little girl that this was going to be something I was gonna do.”
Next up for Perez was a stop at the 1999 Black Expo in Indianapolis, where she walked away with Junior Female Vocalist of the Year honors and connected with one of her core audiences. “I was kind of scared going to the Black Expo because I’ve seen it done before where a white person or a Latino would do a show and people would never give them a chance,” Perez recalls. “The crowd would laugh at them, or think they don’t got no rhythm, or they don’t have this and that, and really it’s not true. God blesses people with all types of talents and it’s not specific for a black or a white or a Latino. The audience ended up accepting me, and loving me, and since then I’ve totally been blessed and everyone accepts me.”
Perez lists Aaliyah and Missy Elliot as her major musical influences, and was deeply affected by Aaliyah’s tragic death in a 2001 plane crash. “It hurt me at the time because I knew that one day I would have to do the same things that she did, like fly,” Perez says. “I really don’t like flying and I have a big fear on that. I’ve really gotten used to it, but I am afraid, and when I seen that she died in a plane crash it really scared me. I hope that doesn’t happen to me because I noticed a lot of good people in the industry that have done something well in their life have died in a plane crash.”
Perez’s next album, Hand of Fate, is slated to drop sometime in August and she is currently planning a national tour. In the Alamo City, she will share the stage with the crunkest names in commercial rap and will probably upstage them all. Afterward, she will hop on a plane and head to another show, which brings us back to that tattoo.
“On my neck it says ‘atras del miedo hay dinero,’ because in order for me to get my money I have to jump on that plane. It’s the same thing for people that are in the streets. In order for them to eat they have to steal and rob and do whatever they have to do to survive. Of course, everybody has that fear. ‘Oh, I’m gonna get locked up or I’m gonna go to prison.’ So I put that on my neck to show that, ‘Hey, I’m scared to fly, but if I don’t jump on that plane I can’t feed my family.’” •