“This city chose hip-hop,” says Leonard Favela, aka DJ Lenyrd Spinyrd to a crowded living room on 36th Street. “Hip-hop came as an art form, and it got adopted in San Anto, and this is how we do it. This is our representation of it.” Over the years, the hip-hop cosmos has been dotted with Latino influences ranging from major constellations such as Big Pun and Cypress Hill to smaller stars like Pitbull and the Beatnuts. The Alamo City itself has had its own share of minor Latino luminaries, including DJ Master Mixing Mando, “Rocket” Ron Hernandez of Drop the Beat fame, and yes, Chingo Bling. This month, two of San Antonio’s more promising young artists, OBX the Mex and DJ Tech-Neek dropped The New Hope, which posits a shift in the local hip-hop landscape.
“I’ve been doing shows for about six years already so I’ve seen it grow,” says Tech-Neek, who grew up on the city’s South Side. “To me, the San Antonio music scene in general, not just the hip-hop scene, is just so big now, and it’s so spread out. No one’s even having competition for doing shows, and it don’t matter because the crowds are so big and people are coming out now. I think it’s a wonderful thing because everyone’s getting heard.”
“Straight up, there’s some good talent here in San Antonio, but there’s a lot of fucking MySpace rappers,” says OBX, who claims the North-Central part of town “What I mean by that is that’s all they really do. People really need to work hard in putting their shit out and not just putting it on `the website`. It’s definitely a good way, but put some product out, out here in the scene. Do a show. Do something. But I think there’s definitely a lot of talent that I’ve seen. Goddamn, this shit right here is official.”
At 18 tracks with one bonus cut, The New Hope builds on OBX’s proven formula of lyrical wordplay interspersed with cinematic interludes and street talk. Backed by inspired beats and sick cuts from Tech-Neek, OBX’s deep, gravelly voice reaches a new timbre, displaying an evolving comfort with the mic. DBD Family member Sel, who is currently on a 20-year bid, again steals the show with verses that were recorded before his incarceration. As true proponents of hip-hop, OBX and Tech-Neek have been influenced and worked with people of all races, but the fact that The New Hope’s two major architects are Raza is not lost on other members of the hip-hop community.
“As far as the representation of the city, I’m kind of a little discouraged about it, because the scene is dominated by Latinos, but Latinos are not the face of the city as far as the outside looking in,” say Rick Vega, a Massachusetts transplant who resides on the Northeast side. “There’s only a few people that’s being looked at, but they’re not Latinos. I think that’s part of an identity thing. You’ve got your ‘cholo rappers.’ You’ve got cats that imitate what they see. And then you got dudes like OBX, who’s doing what he’s doing. He’s doing what he feels.”
“It’s more than just rap,” adds Vega. “I personally think that the graf scene here and the DJs and the b-boys are way bigger than the emcees. It takes more skill, in my opinion, to do a piece or to work them tables or hit the ground. It takes more to do that than just write a verse, because right now it’s the thing to be. The thing to be is a rapper.”
Gathered together on a bright Sunday, this Latino contingent of the San Antonio hip-hop community agreed on many things. As the ethnic majority in the city, Latinos must take more accountability for helping build the scene as a whole. More women should be invited to the table and supported as artists and leaders, and sexism in all its forms must be checked. The images of Latino emcees who are simply car-show rappers, blunted rhyme-spitters, and stereotypical reggaeton artists — although respected for what they can provide — must also be challenged.
“The music scene here, the community, shares a common love for music,” say Alvaro Ramirez, aka Itzli, who claims 36th Street and plans to drop an album this summer. “If you find the right people, they’ll be more than willing to work with you. There’s a mutual respect between different genres of music. We don’t need to stick to those generalizations that the corporate media tries to sit upon us. What you hear on the airwaves now, on the radio, the garbage that you hear, the poison, it caters to money. To me it shouldn’t be about money. To me the glorification of materialism and apathy is not true hip-hop. I’m for the culture.”•