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Chingo Bling: from Trinity dropout to hip-hop hero (courtesy photos)

Chingo Bling reinvents himself, and Latino hip-hop, with a rasquache self-parody shtick

Who is Chingo Bling? Nuevo Tamalero, indie-rap superstar, Trinity University dropout DJ Biz, or Pedro Herrera? Actually, Chingo is all of the above and a lot more. His shtick and charisma owe an equal debt to Guillermo Goméz-Peña, Kool Keith, El Vez, Humpty Hump, and Xerox, crossed with some of Weird Al Yankovic's sense of pop-culture parody.

A native Texan known to his parents as Pedro Herrera, Chingo's immediate family - like his public persona - originates from the North Tamaulipas part of Mexico. After a prep-school stint in Philly, he arrived in San Antonio and copped a radio show at Trinity's KRTU. That's where the character Chingo Bling was born. Local DJ Donnie D recalls an evening in 2001 when he first met Chingo, then known as DJ Biz, in the studios of KRTU. "We had just met and were all vibing, and all of a sudden he flipped out and did this voice and it was Chingo Bling." That voice, somewhere between B-Real's exaggerated nasal tone, Tony Montana's fierce growl, and your cousin Pepe's accent, is one of the things that makes Chingo hard to swallow for hip-hop purists and most of San Anto's Spanish-impaired MCs.

By 2002, Donnie D and MC True had joined DJ Biz on San Anto's airwaves and the trio became the Middlemen, delivering Southern-refried hip-hop to the masses of the Alamo City. "When I was DJing and had my radio show, I'd bust out and Chingo Bling would hop up on the scene," Herrera says. "My other personality would step up and the phones would start ringing."


With his mother's blessing, Herrera left Trinity and KRTU and returned to Houston to pursue his dream. Chingo's debut, Duro En La Pintura, was released through his label Big Chile Records and captured Herrera's gift for authentic pocho-speak. Duro's first single was titled "What Did He Said," and included the rhyme: "You see me at the pulga/you don't see me at the mall/I started to run fast but the migra made me fall/Sopita de rice, sopita de pollo/tengo dientes de ice, You got dientes de foil." The LP also includes a handful of DJ Screw mixes that spotlight Clutch Citys Choppaholix, a pair of relocated chilango DJs with tight skills.

Herrera's second release, El Mero Chingon, is most memorable for "Ice & Bling," which elevated the dormant genre of "Latin Rap" to new heights and sent brothers scrambling for Spanish dictionaries. On this disc, Chingo's primo Icey-E lets loose: "Mucho brillo & mucho frio/Borrajeando libras con my cousin and my tio/I see Chingo Bling got more ice than paleteras/Freestylin' in the club in my blue guayabera/Why ya so cold cuz I crossed the frontera/Like Icey-E, Chingo Bling can't nobody do it better/Estilo de mojado con el pantalon awuado/Peleando por el verde traffic Colorado/Gritando let's unite Chapulin Colorado/I got this bitch sold from Corpos to any estado."

Chingo excels, at least monetarily, because for young Latino audiences in Texas and across the country, he fills the void created in 2002 when Carlos Coy, a.k.a. South Park Mexican, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for molesting a nine-year-old girl.

In 2000, SPM stood atop the Houston rap game as a fledgling MC who never made it to the ninth grade. A self-professed crack dealer, Coy embraced rap as a way of lifting his family out of Houston's South Park ghetto. SPM and his family-operated indie label Dope House Records made $40,000 a month in record sales and eventually Coy signed with the all-mighty Universal Music Group to a contract whose advance surpassed $500,000. That same year he was profiled in Newsweek, and Texas Monthly named him one of the "Voices of a New Generation." Despite his success, Coy was ultimately revealed for who he always was: a petty hustler and hopeless pedophile.


Last year, the Houston Press named Chingo the best comedian of 2003, and through pulgas and swap meets, he has quickly risen to phenom status. These days he's making SPM-money and his latest release, The Air Chingo Mex-tape and DBD Bideo, reveals more of his knack for marketing, appropriation and rasquache humor. The first cut, "MBA (Air Chingo)," is a silly valentine to Houston, set to John Tesh's now-discontinued theme for the NBA on NBC. The album itself is a tribute to the glory days of the Michael Jordan era that sticks to Chingo's formula of hijacking mainstream beats to slang metaphoric tamales.

To his brown detractors, Herrera replies: "Not everybody agrees with what I'm doing. I've had people come up to me and say 'Hey, I hear you're making these songs and doing things the way you're doing to make fun of La Raza.' My response is, first of all, it's gotten me to a position where I have people's attention and where I can actually help somebody. If I got a little money in my pocket now, I can do a turkey drive for Christmas.

"I can get with H.E.B. `with whom Herrera is negotiating to carry Chingo Bling Tortillas`, and say 'If you bring 100 turkeys, I'm going to match however many turkeys you bring to the table and we're gonna donate them.' Suddenly, I can make book covers at back-to-school time with an anti-drug, positive message, but if I wasn't doing what I was doing, kids wouldn't want to pick up that book cover and wrap it around their book."

Ultimately, Chingo connects with Tejanos in a way no other MC has done before. "My take on it is that I'm just one out of a couple million kids in this generation that, whether we're born in Mexico or born over here, we love our roots and we love our culture. Some of us speak Spanish and some of us don't, but hip-hop is still huge for us. I love it." •

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