In the opening shots of Peso Pluma‘s music video for “El Belicon,” two men walk toward the camera with rifles in hand. Wearing ski masks and bulletproof vests, it’s clear they’re ready to shoot.

In the next few clips, more armed men make their way through a forested area. Finally, we see Peso Pluma and Raúl Vega. Women and jeeps surround them as they hold bats and paddles in their hands. The song has risen in popularity, but not just for being a great tune. In fact, rumors have fluttered around the lyrics and who it’s really about.

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For one, that Double P wrote this song about Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, also known as “El Nini” in the Sinaloa Cartel. The second is that they filmed the music video in Pérez Salas’ home in Culiacan, Mexico.

El Nini was allegedly head of security for El Chapo’s sons and heavily involved with the Sinaloa cartel

Mexico’s National Guard arrested Pérez Salas on November 22 in Culiacan. He was the alleged security chief for one wing of the Sinaloa drug cartel. He was also one of the most wanted men by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.). In April, the D.E.A. posted a $3 million reward for his capture.

“This guy was a complete psychopath,” Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the D.E.A. told CBS News. “Taking him out of commission is a good thing for Mexico.”

While the rumors around “El Belicon” are still mostly rumors, Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, known for her work on the U.S.-Mexico drug trade and cartels, reported that there is a close friendship between Pluma and Pérez Salas.

Peso Pluma’s odes to cartel leaders in his songs caught the eye of their rivals

“El Belicon” has been claimed responsible for Pluma’s rise in Mexico. Before the singer made his way to Jimmy Fallon’s late night stage in April, the song had reached 10 million YouTube views three days after its release in February 2022.

After this, Pluma was not only cemented in the emerging canon of corridos tumbados, but he eventually caught the attention of another one of Mexico’s cartels.

In September, as the “Ella Baila Sola” singer was getting ready to perform in Tijuana, four large banners appeared around the city warning him to cancel his concert the following month or it would be his last. Signed with the letters CJNG of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, the banners also chastised him for his “disrespectful and loose tongue.”

The CJNG cartel is known as the main adversary of the Sinaloa cartel in Tijuana and across Mexico. Pluma eventually canceled the show scheduled for October 14.

Mexican officials often chide corridos, norteñas and musica de banda for glamorizing narco culture

Since they’ve become one of Mexico’s main cultural exports, many have reignited a long-standing debate over romanticizing cartel lifestyle. The dispute isn’t new and neither are the connections between the artists and the subjects of their songs.

Pluma himself explained in interviews that many artists are paid directly by cartel leaders to exalt the figures behind them and turn them into icons. In an interview on the “Soy Grupero” podcast, Pluma calls them “corridos de encargo,” songs written on demand for the cartels.

“We aren’t thinking about writing homages or trying to get people to revere them,” he said. “It’s normal for regional Mexican artists who sing corridos to get a call asking ‘how much do you charge for corridos?’ And we write them and deliver them.”

As Isabelia Herrera pointed out in Pitchfork, that interview is just one example of this long-standing tradition. Additionally, the violence against these artists is also not new. Herrera lists a number of instances in the past two decades where musicians have faced threats to their lives. Including some who were murdered by drug trafficking gangs.

Pluma has not commented on Pérez Salas’ arrest or alleged friendship. mitú reached out to his public relations agency and his record label, but did not receive a response.