Things That Matter

If You’re Latino Then Chances Are You Remember The Rapper Who Took The World By Storm In 1990

Before Latina and Latino rappers like Cardi B, Big Pun, or Lil Rob were using Spanglish (Spanish-English) lyrics in their music, there was an Afro-Cuban rapper named Mellow Man Ace from South Gate, California whose Billboard Top 20 song “Mentirosa,” put bilingual rap on the map.

“Cause right now you’re just a liar, a straight mentirosa, Today ya tell me something y mañana otra cosa.”

Credit: Facebook

If this is your first time hearing his name, or reading the lyrics from the hit song, you’re probably not alone — Mellow Man Ace’s overnight success came long before the rise of social media. (It should be noted that he currently has over 20k followers on Instagram, which, by some standards, means that he has some type of influence.)

Born Ulpiano Reyes in Pinar Del Rio, Cuba, Mellow Man Ace is usually overlooked in favor of other Latino/Chicano rap pioneers like Kid Frost, A Lighter Shade of Brown (LSOB), and Lil’ Rob. Frost’s “La Raza” and LSOB’s “On A Sunday Afternoon,” both released in 1990, were anthems for Chicanas and Chicanos in the Southwest, while San Diego native, Lil Rob is best known for his 2005 hit “Summer Nights.” All three are probably on your “Chicano Rap” Spotify playlists at the moment.

Credit: Facebook

But for those of you who are, in fact, old enough to recognize Mellow Man Ace’s name, you’ll remember the way “Mentirosa” took the world by storm in the early ’90s. And, more importantly, the feeling you felt when you finally heard a rapper on the radio who rapped in Spanglish.

Mellow Man Ace emerged on the scene wearing a Cuban guayabera and a Panama straw hat, which resembled a Cuban bolero singer more than it a rapper at the time. But instead of singing “Guantanamera,” Mellow electrified the world with a hard-hitting blend of bilingual, edgy lyrics that ranged from parties to relationships to fame.

I remember the day que tú me decías, time and time again que tú me querías

Before Mellow, however, Latinos on the West Coast didn’t have a voice in the Hip Hop world that reflected the bilingual worlds that we came from. We were listening to Ice-T, Queen Latifah, and Public Enemy in the privacy of our rooms. Meanwhile, our parents played Vicente Fernandez and Paquita Del Barrio in the living room while yelling, “Bajale a esa mierda” (turn that shit down) whenever we played our music.

Credit: Facebook

Our parents didn’t understand our reasons for loving hip-hop, and would often dismiss it as a music form all together. But Mellow had the power to communicate the day-to-day things that we were experiencing in a hybrid language that reflected the “ni de aqui, ni de alla,” (not from here or there) feeling that we felt on an every day basis.  

You’re probably wondering where I sit in this equation, right? I had just entered preschool when the song came out, but I was old enough to recognize that the music that was thumping from my cousin’s bedroom would have an impact on me for years to come.

Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez

I mean, who wasn’t instantly moved by the catchy opening line: “Check this out baby, tenemos tremendo lío, last night you didn’t go, a la casa de tu tío.” (Check this out baby, we have a big problem, last night you didn’t go, to your uncle’s house.)

I remember receiving the cassette as a Christmas gift a year after the song came out. I’d carry the cassette wherever I went and would play it every time my mother and I drove somewhere until an older cousin of mine (who shall go unnamed) borrowed it one day and never returned it.

“Before Mellow Man Ace, born Ulpiano Reyes, Latinos who loved hip-hop didn’t have a voice that reflected the bilingual worlds that we came from.”

Still, while I was without the cassette, I was never completely removed from the song because it was constantly playing throughout my Southeast L.A. community in homes, liquor stores, and especially our next door neighbor’s 1965 Chevy Impala.

Because for someone like me, who grew in a predominantly Spanish-speaking home (with family from Mexico and Cuba), the bilingual nature of “Mentirosa” allowed the language that I spoke at home and the one I was learning in school to find a way to coexist together. It was almost as if Mellow’s words acted as a timely message to the world: A new generation of Latinos were here and we were going to speak in whatever language or languages we wanted to. 

Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez

But in addition to becoming an overnight music sensation, Mellow had an immigrant story, that I would learn about as an adult, that hit close to home and resonated with other Latino immigrant experiences throughout the U.S. He reminded us that being a Latino immigrant in the U.S. meant that you had to sacrifice and endure in a country whose language and way of life didn’t always reflect the one our families had left behind.

After immigrating from the western province of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba, in 1971, Mellow and his family settled in a Los Angeles suburb known as South Gate, a community adjacent to Watts. His biggest challenge, among other things, was adjusting to a new language.

“When I got to L.A ,” he explained to me over the phone, “I struggled with the English language and I spoke a Sammy Sosa type of English.”

“Another big difference was that we had carpeting and electricity for the first time in our lives,” he added.

“But understanding Mellow’s impact only as a music contribution is to miss the magnitude of his influence on Latinos throughout the U.S.”

After learning English, he began to write rap lyrics in the tenth grade, but still faced some challenges, which forced him to drop out of high school two years later. 

Mellow Man Ace’s passion for music, however, may have been genetic.

His grandfather was once was a composer in a famous Cuban orchestra and his brother, unbeknownst to many, is Sen Dog from the pioneering hip-hop group Cypress Hill. (Mellow Man Ace was also part of an early version of Cypress Hill.)

But understanding Mellow Man Ace’s impact on U.S. Latinos only as a musical contribution is to miss the magnitude of his influence.

“Mentirosa” did more than give us a hypnotic chorus to dance to and recite over and over again. It gave an entire generation of Latinas and Latinos, like myself, to be unapologetically multilingual and multicultural.

For, Mellow Man Ace, whose success paved the way for Latino rappers, it was also about letting the world know that Latinos didn’t have to compromise who they were. 

“When I came out, I wanted to make sure people knew who I was,” he said while reflecting on the impact of his career. “I wanted to make it acceptable for Latinos to be who we are, so at the end of the day I kept my life Cuban and that’s how I lived. I never pretended to be anybody else.”

“I opened doors for others and I never closed the door behind me.”

Mellow did, in fact, open doors for an entire generation of Latino rappers like Immortal Technique, Snow Da Product, and Big Pun who, without his success, arguably, may never have been able to break into mainstream music.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my cousin and I still have a tremendio lio because it’s been twenty-eight years and he still hasn’t returned my cassette.

READ: These Latino Rap OGs Are Still Blazing It 25 Years After Their Debut

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Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Entertainment

Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Luis Fonsi is kicking off 2021 with a new single. The Puerto Rican superstar premiered the music video for “Vacío” on Feb. 18 featuring rising Boricua singer Rauw Alejandro. The guys put a new spin on the classic “A Puro Dolor” by Son By Four.

Luis Fonsi throws it back to his románticas.

“I called Omar Alfanno, the writer of ‘A Puro Dolo,’ who is a dear friend,” Fonsi tells Latido Music. “I told him what my idea was [with ‘Vacío’] and he loved it. He gave me his blessing, so I wrote a new song around a few of those lines from ‘A Puro Dolor’ to bring back that nostalgia of those old romantic tunes that have been a part of my career as well. It’s a fresh production. It sounds like today, but it has that DNA of a true, old-school ballad.”

The world got to know Fonsi through his global smash hit “Despacito” with Daddy Yankee in 2017. The remix with Canadian pop star Justin Bieber took the song to new heights. That was a big moment in Fonsi’s music career that spans over 20 years.

There’s more to Fonsi than “Despacito.”

Fonsi released his first album, the fittingly-titled Comenzaré, in 1998. While he was on the come-up, he got the opportunity of a lifetime to feature on Christina Aguilera’s debut Latin album Mi Reflejo in 2000. The two collaborated on “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” Fonsi scored multiple Billboard Hot Latin Songs No. 1s in the years that followed and one of the biggest hits was “No Me Doy Por Vencido” in 2008. That was his career-defining romantic ballad.

“Despacito” remains the second most-viewed music video on YouTube with over 7.2 billion views. The hits did not stop there. Later in 2017, he teamed up with Demi Lovato for “Échame La Culpa,” which sits impressively with over 2 billion views.

He’s also appearing on The Voice next month.

Not only is Fonsi working on his new album, but also he’s giving advice to music hopefuls for the new season of The Voice that’s premiering on March 1. Kelly Clarkson tapped him as her Battle Advisor. In an exclusive interview, Fonsi talked with us about “Vacío,” The Voice, and a few of his greatest hits.

What was the experience like to work with Rauw Alejandro for “Vacío”?

Rauw is cool. He’s got that fresh sound. Great artist. Very talented. Amazing onstage. He’s got that great tone and delivery. I thought he had the perfect voice to fit with my voice in this song. We had talked about working together for awhile and I thought that this was the perfect song. He really is such a star. What he’s done in the last couple of years has been amazing. I love what he brought to the table on this song.

Now I want to go through some of your greatest hits. Do you remember working with Christina Aguilera for her Spanish album?

How could you not remember working with her? She’s amazing. That was awhile back. That was like 1999 or something like that. We were both starting out and she was putting out her first Spanish album. I got to sing a beautiful ballad called “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” I got to work with her in the studio and see her sing in front of the mic, which was awesome. She’s great. One of the best voices out there still to this day.

What’s one of your favorite memories of “No Me Doy Por Vencido”?

“No Me Doy Por Vencido” is one of the biggest songs in my career. I think it’s tough to narrow it down just to one memory. I think in general the message of the song is what sticks with me. The song started out as a love song, but it turned into an anthem of hope. We’ve used the song for different important events and campaigns. To me, that song has such a powerful message. It’s bigger than just a love song. It’s bringing hope to people. It’s about not giving up. To be able to kind of give [people] hope through a song is a lot more powerful than I would’ve ever imagined. It’s a very special song.

I feel the message is very relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living through.

Oh yeah! I wrote that song a long time ago with Claudia Brant, and during the first or second month of the lockdown when we were all stuck at home, we did a virtual writing session and we rewrote “No Me Doy Por Vencido.” Changing the lyrics, kind of adjusting them to this situation that we’re living now. I haven’t recorded it. I’ll do something with it eventually. It’s really cool. It still talks about love. It talks about reuniting. Like the light at the end of the tunnel. It has the hope and love backbone, but it has to do a lot with what we’re going through now.

What do you think of the impact “Despacito” made on the industry?

It’s a blessing to be a part of something so big. Again, it’s just another song. We write these songs and the moment you write them, you don’t really know what’s going to happen with them. Or sometimes you run into these surprises like “Despacito” where it becomes a global phenomenon. It goes No. 1 in places where Spanish songs had never been played. I’m proud. I’m blessed. I’m grateful to have worked with amazing people like Daddy Yankee. Like Justin Bieber for the remix and everyone else involved in the song. My co-writer Erika Ender. The producers Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Torres. It was really a team effort and it’s a song that obviously changed my career forever.

What was the experience like to work with Demi Lovato on “Echáme La Culpa”?

She’s awesome! One of the coolest recording sessions I’ve ever been a part of. She really wanted to sing in Spanish and she was so excited. We did the song in Spanish and English, but it was like she was more excited about the Spanish version. And she nailed it! She nailed it from the beginning. There was really not much for me to say to her. I probably corrected her once or twice in the pronunciation, but she came prepared and she brought it. She’s an amazing, amazing, amazing vocalist.

You’re going to be a battle advisor on The Voice. What was the experience like to work with Kelly Clarkson?

She’s awesome. What you see is what you get. She’s honest. She’s funny. She’s talented. She’s humble and she’s been very supportive of my career. She invited me to her show and it speaks a lot that she wanted me to be a part of her team as a Battle Advisor for the new season. She supports Latin music and I’m grateful for that. She’s everything you hope she would be. She’s the real deal, a true star, and just one of the coolest people on this planet.

What can we expect from you in 2021?

A lot of new music. Obviously, everything starts today with “Vacío.” This is literally the beginning of what this new album will be. I’ve done nothing but write and record during the last 10 months, so I have a bunch of songs. Great collaborations coming up. I really think the album will be out probably [in the] third or fourth quarter this year. The songs are there and I’m really eager for everybody to hear them.

Read: We Finally Have A Spanish-Language Song As The Most Streamed Song Of All Time

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Lifestyles Of The Rich And Dangerous: Cartels Are Using TikTok To Lure Young People

Things That Matter

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Dangerous: Cartels Are Using TikTok To Lure Young People

If you’ve ever wondered what someone with a bulletproof vest and an AR-15 would look like flossing — the dance, not the method of dental hygiene — apparently the answer to that question can be found on TikTok.

Unfortunately, it’s not as a part of some absurdist sketch comedy or surreal video art installation. Instead, it’s part of a growing trend of drug cartels in Mexico using TikTok as a marketing tool. Nevermind the fact that Mexico broke grim records last year for the number of homicides and cartel violence, the cartels have found an audience on TikTok and that’s a serious cause for concern.

Mexican cartels are using TikTok to gain power and new recruits.

Just a couple of months ago, a TikTok video showing a legit high-speed chase between police and drug traffickers went viral. Although it looked like a scene from Netflix’s Narcos series, this was a very real chase in the drug cartel wars and it was viewed by more than a million people.

Typing #CartelTikTok in the social media search bar brings up thousands of videos, most of them from people promoting a “cartel culture” – videos with narcocorridos, and presumed members bragging about money, fancy cars and a luxury lifestyle.

Viewers no longer see bodies hanging from bridges, disembodied heads on display, or highly produced videos with messages to their enemies. At least not on TikTok. The platform is being used mainly to promote a lifestyle and to generate a picture of luxury and glamour, to show the ‘benefits’ of joining the criminal activities.

According to security officials, the promotion of these videos is to entice young men who might be interested in joining the cartel with images of endless cash, parties, military-grade weapons and exotic pets like tiger cubs.

Cartels have long used social media to shock and intimidate their enemies.

And using social media to promote themselves has long been an effective strategy. But with Mexico yet again shattering murder records, experts on organized crime say Cartel TikTok is just the latest propaganda campaign designed to mask the blood bath and use the promise of infinite wealth to attract expendable young recruits.

“It’s narco-marketing,” said Alejandra León Olvera, an anthropologist at Spain’s University of Murcia, in a statement to the New York Times. The cartels “use these kinds of platforms for publicity, but of course it’s hedonistic publicity.”

Mexico used to be ground zero for this kind of activity, where researchers created a new discipline out of studying these narco posts. Now, gangs in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, and the United States are also involved.

A search of the #CartelTikTok community and its related accounts shows people are responding. Public comments from users such as “Y’all hiring?” “Yall let gringos join?” “I need an application,” or “can I be a mule? My kids need Christmas presents,” are on some of the videos.

One of the accounts related to this cartel community publicly answered: “Of course, hay trabajo para todos,” “I’ll send the application ASAP.” “How much is the pound in your city?” “Follow me on Instagram to talk.” The post, showing two men with $100 bills and alcohol, had more than a hundred comments.

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