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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America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

Entertainment

America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

It has been 20 years since America Ferrera’s dream of becoming an actor back true. She took to Instagram to reflect on the moment that her dream started to come true and it is a sweet reminder that anyone can chase their dreams.

America Ferrera shared a sweet post reflecting on the 20th anniversary of working on “Gotta Kick It Up!”

“Gotta Kick It Up!” was one of the earliest examples of Latino representation so many of us remember. The movie follows a school dance team trying to be the very best they could possibly be. The team was down on their luck but a new teacher introduces them to a different kind of music to get them going again.

After being introduced to Latin beats, the dance team is renewed. It taps into a cultural moment for the Latinas on the team and the authenticity of the music makes their performances some of the best.

While the movie meant so much to Latino children seeing their culture represented for the first time, the work was a major moment for Ferrera. In the Instagram post, she gushes over the celebrities she saw on the lot she was working on. Of course, anyone would be excited to see Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt hanging out. Yet, what stands out the most is Ferrera’s own excitement to realize that she can make money doing what she loves most.

“I wish I could go back and tell this little baby America that the next 20 years of her life will be filled with unbelievable opportunity to express her talent and plenty of challenges that will allow her to grow into a person, actress, producer, director, activist that she is very proud and grateful to be. We did it baby girl. I’m proud of us,” Ferrera reflects.

Watch the trailer for “Gotta Kick It Up!” here.

READ: America Ferrera’s “Superstore” Is Going To Get A Spanish-Language Adaptation In A Win For Inclusion

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This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Entertainment

This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.

Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.

When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.

While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.

Timoteo “El Charro Negro” performing “Chiquilla Linda” on Dante Night Show in 2017.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.

As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”

“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.

The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.

“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”

For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.

After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.

Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.

El Charro Negro
Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.

“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”

Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”

Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.

Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.

“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”

“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.

In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.

El Charro Negro
Pollard (left) seen with legendary Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez (right) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?

The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”

That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”

“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”

The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.

El Charro Negro
Timoteo “El Charro Negro” with Don Francisco on Don Francisco Presenta in 2011. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.

Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”

As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.

Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.

Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.

“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.

“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”

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