Like a slinky Impala purring low and slow, a new "spanglish" flavor crept onto the national rap scene around the turn of the decade as fledgling artists Mellow Man Ace and Kid Frost staked out new turf beyond the West Coast "barrio." The Latin influence on hip hop goes back to Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx who played key roles in the invention of the genre in the late 1970s. Later, young Latinos like Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers carried the same boomboxes and rocked the same street corner mikes as their African-American neighbors.
With the hip-hop community open to another wave of Hispanic performers, Ace scored big with potent Santana samples and a bilingual flow about a girlfriend whom he called "Mentirosa," or "liar." A year later, Frost (Arturo Molina Jr.) gave budding Chicano/Latino rap its first classic with his smoldering brown pride anthem.
Both songs were bona fide MTV smashes, but not everyone in the community dug them. "Mentirosa" was attacked by many Latinas as misogynistic (a punchy response came from Chicana rapper La Nena, who had a minor regional hit with the vehement "I'm Not Your Mentirosa"). Then Lowrider magazine jumped Frost with a boycott for perpetuating violence and gangbanging stereotypes of Chicanos in his lyrics. "A lot of people don't understand it; they're scared of reality," Frost said in an interview at a 1990 car show in San Jose. "I started to think of the reality of 'raza' killing 'raza' and I started doing something positive to get myself out. I'm in it to win it."
Associated with gangs and profanity, rap culture is a far cry from what many Latino immigrant parents dream of for their children. Yet it's just another example of the intergenerational battle that began back in the '40s with the pachucos, who were ostracized by their elders for wearing pleated zoot suits and talking in calo slang.
Today, Pure Latin Productions (PLP), a group of ambitious young Latino entrepreneurs in the East Bay, has organized "Latinfest '96" to try to "unite the generations" and bring about a better understanding of what rap really is. Taking the slogan "La cultura cura" ("culture cures") to heart, they've assembled a splash of old and new school Chicano rappers and bands, a lowriding exhibit, and celebrity guests to be held at the cavernous Henry J. Kaiser Center in Oakland. Headlining is Frost, who's riding high with the recent Smile Now, Die Later on Ruthless Records, with support from A Lighter Shade of Brown, the Funky Aztecs, the Mexakinz, HIS-PANIC, and the Original Aztec, who made a strong showing this summer with his debut, Slipping Away on Riot Records.
Other featured flavors include the savory "salsa" of Juan Escovedo and the harmonizing female voices of San Jose's Picture Perfect. With boxer Roberto Duran hosting, Oakland City Councilman Ignacio Del La Fuente will speak at the event, and the Latin Peace Officers Association will provide extra security and roll out its prized lowrider. Seventies rockers El Chicano ("Viva Tirado"), Tierra ("Together"), and Sapo (with Richard Bean, the composer and original singer of Malo's 1974 pop hit "Suavecito") will ground the event with flashbacks and nostalgia.
"I see an older crowd coming to see what the younger kids are doing," says PLP President Mark Torres. "You can't really take the family to a rap concert. So with a festival-style atmosphere and the mixture of groups, it will bring everyone together so they can see that what these kids are doing with rap is positive." True, there are a host of Latino rap groups trying to increase the peace, especially in the Bay Area, and small labels like Thump in Southern California have given Latino musicians both a forum and an income.
But given the many rap shows that have exploded with violence and the gang division that plagues the Latino barrios these days, unity is foremost in the participants' minds. Original Aztec Juan Carlos Carmona says he's tired of the madness. "As you know, 'la raza' is separated because of ignorance," he says. "I want to stress that 'Latinfest' is a cultural event. Aztec dancers are going to open it up and bless it."
Nearly 35 now, Frost says the death of his father forced him to reconsider his music and the future of his family. Still, tunes like "How Many Ways Can You Lose a Body" on the new record are marked by the same violent imagery of old, even if Frost now comes off more like a veterano who's paid his dues than an O.G. "Fuck gangbanging, it's all about taking care of your family," Frost says in a recent issue of The Source. Rest assured that there will be no red or blue gang colors flying at "Latinfest '96." As Torres says, "Brown will be the only color for this show."
"Latinfest '96" happens Sat, Jan. 13, at Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland; call (510) 762-