Como Se Dice Gangsta (en Mexicano)

Late last week I came across an entertaining collection of Mexican pro-w33d songs. Among them was a narcocorrido by El Tigrilla Palma entitled El Rey de la Kush (take that, Dre!). Enjoying the juxtaposition between traditional musical style and utterly contemporary slanguage / thematics, I couldn’t help tweeting that it seemed “so gangsta” in its way. (Actually, the tuba-playing alone might deserve the “gangsta” tag — listen to those runs!):

Shortly after that tweet, however, Mexican music maestro Toy Selectah let me know in no uncertain terms (via DM, tellingly) that there’s gangsta, and then there’s gangsta. He messaged me a couple YouTube links that made the Tigrillo track seem quaint. Exhibits A & B:

Suffice to say: these are amazing to mis ojos Americanos, especially how they re-imagine gangsterhood in a post-hip-hop, post-Hollywood world. Cowboy hats and blinged-out kevlar, Scarface scenes and gunhands, and a glut of straight-up gun pr0n. These guys are ballers, luxury branded blin-blineo on full display in every way. See, e.g., how El Komander styles himself “El Sr de las Hummers” —

The production values are high glossy, the music uncompromising and hard. While the instrumentation and arrangements seem to hew fairly closely to traditional models, the vocalists are spitting some hardcore lyrics. (“The most gangsta shit in Spanish I ever heard!” said Toy via DM.) Even if you don’t understand Spanish — and I confess I can hardly follow this very closely — you get the gist.

The “Carteles Unidos” of Movimiento Alterado kinda make gangsta rap look like pure theater. (More vids along these lines here.) And while these are plenty theatrical in their way — spectacular, sin duda — they also seem fairly serious. Less like Vybz Kartel, more like cartel vibes.

They also seem serious about their music industry game, and here again we see some borrowing from rap — in particular, horizontal branding and vending. They’re working all the angles of contemporary music industry, to be sure. See their slick website, including an in-house/site store, where they’ve embraced the diversified portfolio of products that hip-hop entrepreneurs first put together: direct marketed DVDs, clothing, etc. The site features a “lifestyle” tab, as well as a “fashion” tab (leading to a curious slideshow). And their YouTube game is tight: vivid videos accompanied by links to mediafire DLs as well as Amazon/iTunes stores for buyables. And in 2011, they’re coming to a House of Blues near you! If I were in direct competition with these guys, I’d be more than a little worried by their drive to “take over” —

"taking over the music industry" never seemed so threatening

The blurring between reality and theater here is, of course, at least as disturbing as in gangsta rap, and I suspect that many Mexican viewers/listeners are ambivalent about this stuff, repelling as it tantalizes. For my part, knowing that US drug users are, essentially, paying Mexicans to kill other Mexicans in order to feed our dirty, insatiable habits, I look at these videos with my own mix of horror and fascination. What a sensational mediation of the terrible, terrorized world we’ve made.