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Latino Rap Adds Cultural Twist to an Urban Sound


Members of Brown and Proud marched among thousands of people through East Los Angeles to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the National Chicano Moratorium, cheered as speakers rallied for support, and, with the sun going down, the young activists from Cal State Northridge took the stage.

Latino rap music was not around for the 1970 moratorium, but it was an active part of the 20th anniversary event at Salazar Park last August.

Brown and Proud's three members, accompanied by background dancers, brought their experiences of Southland barrios to life in their rap songs, such as "It's All About Nothing," which speaks about the benefits of staying in school.

"(Rap music) is an urban thing. It's not just a black thing," said Brown and Proud singer and composer Ramon Garcia, 19, a former gang member from San Diego and a Cal State Northridge sophomore engineering major.

The members of Brown and Proud are among a growing number of Latino rap artists who are adding a cultural twist to the traditionally black-inspired music. They tend to use lyrics in English and Spanish and excerpts of Latino songs in the background.

Miguel Delgado, a choreographer, actor and special programs director at Plaza de La Raza said, "(Latino rappers) are empowering themselves. Talking about an ethnic pride, getting away from the gang stuff. Where first it was a complete rebellion against society, now it's, 'You're cool, I'm cool.' "

With songs such as "Jane sino Juana," and "Straight Up," Brown and Proud has sought to raise cultural awareness among those young Latinos who, its members say, are blending into the mainstream without taking their language and heritage with them.

"We're in the position to be able to reach a lot of raza to actually instill pride in themselves. To be brown is something unshameful. It's a positive," said Rene Orozco, 25, Brown and Proud singer and a former gang member from San Fernando.

Brown and Proud has converted its three-member ensemble into an alliance in which various singers and musicians perform under the band's name at any given concert.

Their message is meant to be positive, encouraging young Latinos to make something of themselves.

"I think we can get things rolling. This could be a very instrumental part of the '90s, just like the hippie music was part of the '60s," said Orozco, a graduate student at Cal State Northridge. "I think this could be a voice of awareness and rebellion on the positive side. Empowerment lies in our youth."

The hit single "La Raza," from Kid Frost's "Hispanic Causing Panic" debut album, was the first rap song from the Chicano community to break into the mainstream music market. Cuban-born Mellow Man Ace has found success with his bilingual hit single "Mentirosa," and a Los Angeles-based rapper known as Que Pasa is popular in Spanish-language media.

Frost's style has made him a hero to some in the Chicano community who identify with the barrio images of gang life in his songs. But others say that Frost, 28, is furthering negative stereotypes about Latinos from the barrios.

"It's good because it brings out feelings of pride in the Chicano. It's something just for us, for people who consider themselves part of La Raza," said Diane Rodriguez, 21, a junior at USC who lives in East Los Angeles.

"I feel something when he says, 'This is for La Raza,' " said Samuel Perez, 21, a senior at USC who was raised in Pacoima. "But to have all those cholos in their cars and to say that they don't have to go to school, he's showing a way of life that isn't going to get them anywhere," he said, referring to the video of "La Raza."

"The truth hurts them bad," Frost said in an interview with The Times. "Chicanos have been doing that (hanging out and cruising) since back in the days of the vatos in the '40s." What about the ones who don't go to school and are stuck in the barrio, he asked. "What do you want them to be doing in the video? In the library?"

Yet Frost contends that he doesn't promote or condone violence in his songs and has worked with anti-gang and anti-drug programs. His concern for the gang members fighting each other is shown in his song "Coming Together":

Is that the way you want to go out?

For the name of a street,

Getting your damn brains blown out?

Some people in and outside the Chicano community criticize those and other Frost lyrics for conveying a mixed message.

"He's trying to give a message, but I think he's confused on which is the right one and it's coming off in a bad way," Perez said. "I think he's on the right track, but he's going in the wrong direction."

Low Rider, a Chicano magazine for customized car enthusiasts, criticized Frost's lyrics in its brief profile of the former gang member, originally named Arthur Molina Jr. It decried lyrics from "La Raza" such as:

I'm like the song, 18 with a bullet .

I've got my hand on the trigger ,

And I'm not afraid to pull it .

This is for La Raza .

"The lyrics of 'La Raza' are totally negative stereotyping and glorifying the gang problems already out of hand," Low Rider magazine stated last September. "2 Live Crew is being banned and criticized for the sexual content in their music, but there is no problem if Kid Frost spreads gang warfare in the barrios of the Southwest. Kid Frost, you could have been just as successful with lighter lyrics."

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