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Becky G dreams of being the next Jennifer Lopez

Column One: Rapping, songwriting, acting, modeling -- it's all part of the ambitious Latina teen Becky G's plans for superstardom, a goal she sings about in her debut, 'Becky From the Block.'

August 19, 2013|By Reed Johnson
  • Rebbeca Marie Gomez, 16, a.k.a. Becky G, with her mother, Alejandra. Their family lived together in this converted garage as she was growing up.
Rebbeca Marie Gomez, 16, a.k.a. Becky G, with her mother, Alejandra. Their… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Becky G vividly remembers what she calls "my little mini midlife crisis." It happened seven years ago, when she was 9.

At the time, her family had been forced to move into her grandparents' Inglewood garage after losing its Riverside County home. Money was tight. Her dad was stressing out. And her mom was "really scared."

That's when Becky had an epiphany.

"I did have this moment of realization of, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do with my life?'" she says. "Just feeling like I had to get my act together, even though there was really nothing to put together yet."

Today, the biggest challenge facing the preternaturally ambitious Mexican American teen isn't getting her act together. It's deciding which part of it — rapping, songwriting, acting, modeling — to focus on as she strives to turn herself into a one-woman entertainment juggernaut.

With a major-label record contract, a new deal with CoverGirl and A-list musicians and producers clamoring to work with her, Becky is an avatar of a new L.A. urban sound: young, female, Latina, bilingual and fiercely aspirational.

Last spring, she itemized her career goals in her debut single, "Becky From the Block," a PG-rated hip-hop mash note-manifesto to her hometown (with shout-outs to Randy's Donuts and the Forum) and her family's migrant roots. Its video has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube.

"I won't stop till I get to the top/ Always had a little, but I want a lot," Becky rap-sings about balancing the demands of her new life (recording sessions, red carpets, sushi bars) with her fealty to her homies and her mom's home cooking.

Inglewood's celebrity homegirl personifies South L.A.'s demographic shift from African American to Latino, its cultural evolution from "Boyz n the Hood" to chicas next door.

Becky — born Rebbeca Marie Gomez — embraces this identity as if it were her destiny.

"I want to be open to the kids who only speak Spanish, the kids who speak only Spanglish, and the kids who don't even speak Spanish at all," says Becky, who practices her second language by chatting with her Jalisco-born grandparents.

In a sense, their immigrant journey was the inspiration for their granddaughter's career. "It all started," she sings on "Becky From the Block," "when my grandpa crossed over."

Hometown girl

Wearing a black T-shirt, skin-tight white pants decorated with red roses and white sneakers, Becky takes a reporter on a "Becky From the Block" walking tour of the neighborhood where she grew up. Her retinue includes her mother, Alejandra, whom everyone calls Alex, and two members of her bicoastal management team.

First stop is Kelso Ranch Market, three blocks south of Manchester Boulevard and a block east of the San Diego Freeway. Becky points out the chiles and the ranchera para asar her grandmother buys, treats herself to a large bag of Funyuns and exchanges greetings with the owner, Ratna Thapa, a Nepali immigrant.

"I'm so glad she's doing very good," Thapa says, watching Becky and her mother leave. "Nice family."

Jets landing at LAX scream overhead as Becky steers her small posse toward Oak Street Elementary, a vaguely Mission-style white building with blue trim. It was here that she started taking Mexican folklórico dance lessons, an early foray in her career.

Suddenly, a passing truck screeches to a halt and its driver, a young woman named Teresa Lopez, calls out to request a photo with Becky.

"My sister is like a big fan," Lopez says as she and Becky pose.

"I'm just glad I'm making my hometown proud, I guess," Becky says as Lopez drives off.

Becky's puckish, street-wise persona plays well on YouTube. Two years ago, the video of her cheeky rap riposte to Jay Z and Kanye West's "Otis" landed her a contract with Kemosabe/RCA Records, the Sony Music Entertainment record label founded by hit maker producer-composer Dr. Luke. He worked with Becky on her first, five-track EP, "Play It Again," with guest contributions from Pitbull and, released last month.

This summer, CoverGirl signed Becky to be its latest brand rep (and only under-20 Latina), joining a roster that includes Pink, Queen Latifah and Ellen DeGeneres. Esi Eggleston Bracey, a CoverGirl executive, calls Becky "a relatable and powerful role model who from a very young age has advocated individualism and paying respect to where you come from and where you want to go."

Becky, who started doing commercials, short films, modeling and voice-overs when she was 9, also has begun to rack up co-songwriting credits for other juvenile heartthrobs. "Wish You Were Here" became a hit for a fellow 16-year-old, Australian Cody Simpson. "Oath" did likewise for British rapper Cher Lloyd, who, though barely 20, seems like a grizzled veteran in today's youth-absorbed recording industry.

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