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Narco Rap: Keeping Up with the Mexican Drug Cartels

Nathaniel Janowitz - BuzzFeed News
go to original
October 9, 2017

When Big Los was deported from Texas to the Mexican border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 2015, he was worried.

He’d released a rap track a few months before, “Alto Calibre,” boasting of the exploits of the Chilango, an incarcerated member of the Gulf Cartel. The man behind bars had been a major figure in the Mexican city of Reynosa, which is roughly 50 miles inland from Matamoros. The two cities have long been bastions of factions of the Gulf Cartel, and while those groups sometimes get along, they sometimes don’t.

A fucking Corvette ZR1 engine roars / The Chilango steps out armed to the teeth / Real dapper, wearing a flossed-out watch / With the fucking gat he says, "Open up or I’ll smoke you."

Big Los is a recognizable figure, known as much for his gruff voice and gun-toting music videos as his massive physique, reminiscent of Big Pun or the Notorious B.I.G. After arriving in Matamoros, Big Los immediately felt he’d be a target for the rival clique who controlled the city, so he said he called someone connected to the cartel, “a friend of a friend.”

“I told him, ‘I don’t feel comfortable in the streets, man, everyone seems to know me,’” said Big Los in February. “‘I don’t want to get picked up because I did a song for a certain guy over there. And there’s an internal war between you guys.’”

The rapper was no stranger to Matamoros: He’d actually been born there before his family illegally migrated across the border to Brownsville, Texas, when he was a child. As a teenager, growing up in a rough part of Brownsville, he sold drugs and eventually ended up in jail. After release, he found rap music, and used it as a way to leave the streets. (He was deported to Mexico in 2015 after he tried to apply for US citizenship.)

While many rap artists look at the money and fame that comes from their music as an escape from the hardships of their lives, narco rap is an exception. The primary feature of the Spanish-language hip-hop subgenre is that drug cartel members pay rappers to make songs about their lives, called “dedications,” thus actually inviting hardship in. Big Los, one of the pioneers of narco rap, admits he regularly gets death threats via social media from people claiming to be contrarios — members of enemy cartels.

Read the rest at BuzzFeed News

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