Border Beats

Control Machete
Mucho Barato
Polygram Discos


Donde Jugaran Las Niñas

Fists in the air: symbols of the movement, el charro is ready, the machete, the beginning

--"Unete Pueblo" by Control Machete

UP UNTIL A couple of months ago, any conversation about the relationship between hip hop and Mexico would inevitably have landed you somewhere in the Chicano borderlands. You would have talked about Cypress Hill, Delinquent Habits, and the calo-flipping veterano Frost. You would have mentioned the way Frost positioned himself as an "Aztec Warrior" on his 1990 brown-and-proud anthem "La Raza," and how Delinquent Habits re-fried Herb Alpert's mariachi kitsch on last year's Tres Delinquentes. And, if you were really paying attention, you probably would have cataloged the number of references to red-white-and-green flags, Pancho Villa, low-riding cholos, vatos locos, firme hinas, and sampled R&B oldies that pop up in the songs of Proper Dos and A Lighter Shade of Brown.

But if you have the same conversation now, your frame of reference will have to move farther south to account for Control Machete and Molotov--Mexico's first serious major-label entries into the world of global hip hop. Both groups made memorable appearances earlier this year on the soundtrack to Miguel Arteta's excellent film Star Maps, and they're following that success with great big-label debuts and plans for U.S. tours in the not-so-distant future.

Like generations of Mexican rock-en Español bands before them, these two crews of raperos take styles and sounds made popular in the U.S. and rebottle them according to their own cultural and national logics. As Control Machete rapper Pato recently put in California's leading rock-en Español magazine, La Banda Elastica, "The culture may come from over there, but we appropriate it, like so many other things. We are not disguising ourselves."

The sound of such unmasked musical appropriation resonates throughout Control Machete's insistent and sonically dense debut, Mucho Barato. The immediately gripping album opener, "Control Machete," begins with a sample from a Mexican ranchera concert being cut up over tumbling, thunderous beats--and ends with Pato and fellow rapper Fermin's manic, breathless rhymes wildly colliding into each other over a noisy wall of tornamesa scratches and Mexican radio announcers. A mariachi record is trampled by an army of rolling beats and electric-guitar whines on "Humanos Mexicanos," and a sampled snippet of a Norteño accordion solo weaves in and out of the artfully down-tempo instrumental track "Te Aprovechas Del Limite," which sounds like DJ Shadow waking up in an after-hours quebradita club.

But Mucho Barato, which was recorded in both Monterey and Los Angeles and co-produced by Cypress Hill sound-stylist Jason Roberts, is not simply an aesthetic celebration of transnational recycling between the U.S. and Mexico. Songs like "Unete Pueblo" and "Mexican Curios" attack U.S. anti-immigrant xenophobia and add a new dimension to Chicano calls for a new Raza revolution. "Your laws against my people won't stop us," they growl in Spanish. "The wings of the eagle will carry us to the sky, we are a Raza that uses the machete to defend what is ours."

Clearly stated political stances are much harder to come by in the bristling and bratty hip-hop/funk-metal hybrids of Molotov's Donde Jugaran Las Niñas, the cover of which features a voyeuristic snapshot of a schoolgirl with her panties around her knees in the backseat of a car. Imagine a bilingual version of Rage Against the Machine with a commitment to porn instead of politics and you get close to Molotov's m.o. After all, these are boys who refer to the women who've burned them as "skeezers" (or "hijas de la chingada" in Mexico City-speak), and who still have way too much fun shouting "Chinga Tu Madre." Adding injury to insult, they don't think twice about the verbal violence of homophobic lyrics ("Mataria el maricon"--"I would kill the faggot," they threaten in "Puto").

While all of this may guarantee them a feature in Bikini, what makes their unthinking, adolescent taunts so frustrating (and merely annoying) is that Molotov make really good music. When the Mexico City band--who identify themselves as "neither raperos nor rockeros" and who count a wise-cracking "gringo loco" from New Orleans among their ranks--sticks to denouncing racism and exposing shady newscasters and corrupt politicians, they exhibit a real knack for eclectic and charismatic hip hop-inspired critique. On songs like "Gimme Tha Power" and "Voto Latino" they make the fit between hip hop and twangy guitar rock seem perfectly natural. When live trumpets and marimbas bring "Use It or Lose It" to its rousing climax, you can almost hear Molotov trying to figure out the best way to rip hip hop's stubborn stylistic envelope wide open.

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