Khool-Aid, Knightowl, Spanish Fly, Chingo Bling, Mexiclan, Diamonique, Monteloco, Blunts LLA
Fri May 7
1332 W Burnside
In 1989, Spanish Fly self-released "18 With a Bullet"; it became an underground smash and essentially blew up the streets in LA's Latino hiphop scene, with no radio promotion, no internet, no big label dropping muchos dollares into Fly's kitty. In 1990, the US census showed that 30% of Los Angeles County's ethnic make-up was Hispanic/ Latino. And yet, beyond the occasional Cypress Hill or Kid Frost track, there was no radio station--no mass outlet, beyond sales out-the-trunk--for Latino hiphop heads to hear their own music.
Khool-Aid, a charismatic, peppy DJ at Power 106, LA's largest hiphop radio station, knew this was a grave mistake. "I'd get calls asking for [Latino rappers like] Lil' Rob and Spanish Fly, and it tripped me out that, with all the Latino DJs in the past, it took me, the Jewish DJ, to realize [the lack of Latino artists getting airplay] was an injustice. We weren't giving them a platform--which, to me, is the essence of hiphop; their voice is a lot different, it's a different culture, and they come from a different background--what they grew up eating, what they listened to. I was always told, 'Target your Latino audience,' but there was no place for our Latino audience to have a voice."
Legendarily, Khool-Aid took it straight to her boss. "I went to my program director, Jimmy Steal, and I dumped 200 Latin rap CDs on the couch, and said, 'How can we not be highlighting this music?'" And so, with help from her husband, producer E-Dub, Pocos Pero Locos was born.
For 10 years, Pocos Pero Locos has been a radio stronghold for the Latino rap underground--because of its Los Angeles base, its playlist largely consists of Mexican-Americans from California and Texas, but also includes Latinos from all over--Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York. Eventually, after a healthy underground response, Pocos began syndicating to markets like Houston, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.
In Portland, Pocos airs Sunday afternoons (12-2 pm) on 95.5. Says Khool-Aid, "[Jammin' 95.5 program director] Mark Adams was, I would say, the second key player to making things happen for Pocos Pero Locos. In the books, it doesn't show Portland as a Latino market, but Mark always had his ear to the streets, so he realized there was a larger demand for something like this, and he launched it out of Jammin'." Despite Portland's supposedly small Hispanic population, Pocos "didn't turn off any audience," says Khool-Aid. "In the ratings, we're holding people of all types. It's not like we're doing a militant show; we're doing a show to give the voice and to give the Latino people a platform."
On any given Sunday, Pocos' format is straight-up: play the hits and classics from the choicest in the Latino underground, and feature an on-air guest like Lil' Rob or South Park Mexican. The artists on the Pocos tour, which plays Portland this Friday, is a good selection of the show's most-requested artists--inevitably, some of the major players in Latino underground hiphop. The roster varies from brazen Texas rapper Chingo Bling--whose newest record, The Tamale Kingpin, drops on Cinco de Mayo and has been lauded in the rill mags like Lowrider and Murder Dog--to Anaheim songstress/MC Diamonique. Spanish Fly themselves, an LA ensemble with butter-smooth deliveries, are the best of the bunch, blending bilingual verse with street missives. While people like San Diego's Knightowl aren't landing regular rotation on MTV quite yet, Khool-Aid predicts Latino hiphop as a genre is about to hit mainstream levels--and, with highly localized genres becoming very popular (see: crunk, chopped and screwed), she may be right. Most recently, Houston rapper Baby Bash, AKA Baby Beesh, has gained momentum off his major-label album The Smokin' Nephew (and the single "Suga Suga"); plans for Latino rappers repping Sprite commercials are in the works. Khool-Aid knows Pocos played a hand in the slow mainstreaming of Latino hiphop as a genre, but her intentions have remained the same. "I don't really care about our position within the industry; what I care about is the people. It's the only thing that me and E-Dub have done this for--the happiness of the people. That's why I'm glad I've never had to depend on the mainstream industry for my career--I work at a puro street-based level, and I feel so blessed because everything I do revolves around the people."
Khool-Aid talks a lot about the streets and "the people," but it's a fair assessment. Before Pocos Pero Locos came along, Los Angeles' Latino hiphop scene as a whole was--and to a large extent, still is--truly operating from the underground. So, when Khool-Aid started the show, a lot of industry people didn't think it could work. "Originally, we took a lot of criticism for what we were doing, but now it's really funny to see the same industry scrambling to do the shows or find the right artists. But the streets have always given us love. You know, what kept me strong was that young kid stepping to me to say, 'It's about time.' I got criticized for everything from just doing the show, to the fact that I'm Jewish--you know, 'What do I know about it?' Well, I love the music, and I'm a true fan."