Ramiro Burr, HoustonChronicle.com, July 1
He likes to wear gold chains and silk suits, smoke fat stogies and pose in front of Bentleys.
He sings tales about outlaws and drug runners and living life on the edge in the ‘hood.
But Lupillo Rivera isn’t a gangsta rapper.
He’s a gangsta corridista.
Rivera is the most popular artist in what is known as the Chalinista movement—the genre of narcocorridos, short tales of drug smugglers.
In some corners, Rivera is idolized by hard-core fans who can’t get enough of his narcocorridos. In another corner are critics who have decried what they consider the lack of originality and the negative stereotypes in his music.
As for Los Angeles-based Rivera, he seems to be enjoying the bling-bling.
In the last decade, he’s sold more than 1 million records, and he recently won Premio Lo Nuestro and Billboard awards.
Asked what he thought about his critics after his new CD, Con Mis Propias Manos, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin albums chart June 12, Rivera hesitated before answering.
“Well, I want only to say thank you for all the support and all the promotions they have given me,” he said in his native Spanish.
“The best promotion there is, is the critical review. There is nothing better than word-of-mouth promotions when people are talking about you. And when they do not talk about me, then I will visit them and see why they haven’t been talking about me.”
In recent years, Rivera and the narcocorrido movement have been hot topics.
Narcocorridos have been selling despite the fact that, like a lot of hard-core gangsta rap, the music doesn’t get commercial radio play. Like Tejano music, which is popular mostly in Texas, narcocorridos are popular mostly in Southern California.
Rivera, 32, was only 20 when a narcocorrido singer named Chalino Sánchez was shot and killed after a performance outside Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, on May 16, 1992. His death sparked a massive underground cult.
Sánchez’s initial appeal was the authenticity in his music. He dared to hang around the border drug culture and write about the kingpins’ exploits.
Some say he got too close.
According to Sánchez folklore, he was ordered killed by a drug dealer.
Regardless of what really happened (his murder has never been solved), Sánchez took on mythical stature. The shooting cemented his street credibility, and the notoriety fueled sales of his CDs and tapes, mostly recorded on Cintas Acuario, the independent label owned by Rivera’s father.
Since his death there have been countless Chalinistas, or Sánchez wannabes.
Rivera started singing in 1993 after quitting his job as a manager for Cintas Acuario, where he worked with Sánchez.
Jessie Morales, a 20-year-old who goes by the stage name El Original de la Sierra, also has had some success.
Probably the most intriguing was Sánchez’s son Adán, known as “El Compita,” who began making records as a kid a few years after his father’s death and was poised to become his successor by the time he was 18. But on March 27, Adán Sánchez was killed in an automobile accident on a Sinaloa highway. More than 15,000 fans showed up at a public memorial for him April 1 in Los Angeles.
Sales of the narcocorrido genre have been enough to spark major-label interest. After recording for his father’s label, Rivera was picked up by Sony Discos. Last year he signed with Univisión Records.
Rivera said he was heavily influenced by Chalino Sánchez.
“Chalino was very humble, and that is what impressed me. He was an artist, but he was simple and down-to-earth with people.”
On his recent albums, Rivera has traded his narcocorridos for more traditional rancheras and cumbias.
“I think this is the most balanced album we have ever recorded,” he said.
He recorded a banda version of the Javier Solis-identified bolero En Mi Viejo San Juan, a homage to the capital of Puerto Rico.
“I have a lot of fans from Puerto Rico, and I wanted to sing them a classic,” he said. “We also decided to record another popular tune there, Guantanamera.”
The album also has banda versions of Mexican classics such as José Alfredo Jiménez’s Navegando Sin Tu Amor and Poco a Poco.
Rivera has often said he was criticized by his high school friends for listening to banda music while the cool crowd listened to rap and hip-hop. His songs feature the big-horn banda sound, which some compare to carnival or clown music.
Rivera may be having the last laugh.
Comments from Readers
Take a look at this article about a Hip Hop group depicts blowing up the World Trade Center (just before the 911 attacks). Note the “ENGAGE!” in the “Covert-Labs” remote control with button being pushed and the WTC blowing up in the background. And note the gun and turban in the red-star logo in the upper left corner. The current cover art for the “Party Music” lp possibly depicts a glass of flaming gasoline next to a flame thrower. Song titles include “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO” and “Ghetto Manifesto”
Good review of the album: http://www.hiphop-elements.com/article/read/4/5456/1/
Somewhat good view of original album cover later changed before the release after 911: