Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TRES CORONAS-La Música Es Mi Arma (Parcero, 2011)

I remember the first time I heard about Rocca. It was back in the second half of the '90s, maybe 1997, and I was selling my hip-hop fanzine at the park in Buenos Aires, next to my buddy who sold bootlegged American rap CDs off a blanket on the floor and we were kinda like the tiny epicenter of the whole still miniscule emerging scene. A who-is-who of the scene movers and doers used to gather around us and discuss the present and future of rap in Spanish. Then this one day a renown b-boy and respected freestyler showed up with a portable CD player and he was all hyped up over his recent discovery. He had a bootlegged copy of Rocca's solo debut Entre Deux Mondes and it was as if  he had a prophetic vision of the future. "This is it, man! This is how to rap in Spanish correctly."
For ages local MC's had been struggling with adapting our native language to the rap flow and most of the results up to that point were laughable. They either had a very old-school cheesy flow, or they came out as Chicano wannabe's imitating Cypress Hill's wacky accent, but nobody had found yet a way to flow naturally, with our own characteristic pronunciation. Rocca's album had only one song in Spanish, the rest was in French, but that was enough to unleash a revolution in the way we rapped.
The fact that he came from France and he was very respected in the French rap scene was instrumental too. Had he released that same song in Colombia, we would've probably skipped it. But as authentic Argentinians we were unapologetically Eurocentric and we really looked up toward French hip-hop as the epitome of class, sophistication and just pure dopeness. I mean, yeah, of course New York's hip-hop was tremendously influential, but claiming you knew French rap, and dropping the stage-names of the rappers in IAM or NTM when you enumerated your favorite MC's gave you instant cred in the game. People here in the US, when I tell them about this, have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that us, rap fans in Argentina who didn't understand a word of French, used to fetishize French rap so much. But for kids who didn't understand English either and grew up listening to Public Enemy and NWA, French rap was just rap that sounded amazingly good to our ears, something somehow more elegant and refined than the American average.
I'd even go as far as stating that it was the fact that she was French and rapped in French what gave Ana Tijoux, back in those same days, her initial instant buzz and set her apart of the herd to later become the indisputable dopest female MC of the subcontinent.  
Anyway, going back to my story, Rocca blew all our minds with his rap in Spanish back then, because he had a French rap flow which adapted a lot better to our language than the Anglo flow. My friend's prophecy however didn't realize, because less than a year later it was the Spain's rap golden-agers (7 Notas 7 Colores, CPV, Violadores del Verso, etc) who ended up changing the way we rapped once and for ever.
Still, Rocca was remembered by many as a pioneer of rap en español's new school. From doing a first album that had only one song in Spanish he went to a second one where he had only one song in French and since then Spanish became his main rapping language.
Then he moved to New York City and formed Tres Coronas. At that point I still had hopes for rap in Spanish entering the impermeable US market and if somebody could do it and do it right, that was Rocca with his new NY-based group. Or so I thought.  
I wasn't the only one though. Toy Selectah-directed Machete Records, the urban Latino branch of Univeral Records, signed them for a massive release that was expected to blow up and kick-start a whole movement.
However, that never happened for two main reasons: first, one of the three members of what was originally a trio left the group somewhere between the recording of their debut album and its release. Now even the group's name didn't make sense. Second, and more importantly, the album came out in 2006, amid the boom of reggaetón. Reggaetón devoured the Latin mainstream and took away any chance Spanish rap had to ever cross over in the US. Now people thought reggaetón was the Latin response to American hip-hop, and real Spanish hip-hop fans and artists were collectively driven into madness by the well-spread wrong assumption.
Unwilling to let them go unnoticed after spending so much money in them, the label even fabricated some feature appearances and collaborations with reggaetoneros, but it was too late, the damage was done. The same commercial Latin radios that back then played reggaetón 24/7 wouldn't even consider playing actual hip-hop.
Jump a few years to present day and we find Rocca and PNO, the two remaining members of Tres Coronas, relocated in their ancestral land, Colombia. La Musica Es Mi Arma is their latest release and fortunately finds the rappers more interested in exploring the old traditions of Afro-Colombian music than trying to compete for mainstream exposure with Calle 13. That battle, we know now, will never  be won. But still, they have their loyal supporters and orthodox rap heads who respect Rocca as one of the biggest names in Spanish rap world-wide.  And I'm one of them. It didn't blow my mind in the way Rocca did fourteen years ago when I first heard him at that park on the headphones of my friend's CD player, but I still give him props for his career and for digging into the cumbia roots.

Buy it on Itunes.

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