Both the good and bad of American culture spreads around the world like wildfire. “Gangsta Rap” a particularly pernicious “art form” has spread not only to the streets of Mexico, but the Philippines and Asia glorifying violence and the “Gangsta” lifestyle.
At first blush, there wouldn’t seem much glamour in slicing up a rival into several pieces or beheading an enemy with a home-made garrote.
But that’s not how two young Mexicans who go by the names of Cano and Blunt see the drug trade. They live in the border city of Reynosa, and to meet them we traveled to a poor, scruffy area near the city’s airport.
Cano and Blunt are not traffickers or hit-men. They are rappers who make their living busting rhymes for the guys with the biggest guns.
Their music — they themselves refer to it as narco-rap — glamorizes the killings, the ‘capos’ and the camaraderie of fighting the drug war against the army and the “federales.”
Alejandro Coronado (Cano) and Mauro Vasquez (Blunt) are both in their 20s, both shaven headed. Both used to work in a U.S.-owned assembly plant making auto parts.
But times have changed. Now they have a luxury SUV, female fans and street cred.
Cano and Blunt’s first hit, “Reynosa Maldosa” (roughly translated as Reynosa the Bad Town) charted the growing levels of drug-related violence in this city of 500,000.
“Reynosa the bad town. A s***-load of bad guys, full of mafiosos. The streets are dangerous,” it goes. And it’s instantly catchy.
“We just sing about what we see in the streets. People identify with these songs because they listen to us and see for themselves what’s going on. That’s the reality,” Cano said.
Their neighborhood is controlled by the Gulf Cartel. We wouldn’t have been permitted to enter without their tacit consent.
Four men in a red sedan, one clearly holding a walkie-talkie, were parked at the entrance to this neighborhood. A few minutes later a large black pick-up truck drew alongside.
Cano tells me they compose many of their songs by special request. He’s careful not to reveal who requests them. Even if you’re the tribute band for a drug cartel, loose talk can be dangerous.
“With some of the songs, they send me lists and they ask for a song about this and that and we do it. But I don’t anything about how the narcos work,” Cano grins. And he’s certainly not about to tell me who “they” are.
But listen to the music and it’s clear. “They” are members of the Gulf Cartel.
Since the start of this year, the Gulf Cartel has been fighting its former hit squad, the Zetas, for control of Reynosa and a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.
There are clear signs the Gulf Cartel has now gained supremacy — and one of those signs is that Cano and Blunt dare publicly to sing the praises of just one side.
Perhaps the most brazen track on their webpage playlist is “Metro Tres.”
“He used to work for the government. Now he’s a top bandit. If you try and cross him you’ll end up in concrete. And with his assault rifle, he’ll send you straight to hell,” go some of the lines.
Metro Three, a pudgy-faced 37-year-old whose real name is Samuel Flores Borrego is a former Mexican cop who went rogue. Now according to the locals and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he’s the alleged head of Gulf Cartel operations in Reynosa. The DEA has put a $5 million price tag on his head…