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No Cholos Aloud
Strongarm Ent. seeks to bust Chicano-rap stereotypes
Big Oso of Santa Ana Chicano-rap label Strongarm Ent. wants to shatter some erroneous prejudices.
What is Strongarm Ent.?
We are a Chicano rap label. I started it about two years ago. We also promote other rappers on other labels. We set up live appearances and in-store promotions. And we promote releases through fliers and word of mouth.
What was the idea when you started Strongarm?
I started promoting one guy, Ese Lyrical, getting him live appearances. After a while, I wanted to give up, so I got a couple of partners. A lot of these kids have talent, and they're blowing their brains out or doing stupid stuff on the street. What we're doing is getting these kids away from the gang life and giving them a positive outlook. We say, "You're talented. Let's put your stuff on CD and sell them, and then put you guys in front of a crowd, and see how they respond." So far, it's been really good.
So playing up the gangster aspect of your artists isn't something you try to do?
Exactly. I want to erase the stereotype. People see a bald Mexican, and right away, it's "Oh, these guys are troublemakers." They don't know the talent they have behind them. When I sign an artist, or when I start promoting them, I listen to their stuff first. If someone's from Orange County, I don't want to hear this guy talking about his neighborhood. I want to hear lyrics. If they've got a story to tell, I want to hear it put to a good beat. I don't want to hear anything from gangs, or you glorifying your neighborhood. If I'm from San Bernardino, I don't want to hear something that's glorifying Orange County. I want something that's universal.
With whom are you working now?
We have Ese Lyrical, Lil Yogi, Sicc2Sicc Gangsters, Insane Criminals out of LA, Ese Cynic, Cas, Siccness. We also have Thee Suspect. This guy's been in the business for 20 years. We grew up together. He's like the godfather of Orange County rap.
Do you encounter people who are dismissive of Orange County rap?
We run into a lot of people like that. They figure good rap is either going to come out of LA, Compton, or somewhere other than Orange County. When we put on a show, we surprise them. They expect surfers and beach bums. Once we put on our shows, it blows them away. The majority of our artists are from Orange County, but we're trying to extend the label outside the county. Right now, we're working on getting Strongarm Ent. started out in Texas.
Is that because the Chicano-rap community isn't as focused on geography as other forms of hip-hop?
Right, right. We're trying to expand because, right now, Chicano rap is booming. It's starting to catch mainstream. I have another guy called Mr. Hype; you see him, and you wouldn't think he has the talent that he has. The guy is just blowing minds everywhere.
Is the audience for Chicano rap different from one for other forms of rap?
At first, there was a different audience. I don't want to sound racist, but you'd get Mexicans who would want to listen to this. Now we get collabs with black artists, so we get crowds that two or three years ago wouldn't be listening to this. It has pretty much the same beat as regular hip-hop, but it's got more old-school music samples. At first, it was guys who grew up in rough neighborhoods, so they were rapping about their experiences. Now, it's everybody relating to that.
When setting up live appearances, have you had to overcome negative stereotypes of rap audiences?
At first, it was really difficult. We would do one, maybe two shows a year. Now, we're doing anywhere from 10 to 15. It's getting a good response, and people are opening their minds to it. Yeah, you're going to get these knuckleheads that bring negativity to it, but just like everything else, you've got to overlook that. People are overlooking the negative side and giving us a chance to showcase our talent and have these guys go up onstage and do their thing. We're getting rid of the stereotype.