Rapper IllNes Infection hovers over a glowing MPC while mapping out Pro Tools soundwaves on a computer screen. A new song blasting police brutality by his group Salvajes echoes throughout the narrow, brick-walled room inside Santa Ana’s El Centro Cultural de México. Joesé Gloria walks in, sporting a beanie and thick-rimmed black glasses. The two sit at a table, ready to talk about the ethos of Salvajes and how it mirrors their volunteer work at the community space.
“El Centro really shaped our politics and our consciousness,” Gloria explains. “But at the same time, we want to expose this hip-hop movement to a new generation.”
In 2011, Gloria was hosting an open-mic series at the space, Itz Happenin’, and invited local MCs including Infection to participate. The cross-section of hip-hop and poetry influenced Gloria’s own artistic expression when he started to record guest verses on local rap mixtapes. Before long, Gloria and Infection decided to start a new hip-hop group.
“We’re savage at our lyrics and at life,” Gloria says of the meaning behind Salvajes, which translates to savage in English. “Being called a savage used to mean something much more horrible, and now it’s describing your skills, tenacity, abilities and knowledge,” Infection says. The duo rounded out the roster with veteran rapper/event producer MIC Hempstead, Alpha Ready and DJ Clouded Daily. The new lineup soon started rocking shows at el Centro.
Not wanting to be confined to the radical bubble of Santa Ana, Salvajes traveled to New York and linked with leftist rap duo Rebel Diaz. The group then ventured to Washington, D.C., to perform with East LA-based rapper Olmeca. Numerous drives up the Golden State Freeway hooked them up with the Oakland scene. But Salvajes are eyeing a bigger goal: Mexico City. “Artists that are trying to make it happen, they know they gotta go to Mexico to get a buzz,” Gloria says.
Their hip-hop aspirations are backed by a self-titled, full-length debut. Most of the 19 tracks were recorded in the summer of 2012. “We were on a savage trip,” Infection says. But the group opted to finely tune the songs before releasing the album. To do so, the group recruited professional mixer Random and masterer Jizzm. “Those guys are established producers and performers,” Infection says. “We got our music mixed by the same guys who mixed Westside Connection and Tech-N9ne. They blessed us.”
Gritty underground beats undergird Salvajes’ rebel rhymes on the final product, which dropped earlier this year. Their dynamic is best displayed on “Downpressor Shitstem.” Explains Infection, “You’ve got Joesé describing certain terms regarding police corruption, you’ve got MIC talking about the old-school spirit, almost a biblical sense, and then I’m very street savvy, talking about what really happens in the street.”
Salvajes keep their roots in their home base. As volunteers for Santa Ana’s Noche de Altares celebration, they set up the stage for thousands of festival-goers before rocking it themselves. “We never give ourselves special treatment,” Infection says. “When we get onstage, we see these younger faces come up to the stage. They’re banging away, and everybody has a good time.”
Salvajes perform with 2Mex, AFRO and more at Majestic Mexican Bar & Grill, 1750 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 808-8338. Sat., 7 p.m. $10. 18+.