The video for Chingo Bling’s “Walk like Cleto” opens in a dank basement full of scantily dressed chicas wrapping packages in butcher paper, drug-cartel style. Chingo’s full of big-pimpin’ bluster. But instead of coke, they’re packing tamales. And the joke’s on who?
EARNING STATEMENTS: Poking fun at the gringo perception of Mexican culture is integral to Chingo Bling’s business plan.
Three years ago, the Houston “ghetto vaquero” (whose name means “fuckloads of bling”) dubbed himself the “Tamale Kingpin.” Part comedian, part rap artist, and more than a little bit cultural spoof, he’s more comfortable wielding molcajetes than guns. On his pièce de résistance, 2004’s Tamale Kingpin, he brags bi-lingually about the affordability of his tacos (cheap), the strut of his rooster (Cleto), and the quality of his “Air botas” (his Nike-swoosh-embellished cowboy boots). He sells tinfoil-wrapped packages of husks from the trunk of his car; buy something via post from his label, Big Chile Enterprises, and it’ll come with a package of masa and his tamale recipe. On one of his newest mixtapes, Kingz of Spring Break (Hosted by Paul Wall), Chingo freestyles over 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” beat, replacing the hook with a different kind of hustler’s anthem: “I’ll take you to the Taco Chop/Big chile is what I got/It’s cheaper than any spot/My tacos, they’ll make you fart.”
As for his Tex-Mex flow, let’s just say he won’t be battling Big Daddy Kane anytime soon. But the man has style: his nasal tenor underscores clever lyrics and sharp timing. On another recent mixtape, Undaground’s Most Wanted, a 37-track odyssey featuring Stunta the Tex-Mex Thugga, he relies less on punch lines, though he does flip Webbie’s “Gimme Dat” beat into “Gimme Dat Torta.”
As Chingo revises familiar rap themes in his Texican image, America gets browner by the day: Latinos in the US are now 40 million strong. And the music biz has been quick to accommodate this growing market. Most of the attention has been accorded reggaeton, with Puerto Rican stars like Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee attaining Jay-Z levels of popularity. But among Mexican-American rappers — like his “cousin,” Houston hip-hop heartthrob Baby Bash — Chingo is something of a mascot. Outfitting himself as a caricature of an assimilating immigrant, he reaps a bonanza of signifiers: he’s a broadly painted embodiment of a cousin who just came over, an abuelita who sells tortillas off her front stoop, the slightly blustery ranchero who fuses hip-hop bling (diamond grilles, nice cars) with Mexican symbols of wealth (ostrich boots). By standing proudly on the border between cultural pride and stereotype, his carnivalized Spanglish targets a gray area between truth and consequences.
The young Latino community, with its voracious rap appetite, loves this. Chingo is reported to have sold 30,000 copies of Tamale Kingpin through his Web site. He’s been featured on MTV. And he has a killer cameo on a remix of Nelly’s inescapable “Grillz” in which he raps, “Me, I cross the border in order to get icey.” It’s true: born Pedro Herrera III in Houston, he earned a business degree from Trinity. He’s since branded himself using everything from coloring books to “Air Chingo” sweat towels to bobblehead dolls.