When the category of “Latino Rap Music” is brought up, who comes to mind? Terror Squad? Cypress Hill? Chingo Bling? Pitbull? If you said Pitbull, you’re an asshole. If I were to ask you to name some of the pioneers of Latino, Hispanic, or Chicano rap music, who would you say? It’s cool, you can get back to me on it. When does one’s heritage take priority over one’s artistic endeavors when defining that which is being created? Human beings feel the need to categorize, codify, classify, and the label the world in which we live. Music is not exempt from this compulsion, and, with the advent of music journalism, Genre has taken on its own hierarchal Kingdom, Order, Phylum, Genius, Species approach to categorization (I’m sure there is a Post Garage Folk Hop Electro scene somewhere). It is inside this fight for nomenclature that we find Rheteric and his new project Dear Diary. Dominican in heritage, he is an emcee who is fiercely proud of his heritage while defying the ‘Latino Rapper’ label and with it stereo type. Compounding this limbo-like existing is that he is not entrenched enough for the Battle Rap scene and not esoteric enough for the “Hip-Hop Snobs”. Rheteric finds himself in a no man’s land, much like parts of the City of Lost Angeles- areas that don’t live up to the idyllic Los Angeles of book and film. Places where the people have fallen through the cracks.
Dear Diary is at once aggressive and vulnerable. A unique blend of expository writing and punchlines that sits atop an ever varying sound scape of synths, guitars, programmed drums and samples. And, while the question of his cultural heritage is oft brought up and addressed with in the 8 songs on the project, it is woven into a tapestry that is a larger representation of the man himself. Personal history, philosophy, racial identity, along with a healthy dose of “fuck you if you don’t like it,” are all strung together in a self-effacing, sometimes menacing, rapid fire cadence that is that both technically proficient and conversational. What I’m saying is: This mutherfucker can rap. See lines like this one from the title track,
[quote]Forgiveness to you wiggers and your ignorance, just in case your interested, Yeah, I’m Dominican, thats when you respect it dude, like thats a lot of negritude especially for someone not so racially ambiguous.[/quote]
Balanced out with such thoughts as, “You’ll always be on the inside of my outside joke!” There is something a little more complex a foot than what is so often served up in contemporary rap music.
Born in Washington Heights and raised in Los Angeles (Glendale and Highland Park, if you need specifics), Rheteric is a working man’s rapper. Born into the crack epidemic of the 80’s and a broken home, disappointment and violence soon became the vernacular with which he became accustomed to speaking. I felt like a cracker writing that, but it’s the truth of the story and one that is essential to understanding the man who would come to quote Darby Crash.
[quote]So I fight, fight, fight just to right these wrongs, a regret life long is why I write these songs, and I fight, fight, fight, fight, I’m not a stepping stone, I’m a weapon drawn with a mind of its own, Pick me up I’m your gun, hood me up I’m the one…”[/quote]
Rheteric openly talks about the hardships he’s endured and how it shaped him into the warrior poet he is today. Samurai used to engage into poetry contests, and would fight for their honor if they lost. Rheteric is no different. “I think most poets are warriors. I can’t tell you how many people around the world I’ve met who are say kick boxers, but are amazing guitar players. LA Weekly said I was “a boxer,” but I’ve never trained to be a boxer. I grew up fighting and I’ve been know to handle people when they get out of line.” This brings up an interesting dynamic about the boxes society tries to place people in.
[quote]It’s a complex of sorts, I’m a nice person, but don’t try to fuck with me. When you’re experimenting with it, there come points when I’ve said, “I’d like to see this motherfucker try.[/quote]
He goes on to say, [quote]I look at it as being a realist in life, and in order your music to feel real you have to embrace that. Nothing on the record is fabricated in anyway. It’s something that I respect. You may just be living your life based on principle and sometimes you have to defend those principles. Violently at times. And, that’s outside of immaturity or male ritual violence. The majority of myself has been spent staying out of trouble and do the best I can.[/quote]
He looks to Bukowski as a parallel in that he is a man that would defend his point of view or work even when others found it controversial, but he doesn’t feel like he’s he’s done that with Dear Diary.
[quote]I’m not saying anything that’s that controversial that’s gonna cause me problems. I am reflecting on my life. When I’m aggressive on record it does come from a real place of people trying to dominate you. Who hadn’t had someone try to dominate them? I’m a live and let die person until you get in my face. None of the people who inspire any aggressive content will not get in arms length of me. They’re too busy being passive. I’ve never gotten into a fist fight with a rapper in my entire life.[/quote]
His personal history also speaks to this, describing the experience shared by many in a wave of immigrants who were trying to survive with what they had.
[quote]I grew up seeing violence and double locks… I saw the crack viles on the streets in the 80s… I knew it and I breathed it…[/quote]
Rheteric is completely open about the moments in his life which have made him the man that he presents to the listener. Growing up in an abusive home headed by a tyrannical step father who he watched take over their lives and beat up his real father is not something that he shies away. He raps about it vividly on Hard Fellings saying, [quote]And, I wrote this for my father, so he knows that I remember that love that he still has for me still remains within, I was six years old when he fought the man who married my mother, that provided for us, but I wanted you to win.[/quote]
This same stepfather eventually came to psychological dominate him and his family. It is here where we find the path of vulnerability that leads to violence. Reacting to people trying to dominate him so as to create a duality. A duality that is permeates the entirety of Dear Diary.
When I asked Rheteric about his approach to writing, not just on Dear Diary, but as an emcee he spoke directly to his openness and vulnerability.
[quote]The lack of vulnerability or the songwriting kills the genre. Look at Kenderick Lamar… he’s so honest and so vulnerable and so communicative and in touch with himself. Look at how successful he is. That’s an indicator of good songwriting. You can’t do good songwriting if you’re too busy keeping your guard up or trying to look good for other rappers.[/quote] He goes on to state, [quote]I guess I’m more autobiographical than I think… Sometimes I wear that shit my face and I don’t even know it (laughs).[/quote]
So what about the other side? The aggression? Where does that stem from?
[quote]The aggression comes from having to deal with being poor in LA. The aggression comes from being a hispanic rapper that doesn’t fit into the stereotype of hispanic rappers. For being creative and original and different and having to pay for it. It comes having to start from the bottom. It comes from not having a car in a city where everyone drives. I get to see everyone’s true colors because I don’t fit a stereotype. Stereotypes are a bad thing, but when you don’t fit a stereotype it’s even worse because people don’t have a reason to respect or fear you. That paradigm doesn’t fucking exist. When you’re a hispanic rapper, and you tell them your dominican- they think you’re from the middle east. But, I digress… the aggression comes from is being underestimated, it comes from being misunderstood, it comes from falling into the cracks because this an expensive city to live in. If you can’t afford a car, and you have to ride the bus you can fall through the cracks really quickly. Some of that anger comes from seeing the way people treat you when you don’t fit into a particular status or preconceived notion whether economically or racially.[/quote]
Sonically, Dear Diary is as multi-faceted as Rheteric himself. The Mike Legg produced Hard Feelings is propelled by a sharp snare cracking over the drone of a looped guitar wail. When I asked about Legg, Rheteric described him as “a crazy hood ass dude from the desert who has more street creed in his pinky than most of these so-called tough guys.” The title track, Dear Diary, was produced by Hellfyre mainstay Duke Westlake is full of whooshing builds, synth lines and shuffling drums. I Will Rise finds Rheteric channeling Jim Morrison as he takes on an almost shamanic tone, speaking in tongues and summoning the spirits of his past lives. Produced by Machina Muerte member Briefcase, I Will Rise features a lilting, hypnotic guitar riff over reverberating drums that create the feeling of sitting around a beach bonfire eating peyote buttons. Jack Johnson it ain’t. These three producers are responsible for the other 5 tracks on Dear Diary, and while it is production by committee the sound is unified and cohesive. There are heavy synth elements on Roskin Doblin and Break The Bank (2.0) produced by Breifcase and Westlake respectively. I asked Rheteric about the meaning of “Roskin Doblin,” and he explained that, [quote]Roskin Doblin is a phenomenon it’s the name for that feeling you get when you’re about to do something crazy. Roskin Doblin it’s is something my friend Eric Gordon would say before he did something crazy him and he was a crazy dude just like it did like crazy just random distracted shit and he just made up names and shit.[/quote] The synths become lighter and more airy accompanied by a vocal sample on Scars We Are providing the perfect back drop for a track of thanks and self reflection. The project’s only guest appearance comes from Rheteric’s homie Chuck Steaks as they trade bars on Dear Diary’s most traditionally Hip-Hop sounding track, N2Deeper. Completing the overall sonic aesthetic is the analog mixing and mastering process that was overseen by Kamal Humphrey De Iruretagoyena aka Radioinactive and Bob Lanzner.
Rheteric is currently teaching himself Ableton and how to play the keyboard in preparation for his next project. He states, [quote]The melodies that I used to ask other people are now coming out of me. I’ve never been trained or was raised around it and now its manifest itself.[/quote] When I asked him what it is he’s looking forward to with next endeavor he bluntly tells me, [quote]I look forward to continuing to manifest myself! Continuing to become the person I should be and share that with the world. It is a selfish pursuit — the pursuit of self. That’s the alchemy of selfishness… that real goodness comes from doing what is in your best interest so that you can be the best person you can for the rest of the world. If you’re an artist who has payed dearly for being yourself. If you were so bold as to truly, truly be yourself. And, to be uncompromising with yourself and people. I look forward to seeing that I was right in sticking to my guns. Every time I said to myself I’m gonna do it like this, I was right. I’m looking forward to continue that with my next album. It’s gets better with every project, and I look forward to perfecting the expression that is inside of me that I share with the world. This time it didn’t satisfy me completely. I only get better with expressing myself and learning to edit myself as a song writer.[/quote] It is here that we find the vindication of a man misunderstood.
A writer who has been drawing on the same emotions with every project in a pursuit of perfecting the expression of those feelings. Could these feelings be something that existed before the man himself ever existed? Channeling something that is pulled out of time. The world wants it, and he only wants to get better at expressing it. When it connects with people, there is vindication. When you realize that you weren’t wrong and that you’re not crazy. Vindication is being your own man, sticking to your principles and not letting them box you in with labels. To defy categorization.