Houston-based MC Doeman isn’t afraid to drop names. In the grand tradition of The Game, the entirety of his recently released Barrio God Vol. 1 mixtape is littered with references to countless respected MCs, R&B singers, and actresses he wants to bed, as well as civil rights figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. No name is more prevalent throughout the set, however, than Tupac Shakur’s. “If Pac was alive, I’d probably be his favorite,” Doeman audaciously boasts on “American Me,” a track not only named for the Edward James Olmos classic, but also reportedly one of Tupac’s most beloved films (he even sampled some of the dialogue in “Death Around the Corner”). While rappers name checking the likes of Pac, Biggie, Nas, and Wu-Tang (all of whom also get plenty of love throughout Barrio God) is nothing new, it’s perhaps a noteworthy distinction in the case of Doeman. Put plainly: Doeman is a 90s baby who grew up on the golden era of hip-hop like the rest of us, but he also happens to be Mexican-American. And while some Latino rappers have had to rely on stereotypical caricatures of their identities to make it in the hip-hop world, Doeman’s style feels more incidental in its approach to his Latinidad.
“Best Mexican rapper since SPM’s incarceration,” Doeman spits on the Barrio God highlight “1996,” which more than any other on the set illustrates his aspirations to join the ranks of the greats. The line plays as if it were meant to be an homage to Houston rap forefather South Park Mexican, but it actually speaks more to the lack of talented Chicano MCs represented in the game. SPM was never really that critically lauded and is now better known for being convicted of sexual assault than for any of his music (he was sentenced to a 45-year sentence almost 15 years ago). It’s hard not to find the shoutout jarring next to lines like “Feel like Pac and I’m Ready to Die/Feel like I’m Big Poppa/All Eyez On Me,” which reference two of the greatest rappers and albums of the genre at large.
With the recent emergence of Kap G, another Chicano rapper who came of age in the South, rap fans are seeing Latinos take on new roles in the hip-hop world, ones that aren’t New York-centered, steeped in kitsch, or driven by pop/EDM. It’s a glass ceiling that is seldom addressed and has taken a shockingly long time to break through in the mainstream conversation. Much the way Kap embodies his College Park, GA upbringing with trap and guttural ad-libs, Doeman’s Houston sensibilities are on full display on Barrio God (particularly on tracks like “Same Way” and “Plottin x Schemin”) through their frequently belligerent lyrics and chopped-and-screwed instrumentals. There’s a brash, somewhat immature, and yet nonetheless charming delivery in Doeman’s rapid-fire bars, which evokes early Mobb Deep. It’s that same youthful bravado that is so frequently employed as a survival technique in cities across the U.S. that truly carries the material within Barrio God.
That’s not to say that Doeman rejects his Latinidad by any means, or that artists who do so should be praised over rappers who center Latinidad in their work. The set is called Barrio God, after all, and opens with a vintage news clip featuring a gang member discussing the all-important role your hood plays in defining who you are. But while some U.S. Latino rappers are forced to shoehorn aesthetics like Spanish phrases and salsa samples into their records, Doeman’s identity weaves in much more organically with his overall message. If there’s any axe he has to grind, it has much more to do with convincing us that he’s the heir apparent to the gods of the 90s. While that certainly remains to be seen (Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Tupac’s discography), it’s refreshing to hear an undeniably talented MC who embraces his identity without feeling the need to kowtow to anyone’s expectations.