Those looking to take the temperature of Mexican hip-hop should look towards Monterrey rapper W. Corona’s latest EP Nueva Ruta. Its six tracks illustrate how the country’s performers are coming naturally to a musical fusion that has quickly become the sound of 2020.
On “Abusando #1,” Corona’s crafted flow, over an atmospheric Dr. Dre-like beat, is amplified by the presence of a tuba, an instrument that constitutes the backbone of banda sinaloense. Elsewhere on Nueva Ruta, Durango vocalist El Chino del Rancho is tapped for a nod to the prowess of Golden State’s cannabis in “California High,” the song’s accordions and strings are set off by an occasional DJ scratch. There are even a couple reggaeton-banda variations heard on the EP’s final tracks: “Mejor del Condado” (with Monterrey vocalist Zkylz García) and “Mal de Amor” (a potential first for such an auditory meeting).
Recent high-profile collaborations between Bad Bunny and Natanael Cano and Snoop Dogg and Banda MS have made this sort of experimentation the stuff of industry hype. Mexico’s trap luminaries like Corona are making their own expeditions into this territory. Homegrown Mafia’s Sinaloan emcees Cozy Cuz and Fntxy formed duo La Plebada to release what they call “trap ranchero,” and rapper Simpson Ahuevo’s fans are thrilled about this February’s ode to regional “Arre.”
Even if label executives’ eyes light up at the prospect of future crossover activity between two lucrative sounds, the trap-regional (to use a clunky umbrella term) meeting is one that has been quietly explored by Mexican artists for years. Considering Mexican musical history, it’s a wonder that the sound took this long to break.
W. Corona, a.k.a. Iván Gonzáles, grew up skateboarding in Monterrey, a city that has earned its place in Mexican hip-hop lore. As a kid, his headphones were filled with the music of Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, the Sugarhill Gang’s Master G, and Snoop Dogg. Around him, a local hip-hop scene had formed, composed by artists like H Muda and Artillería Pesada. Many were influenced by Control Machete, the seminal MTY group that helped expand possibilities for Mexican hip-hop, and took crossover risks of their own, such as with their appearance on Celso Piña’s 2001 album Barrio Brava.
“Everything was very underground,” W. Corona tells Remezcla of these early days. He laughs at the fact that he was drunk the first time he jumped into a battle, but soon he was hooked. Soon thereafter, he formed his first duo with fellow regiomontano emcee Millonario. “Clubs would charge 20 pesos for [a] show, and you got there and you would know almost everyone,” Gonzáles says. “There were hardly any fans—there were, but very few. We’d be there in the cantina, and we’d perform. There’d be fights, but that was what things were like back then.”
It was years before Gonzáles’ music approached anything that could be considered commercial. He scored a viral hit when he was featured on the bellowing 2012 Cartel de Santa single “Extasis,” but Gonzáles’ full-length projects weren’t even available on the internet until the 2014 solo album Ocho Diamantes.
Long before the streaming era, a young W. Corona once got into the studio with Grupo Prekavidos, a norteño group. Gonzáles, who says he’s long been inspired by performers like ranchera legend Vicente Fernández, tells Remezcla that he wasn’t a huge fan of the finished collaboration, but that the experimentation came naturally.
“Everyone who lives in Mexico listens to regional [music],” says Gonzáles. “Even if you’re a rockero or whatever, you know a regional song. It’s like the national anthem, everyone has to know it.”
Given this background, it makes total sense that years after he’d established himself as a solo artist, Gonzáles would be inspired by groups like Rancho Humilde’s Herencia De Patrones to once again experiment with combining the divergent genres with which he grew up on. Gonzáles was invited to drop a verse on Sinaloan banda balladeer El Bebeto’s 2020 track “Ya No Soy El Mismo.” Inspired by the collaboration, Gonzáles invited El Chino del Rancho to share studio time. After developing the chorus, they called in live norteño musicians, later laying down the hip-hop percussion and basslines that Gonzáles sees as essential to the W. Corona sound. The first result was “Cuadro Chico,” and for Gonzáles, it hit right.
“We were like, ‘No ma,’ suena bien loco pero está chido,” Gonzáles recalls. “I mean, it was modern, current. That’s where we got the idea to make an album. We got lucky because [at] that same moment other artists [started] to put out similar music, but we were a step ahead because we had an entire album. It’s the perfect moment for everything to be flowing al cien.”
Given the organic process that led to Nueva Ruta, it makes sense that Gonzáles rejects the notion that his norteño trap sound be seen as novelty.
“Little by little, I’m seeing more connection between norteño and urbano,” Gonzáles says. [Author’s note: Remezcla is no longer describing music with the latter term, “urbano.”] “I didn’t know anyone who was making that connection before, even though I live in Monterrey where there’s a lot of people making norteño. Now there’s more union between musicians and urbano producers, I think that si va a estar bien la onda and this movement is going to last, as long as we’re making interesting music.”