Narcos in Tamaulipas

By Raymundo Perez Arellano

Cano and Blunt are two young rappers who live in Reynosa, a border city on the Mexican Gulf Coast under the control of the Gulf Cartel. Like the narcocorridos before them, their songs embody the hopeless and desolate worldview of youth mired in a neverending drug war. For the last several years, the city of Reynosa has been the frontline of an ongoing power struggle between the Gulf Cartel and their former allies, Los Zetas. Cano and Blunt’s lyrics make frequent reference to Reynosa as a “mean town.” This is most certainly an understatement. It is considered a literal hell on Earth, a shitscape of decapitated bodies and lye baths. Their earliest and most popular single, “Reynosa la Maldosa,” depicted the reality of their crumbling city:

“Welcome to my kingdom, Reynosa, my dear / Where every day everyone gambles on their life / People who matter will blow your head off / Better be careful or bullets will rip you apart / Mutilated bodies floating in the canal / Too much evil to fit in a jail cell.”

As teenagers, Cano and Blunt were interested in American gangsta rap. Like their North American ghetto-born heroes, Cano and Blunt are now making more money than they would have ever made in the maquiladora. Their songs blare out of every narco’s stereo, mythologizing the violent lives of notorious cartel leaders like Metro 3, Comandante Aguililla, and Comandante R1. They’ve inspired dozens of narco-rap acts around the Mexican state of Tamaulipas: 5050, Ray & Pone, Los Dementes, MC Kope, Mr.Enek, Crazy Family, and Sr. Cortez all making music crafted specifically for the members of the Gulf Cartel.

But the Mexican military have made it clear that they won’t tolerate Cano and Blunt’s reification of infamous narcos much longer. Recently, Cano and Blunt applied for a US visa because Mexican record labels have lost interest in releasing their music. They hope to travel to Texas soon, where they have received preliminary offers to record an album. But for now they wait in Reynosa, stockpiling stories about their nefarious neighbors.

VICE: What are your main influences? 
Blunt: When I was a kid, I listened to cumbia [a beat-heavy Colombian genre] and drug ballads, but I also listened to American hip-hop like Dr. Dre, Lil Wayne, and Eminem. Tego Calderón is another rapper I’m really inspired by.

What’s the hip-hop scene like in Reynosa?
Cano: Ever since we came along, basically anybody in Reynosa can go out and perform rap. Some of them have become successful. Hip-hop is getting bigger here, but it’s all thanks to us.

Has the subject matter of your songs—particularly those about the Gulf Cartel—gotten you in trouble?
Cano: In Mexico everyone lives in fear. We’ve never received threats, thank God. I think people understand that we’re just in it for the music. I don’t worry about the drug dealers as much as I do the government.

Have the authorities harassed you?
Blunt: Yes, actually. They’ve stolen my equipment, asked me why I sing about these things, even tortured me. I’ve told them it’s the only way I know how to make a living. One day, the military came knocking on our door and accused us of working for the cartels. We were beaten for about two hours! I don’t know why they pick on us instead of going after the actual drug dealers. Why don’t they pick on the Tucanes de Tijuana or Larry Hernandez [a popular narcocorrido singer]? They screw with us because they think we work for those people. We just sing for whoever is listening. We sing for the people.

Do you mind being classified as narco-rappers?
Cano: That’s what they call us: Reynosa narco-rap. It became a thing because the songs are dedicated to certain subjects. We have a song called “Lagrimas en Mi Cuaderno” (“Tears in My Notebook”) that had half a million views on YouTube in less than five days. But we want a record deal.

Was it easier writing songs about what’s going on in Reynosa when the Zetas and Gulf Cartel were working together? Now that they are enemies isn’t it very dangerous to have chosen a side?
Blunt: We know it’s dangerous. Everyone here knows you’re on one side or the other. Shit, man, there isn’t any other way of earning a living here in Reynosa. Just try to find a job around here.

Do you feel any guilt or remorse because you make money by singing about people who kill, kidnap, and deal drugs for a living?
No. Remorse is for people who are doing bad things; we just make music. Everyone gets what he or she deserves, and he who does wrong will get what’s coming to him in the end.

Can you see any sort of positive future for narco-rap?
I’d ask you: Do you see a positive future for Mexico?

Translated by Rafael Gutierrez S. 

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