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Chicano Rappers Spit Lingo on New CDs

Spitting Lingo

Spitting Lingo (Scotti Bros.)
Latino Lingo: Hip-hop From the Raza (Rhino)

Reviewed by Nicky Baxter

West Coast Latino groups have been trying to chisel an identifiable niche in hip-hop for nearly a decade. Although California acts like Kid Frost have made some noise, none has had much staying power. Spittin' Lingo (Scotti Bros.) and Latin Lingo: Hip-hop From the Raza (Rhino) are valiant attempts to restate the case for brown-skinned rappers.

Spittin' Lingo represents the Latin Fresh Coast by spotlighting units from the Bay Area to L.A., and as the bio-rap promises, there's not a hint of hackneyed Santana samples or Aztlan mariachi. "Microphone Jones" by Cisco the Frisco Mack rides Tupac's jock hard, replete with sultry R&B background female vocal flourishes. If Cisco's not original, he's not bad, either. Narrow Path Clique's "Veronica's Crib (The Kickback)" steps to the plate with Isaac Hayes­style organ and wah-wah guitar (shades of Shaft!) and a catchy chorus. Vocally, the Clique sounds as if it has been bending an ear to the Digable/Roots' jazzy school.

The title of Street Bumz's entry, "Gangsta Island," says it all. Though it's a familiar ride on the dark side, the Bumz's (the sole African American outfit on the album, for no apparent reason) kooky "ooh-ing" and hair-raising rhyming ensure the trip is worth more than chump change.

No doubt, the Midevil Hermits' "30 Feet Unda" is the flyest track, though. The Whittier, Calif., threesome's got a notably off-kilter script that's an audio reproduction of a house of mirrors. Swathed in reverb, the "free-style" vocal track is plain spooky; and as various members grip the microphone, the aura of dread mounts. The Hermits alternately slur like wasted street corner winos and spit out phrases in menacing, rat-a-tat blasts. Underneath, a hypnotically repetitive acoustic bass ratchets up the chill factor.

Latino Lingo comprises what Rhino claims are the "biggest and best" Latino hip-hop artists: from Kid Frost's played-out mellow bellow ("La Raza") to one-hit wonders like Mellow Man Ace ("Mentirosa") and Hi-C ("I'm Not Your Puppet") to obscurities like Proper Dos ("Mexican Power") and the enigmatically named Jew Lay ("Ring My Bell").

Much more than Spittin' Lingo, this compilation is musically conservative; its oldies-but-goodies approach will save collectors the effort of hunting through used-record bins. While I plead guilty to still getting off on "Rap Declares War" (a collaborative venture featuring seminal funkologists War with the southland's brown cream, most notably Kid Frost, A.L.T. and A Lighter Shade of Brown), after a spin or two I yearn to leap-frog back into the future.

For one thing, there's a little too much Proper Dos on Latin Lingo--four tracks, including disc-bracketing bouts of "Sumthin' to ta Bump"--one regulation radio, the other an album mix. To be fair, this was the flava of Raza rap six, seven years ago. Spittin' Lingo is more representative of what's happening now. For those heads that wanna ring to the sound of nostalgia, pick up the Rhino; me, I prefer my rap up-to-the-minute fresh.

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