Music To Die For?

Right now, Drake is the hottest thing happening in hip hop. His debut album, Thank Me Later sold almost five hundred thousand copies in its first week. That’s the most for any hip hop artist all year (until Eminem’s album dropped). Though some of his songs are original, he raps about getting women and making money and the other usual topics most rap artists rhyme about. But imagine if Drake dropped a lyric about being as cool as some LA gang-banger.  Now, imagine Drake getting killed the next day.

Or what if Em or Jay-Z rhymed about a notorious drug dealer who then ran them off the road and shot them both in  the back of the heads days later. This would be front page news, right? Well, about two weeks ago Sergio Vega,  a popular Mexican folk singer, (Mexico’s version of being a rock or hip hop star) was making his way to performance at a village festival concert in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

It was a Saturday night trip to do what he loved to do, croon ballads. But this night was different and soon Vega would know why. It’s not known whether Vega realized it, but a truck was following him.  And the filled with Mexican gunmen caught up to Vega’s red Cadillac and opened fire on the vehicle as Vega tried to get away. According to the Mexican Newspaper, El Debate, the gunshots caused Vega’s car to crash. Soon after, the gunmen exited their vehicle, walked up to Vega’s crashed car and “finished Mr Vega off” with shots to the head and chest. Was Vega also a drug dealer or a gang member? All reports are to the contrary. His only crime was being a balladeer of “narcocorridos” or drug ballads.  Apparently, Mexican folks singers are the original gangsta rappers. They’ve been glorifying drug dealers and drug smuggling in songs for the last eighty or so years. That’s at least sixty years before Eazy-E and NWA decided to bring gangsta rap to the mainstream with songs like “F*ck the Police” and “Dope Man” in the early nineties. And just like it’s predecessor, Gangsta Rap shared a lot of the same themes in common: murder, racketeering, extortion, drug smuggling and other fun criminal activities.

But unlike here in the states, drug dealers don’t believe in freedom of speech. Vega is only the latest casualty in the one sided battle between folk singers and drug traffickers. According to a NY Times article from a few years back, 13 Mexican narco-corrido singers were slain in an eighteen month period.

And what should be more shocking is that none of these murders have been resolved. In a cruel twist of irony, Vega had been in the news a few days before his death when, according to the, Vega was doing interviews to refute stories that were reporting that he had been killed. He joked that the erroneous stories were worrying his mother. He also told a Mexican entertainment site that he had increased his security after the killing in 2007 of Sergio Gomez, the Grammy award nominated lead singer of  the Grupero band K-Paz de la Sierra. (Grupero is a genre of Mexican folk music similar to classic or soft rock)

Gómez, was kidnapped as he left a concert in his home state of Michoacán early on the morning of December 2nd of 2007. The New York Times reported that later in the week his body was found tortured, strangled, riddled with cigarette burns and dumped on a roadside outside of  Morelia, the state capital of Michoacán. Based on all reports, Gómez’s slaying, as well as most of the rest of the murdered musicians, was particularly vicious.

Most of the others were beaten and some were suffocated. But all cases remain open. In fact, according to the New York Times story, one Grupero female singer was shot in her hotel room while she was touring with her band. She survived the attack and was rushed to the hospital. The gunmen followed her to the hospital and finished her off by shooting her two more times while she laid in the hospital bed. There were two other cases where whole Mexican Grupero bands were wiped out, machine gun style. Though this all sounds like a bad remake of “Scarface”, it’s all true. (Can you imagine this happening on our side of the border? Or even in Canada, London or Paris? How is this not making the news everywhere?)

Some might see a relevant analogy to the deaths of Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur, and that would be a fair comparison. Both murders involved possible gang connections and neither murder is yet to be solved. But the comparisons seem to end there. Those two murders received so much attention in the hip hop community that the music and the culture were irrevocably changed. Gangsta rap faded away, “East Coast vs. West Coast” rap battles became a thing of the past and both rappers became legends overnight. There was also a call out through out the rap community to stop the violence. No such plea has been made so far in Mexico; in fact, authorities have found it nearly impossible to even get witnesses to come forward. As the slayings continue, the Mexican Government is attempting a different tactic to combat the problem. They are trying to arrest the balladeers.

According the UK newspaper The Guardian, The Mexican ruling party has since proposed legislation that would hand out three-year jail sentences to musicians who perform songs that glorify trafficking drugs. Since the genre’s tradition goes back to the 1930’s it will be close to impossible to outlaw the songs. So arresting musicians seems like an improbable solution. I don’t know what’s going to happen.  I’m just an outsider who decided to write about a story that I found fascinating. Still, it is scary to think that if Grammy nominated musicians and other famous artists can be killed so easily and without much fanfare, how safe is the average citizen over there?

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