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Lil Rob Represents Brown Pride
9/15/04 - exclusive interview (click here for 2nd interview)



Lil Rob picture

Chicano Rap. To those outside of the West Coast, the term conjures up images of shaved heads, shades and khakis. To look past that is to recognize one of the strongest growing subgenres of music today, being made and purchased by part of America's largest minority group.   At the forefront of this music is San Diego rapper Lil Rob. Rob made his debut on wax back in '92, and as an independent artist has sold as many as 90,000 units per CD with virtually no mainstream radio or video play.

Taking a two year break from music after being shot, he returned to the game, moved away from other successful formulas and instead focused on music that he and the people in his neighborhood could relate to. Rob speaks with LR about his music and what it means to be Chicano. So what are you working on at the moment?

The new album right now, after Neighborhood Music I think I found my niche. I think it's more neighborhood pride instead of gangbanging, homie. The new album is a compilation of my favorite oldies, more of the hard to find oldies.


1218 is the clothing line that I'm working on right now. Kind of clothing we wear, homes, you know cuffs sewed in how we wear them, easy to crease up. ‘Crisp and clean 1218' (laughs). Also working with Suspect Entertainment out of Los Angeles. A lot of homeboys, ex-gang members, people that have been in the pen, just getting people parts. Parts in Bruce Almighty, Training Day. I'm in a movie called Party Animals. Little 45 second clip, debut right there, its at Blockbuster right now. Hopefully doing soundtracks for movies and all that.


Just trying to get Mexicans known, have our slang known. Everyone's talking like the blacks do, we want them talking like the Mexicans do. Lots of homeboys don't speak right and look right in the movies, we want it to be a bit of class in the movies, have them look right instead of just the gangbanging. There's a difference.

The music you put out is generally labeled as "Chicano rap", is that what you refer to it as, or do you consider it something bigger than that?

Its rap, man, know what I mean. I'm a Chicano so you can label me what you want to. Stereotypes... It's cool and everything, but nowadays you get a little older, you get shot for your neighborhood, you look at things differently.


Chicanos gotta step up their game. Black rappers, you can't deny they got skills, Chicanos gotta stay home and get their skills tighter. I gotta get my skills tighter. Now I gotta live up to that, I gotta be as good as the next guy getting played after me. You get played in the radio, you better be good as the next artist. It's a different ballgame, homes, just trying to keep up. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud to be Chicano, but its just rap.

As an indie artist pushing regional music you've had great sales, what do you think distinguishes you from other West coast rappers?

I just pretty much stay true to what I'm about. Neighborhood pride. We drink on our driveway, typical things we do, it stays in our music. I don't change my slang, the way that I talk is the way that I talk. Just telling our own stories, we have our own stories to tell and if people can respect that, it's all good. If they cant respect that, hopefully people will get the understanding of it later on.


A lot of radio station are scared to play it (gang-themed music), I hear black rappers talk about red shoelaces, red shoes, you know what they're talking about. But when it comes to a Chicano saying it, they get scared. A lot of stations scared to play me, I'm on the frontlines trying to get played. Bash is doing this thing to knock down the doors. That's all we can do is try.

You first got some shine back in the early 90's when you were just 16, how do you feel that you've grown or changed as an artist since that time?

Well man, I look back and I think that I used to write better back then, when I turned 22, the rhymes were coming outside. Sometimes I feel like I can't even write like that no more since so much has happened. Gotta get motivated, put my problems down on paper. I understand life a little bit more, you can't trust a lot of people, can't trust nobody.


Back then it was just a little gangbang thing, tagging up on fences, now I write on reminiscing back on the days. Older people don't get offended by what I'm saying. Teenagers or old people, a lot of moms bringing their sons and daughters to the concerts, giving me props. I'm not talking about being the baddest one around, I'm just like you. Just grew up, more problems.

Only a handful of West Coast Latin artists were really blowing up in the early 90's, how does being Latino fit in with your music, is that significant to you?

Yeah it is, to put in the slang words so people know how I am. Not necessary saying ‘puro Chicano' throughout the whole thing, but letting people know where I come from.


Back in the days, like you said, Proper Dos, Spanish Fly, Lighter Shade of Brown, Mellow Man Ace. I think I was lucky to get my shine when I did. I think if I hadn't started back then, it wouldn't be crazy now. Now there's a grip of Chicano rappers I haven't even heard, there's so much competition now, to be seen is kinda hard to do.


So many rappers, so what I do to stay away from all that, I don't hang with no other cliques or groups. ‘Cause everyone got their own drama with other people, so I stay away from all that. Still strugglin' though, know what I mean.

What does being Chicano mean to you as a person?

Just being proud of who you are. We have our own stilo, sometimes people look down on us.... But it doesn't matter how you dress or how you talk, just long as you represent. Our families worked hard for us, and for us to take advantage of that... people messing up the streets and poisoning our kids. It's cool and everything to be proud of where you're from. But to kill someone you don't even know because of where you're from, that's crazy. Be proud of who you are, nothing wrong with being Chicano.

Have you ever considered dropping an album entirely in Spanish?

Yeah I thought about it. I haven't tried it yet, so we'll see what happens.

Were there other Latinos in hip hop that influenced your music or conducting business?

Back in the days it was Kid Frost, Lighter Shade of Brown, Ese Rich Rock and Spanish Fly. Proper dos, Mexican Power, that's what got me go to the studio. I was rappin' over oldies at the pad ‘cause my homies took me to a producer's pad in San Diego.


That's what got my foot in the door. Pretty much been around since then. As far as right now, I listen to Psycho Realm, I dig the way Jacken puts it down, they got skills. But then again I haven't listened to a lot of the Latin rappers that are out there right now.

What can fans expect from your latest effort, Neighborhood music?

Just like I said, homes, neighborhood pride. Story of how we live: drinkin' 12-packs of beer in the driveway, scrapin' the back bumper of a Cadillac. I know how it feels to have problems, problems with your girl. Talkin' about people who don't like me, boo hoo hoo, I don't need your crying in my life.


When the album came out, that was the first one on Upstairs Records. And to be honest with you, I wasn't really feeling rap no more. I been through so much in the business, I been burned, sold a lot of copies. I was pretty much done with rap, dude. Then I started doing shows and seeing more fans that I never knew was out there.


So when I busted Neighborhood Music I put a little bit more in there. I aint goin' nowhere, gonna keep dropping neighborhood music long as people are there.

Who did you collaborate with on your last album?

Me and the producer, Mooks out of Austin, Texas. Another dude named Craig, Groove out of Alabama. And fingers out of Riverside, California.

They did all the beats?

Yeah, they do the beats and I did all the lyrics. David Wade sang....

Have you considered getting beats from any of the bigger names in production, like DJ Muggs or the Alchemist?

Yeah, I mean I do, but right now I got my little thing going on. It's the money thing, dog, there's a lot of underground people that can make beats. And if I can make those sound cool, than cool.. But it's a money thing, and I'm not gonna be one to go out there and pay for everything, pay for my fame, I'll take it when it comes.


If people can help me out and offer their help, otherwise, to pay for someone like Dre, that's out of my league. I wouldn't even attempt it unless they came to me like helping me out. I really aint got the money. That would be nice (laughs)

Indie artists have proven that you can eat well without going gold, but how important is it to you that you get a gold or platinum plaque?

It would be cool to get recognized, just to see a Latino hit the Grammies. Seen anyone that dresses like us, or see a show on the regular Grammies where we go up there with the Jay-Z's and Eminem, ‘cause there's a lot of Mexicans out there that buy their music. Crazy how many Mexicans in L.A., and they support black rap, they can support our rap.


That would be important, not necessarily me, but it would be nice to see a Chicano-style video on MTV. We need to see that because there's a lifestyle out there, there's a lot of people out there that want to see it. A lot of places that I been, they say ‘there's no Mexicans here,' or ‘they don't lowride here,' but then again they play Snoop who talks about lowriding, but they talk about Chicano rapping it's a different trip. I tried to hit the radio when I was 17 , I know I didn't have the skills back then, but times are changing, its just a little bit harder. I've gotten a good taste of that.

Its been said that you were breakdancing since you were a kid, how important was hip hop to you when you were younger?

It was important. I mean, back in the days, my brother used to DJ, back when Krush Groove came out. Breakdancing, I was in third grade, they called me Lil Rob. I was performing, I would go to the other elementary schools and breakdance with the older guys.


Hip Hop was always there, my brother was DJing parties, blend some of the music together, learned how to blend, scratching and stuff. Doing that in my room. Just started rapping, I didn't know how that happened. One of my homeboys was supposed to be rapping, but I ended up rapping and doing my own thing...

Sen Dog once spoke on 80's Hip Hop on the West Coast, I guess some people don't realize that breakdancing and all that was big in Cali back in the days.

West coast pop locking (laughs)

You're from San Diego, I've heard people suggest that you wouldn't perform in Northern Cali for any number of reasons. Can you shed some light on that for those readers not living on the West coast?

Well, I get death threats when I go to perform in Northern Cali. ‘He's gonna get shot' or whatever. That all comes from me being from Southern California. That comes from prejudice, Sureño and Norteño. I don't even know about all that, I'd rather not. I'm all about brown pride, dude.


I did a show in Stockton, where they said I shouldn't be at. But I did my show. Fresno, California was one of my biggest shows. Packed, sold out. There's a lot of people that hate on me, but there's a lot of people growing up that don't think like that. When they say I shouldn't show up, that makes me want to show up even more. I'm gonna go up there and represent what I'm about. Brown pride, walk out there with a brown bandana.


A lot of people don't know what its about, dude, claiming it but they never been locked up. I guess its just the thing to do sometimes.

I didn't know whether you wanted to touch on this or not, but you got shot a while back. Did that have anything to do with what you just spoke about?

I used to do my little neighborhood thing. Now that I grew up, its just that one town we had problems with. If other towns hate on me, they got no reason. I got shot when I was 18, back in ‘94, got shot in the chin, shattered my jaw (laughs). My Crazy Life came out, the title of the CD was "Crazy Life", homie. That's what I was doing, being a kid but being lucky enough not to die that night and not to get locked up. I been lucky this whole little journey that nothing bad ever happened to me.

Many Latinos outside of the West Coast, Southwest or Midwest often write Mexican rappers off as Chicano rappers. What do you think it would take to get them to open up more to your sound?

It would have to be blowing up, get on MTV, get radio play nationwide, let them get something different. Rap, at one time, was something different. It's just wrong, we should be able to be who we are, Ice Cube was who he was back in the day with NWA, we should be able to be ourselves.

Its easy to see that you're a car fanatic, what rides do you own at the moment?

‘63 Impala convertible, ‘93 Cadillac Fleetwood, ‘49 Chevy pickup.

When people see you cruising through the neighborhood, what are they likely to hear bumping out of your ride?

Oldies (Laughs). Or instrumentals when I'm riding in the car, pretty much do all my lyrics while I'm driving everywhere.

What can fans expect from Lil Rob in the future?

Hopefully a whole lot, man. I'm back and I'm not stopping. Whatever comes to mind, it has to do with how we live. Expect it, ‘cause I will bring it. No one can put it down if its something popular that we do. ‘Cause I been on the frontline, getting made fun of ‘cause of the way we talk. But whatever, we'll prove them all wrong someday.

Anything else you'd like to say?

Stay tuned for anything that I'm doing, ‘cause I'll always have something coming.


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