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Is there a more disposable subgenre of music than novelty hip-hop? Any doubts can be quelled by simply looking at the sheer number of comedy-rap efforts in cut-out bins—home to everything from rapping Ronald Reagans and 2 Live Jews to more recent artists like MC Paul Barman and the Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MC’s Wid Ghatz. The image of the street-tough gangsta begs to be deflated, which has made hip-hop a prime target for lampooning over the years. Then again, the line between mainstream hip-hop and joke-rap has always been somewhat blurry. The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was essentially a Cosby-esque comedy routine laid over a Chic breakdown, and between-song skits have plagued hip-hop since Prince Paul came along. What other mainstream genre would foster such funny-guy artists as the Fat Boys, Biz Markie, and Redman?
In an industry where even the hits have short sell-by dates, it’s hard to rely on recording humorous reinterpretations of them to make a living. But in the past five years Chingo Bling, a Mexican-American rapper who’s equal parts Bobby Jimmy, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and José Jiménez, has enjoyed some success at it. The self-proclaimed Houston-based “Tamale Kingpin” is an absurd Tejano caricature. He sports a diamond grill that looks like the Mexican flag. He wears a big black cowboy hat and ostrich-skin boots emblazoned with the Nike swoosh. He is rarely seen without his faithful rooster, Cleto. He claims to have sold loads of Chingo Blingnbranded merchandise through his own company, Big Chile Enterprises: bobbleheads, “T-Churts,” “DBD Bideos,” “Mextapes,” you name it.
Among the songs he’s parodied are the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)” and Hurricane Chris’ “A Bay Bay.” He also set race relations back several years with “Taco Shop,” a take on 50 Cent’s already unlistenable “Candy Shop” that features, rather predictably, this line: “It’s cheaper than any spot/My tacos that’ll make you fart.” (Suddenly, “White & Nerdy” by “Weird Al” seems the height of profundity.) But despite trafficking in such subnCarlos Mencia stereotypes, Chingo Bling has some positive characteristics. His flow is at least as good as fellow H-Towners like Paul Wall or Lil’ Flip, and he can be genuinely funny at times: “I know that Mexicanitas…didn’t like certain girls that they saw me with at Olive Garden,” he raps on “White Shix!” Plus, anyone who writes a song called “Chinge Su Madre Bush” can’t be all bad.
Chingo Bling also has credibility in the Houston rap scene: He has appeared in Chamillionaire videos and, along with Paul Wall, guested on a remix of Nelly’s “Grillz.” The title track of his first major-label album, They Can’t Deport Us All, may be the best song of his brief, spotty career. It begins with a twangy guitar lick and yammering from some redneck border patrol officers, after which Chingo lets loose with this gem: “It’s all over CNN/All over the Internet/I heard about that big ol’ fence/But who the fuck is building that?” It’s as funny as it is poignant and logical. The song, with its relaxed beat, sound effects, and wit strikes the perfect balance between humorous entertainment and social commentary. The best thing about it is that Chingo Bling is the only artist who could have created it.
That’s also true of “Like This N Like That,” on which he raps, “They got us cleaning up Katrina/Hey Kanye, Bush don’t like Mexicans neither.” Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the album is a disappointment—Chingo Bling rarely sounds comfortable, and he struggles to find something interesting or consistently funny to say. It’s not completely his fault: Apart from the opening track, Chingo can’t find a place for his wacky persona in the increasingly tense battle over immigration. There are few things less fun than earnestness and aspirations to social relevance, and “In Case They Forgot” exemplifies how unfunny They Can’t Deport Us All can be. A maudlin account of how Chingo is still repping his ’hood and how he built his modest empire, the track is weighed down by an overly dramatic string-synth sample and an uninspired vocal by Latasha. The clichéd keepin’-it-real lyrics are no help either: “What you motherfuckers know about the underground?/Selling 50,000 tapes in your hometown.”
It’s as if Chingo Bling buckled under the pressure of being the emblematic Mexican-American rapper and resorted to formula—the tracks rarely deviate from the likable H-Town rap sound. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the production, which comes from various Houston sources like Carnival Beats, Jim Jonsin, and others. It’s just that “Southside Thang” and “Ball Everywhere I Go” are hardly recognizable as Chingo Bling tracks. They’d be standouts on a Paul Wall record, but here they only cut what makes Chingo interesting out of the mix—his humor, which is mostly relegated to overlong skits.
Granted, Chingo’s situation is stickier than a molten queso fundido—there isn’t much career longevity built into writing Hispanicized rap parodies. When Chingo addresses a serious subject like immigration, it’s as jarring as Yakov Smirnoff talking about the evils of human trafficking in his Russian homeland. Because of his clownish cholo appearance, he can’t be a serious champion of his ethnic group like rapper Pitbull, who literally wraps himself in a Cuban flag. He does rap in Spanish on occasion, but he usually delivers his rhyme in a mangled version of English he calls “Chinglish.” Mainstream rap fans not only have a hard time taking him seriously, they probably don’t want to hear songs about immigration. His real talent was in creating parodies, and it was probably necessary for Chingo to change directions. But now that his ridiculous ghetto vaquero persona has gotten people to listen, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say.