Monday, April 23, 2007

The Beat Q&A: 2Mex of The Visionaries

Los Angeles MC 2Mex is not content with simply delivering a message in his music. He uses it as a tool to reach out to his community.

A member of the Visionaries crew, the underground veteran has made his mark as one of the more progressive rhyme slingers on the West Coast. None other than Snoop Dogg has recognized the real, shouting out 2Mex and the Visionaries on the mixtape/demo cut "My Peoples."

But aside from his status as a MC on "Hip-hop's Bleeding Edge" (as he was billed in URB Magazine), 2Mex is a community-oriented artist who takes time out to speak to young people whenever the opportunity arises. 2Mex took some time out to talk to "The Beat" about his community work, his music, and what kept him so grounded in the first place. The following is an excerpt.

Q: First thing I want to do is say thanks for taking time to talk to "The Beat."

A: No worries.

Q: What have you been involved in the community as far as outreach work?

A: One of the things I've been helping out with is I go to classrooms (and) talk to kids. I go to high schools and junior highs and I talk to kids and let them know that I'm just like them. I'm from the community and here I am a Chicano, just like them, that's out there doing something for myself. Owning my own business that's successful with the music thing and without having to succumb to dealing with this corporate situation, and deal with building it from the ground up on a hands-on basis, you know. And just giving them some hope, showing them that somebody from the neighborhood made it, you know. We get to travel the world and do what we do because we work hard at it and we're dedcated to it and we look just like them, you know.

Q: What community were you raised in?

A: I was raised in Mid-City Los Angeles, a predominantly black and latino neirghborhood. It's kind of by South Central LA. I was born in 73, so I grew up in the late '80s, you know.

Q: What were some of the issues you faced growing up that you can relate with the youth?

A: Basically the issues in the 80s, there were a lot of race issues and gang issues. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of gangs, from 18 street to black gangs like Playboy Gangsta Crips. There was a lot of black and Mexican tension, you know, the gang culture of LA. The negativities of stress from the police, the crack era — I grew up in the crack era in LA. I saw a lot of people deal with and I experienced a lot of police brutality personally, being harassed by the police personally, you know.

In Mid-City, it was a hotbed of activity, growing up in the neighborhood where I grew up. Gangs, prostituation, drug dealing and stuff. I just let (the youth) know. I go to the projects in East LA, Maravilla projects, from everywhere. My group, The Visionaries, we went to Riverside, and we've gotten to the point where we get to perform in the schools. Talk to the kids, let them know, even though the music we make isn't that radio bullshit, talking about materialism and disrespecitng women and things like that. We just show them even though we're not on commercial radio, we're good. We can manifest a life and do things, you know, get things done and be successful.

Q: What types of influences did you have growing up that kept you focused?

At a young age, what kept me straight was my parents, you know what I'm saying. When I was young, I had a church influence for a while, it kept me strong. Until I got to the age of 16 or 17, when I got a job and stopped going to church and started working. I had a strong foundation. A lot of my homies were from 18 Street and different gangs, and they were getting caught up in that.

When the L.A. riots kicked off, I wanted to loot — bad. My friends were looting, things. I'm not getting into it, but people had plans when that shit cracked off. I wanted to be there so bad, it got to the point where my dad pulled out a gun on me and said “You're not going anywhere,” and he locked the door. He didn't let me do anything. That's the type of tough love that saved me. I didn't think about it at the time.

At those little critical points, when your family could have let you run wild and make mistakes, my dad was strong...

Q: Do you share that stuff with the students you talk to?

A: As deep as we can get into it. A lot of it too becomes, you know, music talk and showing them (what I do). A lot of it is about the music and showing them you can open your brain up. One exercise we do with the kids is freestyle with them, and show them in order to do wonderful things and be successful, you got to have a vocabulary. You got to have intelligence. I try to show them with intelligence comes money. If you're intelligent, you can make money. You can succeed in this world and get those things that you want, in the right way.

My parents broke their back for me to be able to (make a living). I haven't had a job in six years. Even though I'm not rich at all, I've been successfully living off the hip-hop music since the year 2000, you know. But it wasn't (always) like that. It took me another like, 10 years, almost, to get my act right. So this is just to show them. My dad broke his back so I could find out to survive with my brain, and here's their chance to survive with their brain.

There's a lot of little things like that, but a lot of (stuff I talk to kids about) is about the music. Trying to open up that chamber of intelligence. A lot of these, without disrespecting, but too many of these rap groups that are Latino, when it comes to rap music, their art form isn't necessarily about intelligence, or being wordsmiths, or building a vocabulary and being progressive with the hip-hop. Theyre just telling ghetto stories. And that shit's dope, you know, they're talking real talk. It's real talk shit, which is fine.

I don't portray myself to be a gangster. I never was a gangster. I grew up in a gang area, but I never was a gangster so I know to never act like one, you know what I mean. I don't front, but it's understandable that kids who do live that life, they tell those stories. But I'm there to show them that there's another way, another progressive way, and it doesn't have to be just like that. There's a balance. Being a Mexican hip-hop artist doesn't mean every song has to be about that.

You can talk about anything. You can talk about the world, but you have to go see it. I've performed in 40 to 45 of the 50 states. I've performed in Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Amsterdam, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Australia, England, Spain, France.

I've seen the world and I have a bigger range, and I'm just showing them that they need to go get these things and have that worldly range and think outside the box. I was talking to a kid the other day, he said “I'm from Santa Ana. I was born in Santa Ana, I'm going to die in Santa Ana, and I was like "Damn." I forgot there were people like that, and I was like, "That's what you want to do, huh?" And just, really, that mentality of I only exist in this neighborhood because I might have some power, some accolade there. But there's so much more to it.

Q: Is there any one group or organization you work with in particular?

A: To be quite honest, I'm just a floating entity. People reach out to me. From MEChA organizations to Divine Forces people, it goes on and on and on and on. I need to gather some of that info, because I look at this as an everyday thing. I float around.

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