This or That? Cap 1 vs. Kap G
Chicano rappers have a long history in hip-hop: Cypress Hill's B-Real (of Mexican and Cuban descent), N2Deep, Kid Frost, Tha Mexakinz. But as time moves forward, people often look back and seem to forget how important Latinos were to the birth of hip-hop in the '70s and early '80s. Before toasting turned into rapping and Kool Herc plugged turntables into lamp posts, breakdancing was the most accessible element of hip-hop. All you needed was bodies and pavement. One of the first mainstream hip-hop articles to ever be published was Sally Banes' Village Voice piece on the Rock Steady Crew in 1981, and it set the precedent for other huge publications to start writing about rap. Tons of hip-hop historians have pointed out the importance of Hispanics in the rise of the art form, but still revisionists wipe them out of the Black Art narrative.
Enter Kap G. The 19-year-old rapper signed to Atlantic Records dropped his debut tape, 'Like A Mexican,' back in March, and the title communicates the theme he ran with for his first project. One look at his Spotify profile reinforces that motif -- 'Tatted Like Amigos,' 'Jose Got Dem Tacos' and 'La Policia' are all solid records, if not charmingly simple. "La Policia" is the best one, especially given what's been happening in the national news over these past few months. The clean version might even be better than the dirty; singing "no no policia" just has a tighter ring to it.
'La Policia' is one of the best rap singles of the year, and 'Like A Mexican' shows Kap's buoyancy across 14 songs. The first two Bangladesh-produced songs are fun but fluffy, and the tape picks up quickly after that. Almost every single song makes Kap's ethnicity clear -- 'Working Like A Mexican' has a quirky chorus (note: rappers should stretch their voices more often) despite a cringe-worthy title; 'Cocaina Shawty' shines with a Pharrell beat but suffers with a Fabolous feature; 'Eddie Guerrero' rhymes Legos with pesos, in case you weren't gonna listen. The beats, provided by promising newcomers like Kid Cray, Fatboi, and Squat Beats, make the tape cohesive without melting every song together, and Kap seems to have a treasure chest of bouncy hooks for songs like 'Now You See Me Now You Don't' and 'All We Got Is Us,' the latter of which really contains the line, "All I got is mi familia, I can't forget that / And they heard across the border, they some proud wetbacks." Atlantic must be thrilled.
It makes you wonder - a strong debut project, a couple catchy singles, and even a co-sign from Skateboard P (who called Kap "the future," for Christ's sake), but no larger conversation around dude. Is it the hair? Or is it because he's Mexican? Kap and his record label seem to be pushing that Chicano image hard, but it might also be the distinction that keeps Kap away from mainstream popularity. Catch ventidós.
Splitting his time between Los Angeles, Atlanta, and his hometown of Chicago, Cap 1 is a bit easier to figure out. He's been rapping since the '90s (according to this unearthed footage with Kanye West) and his debut album 'Through The Eyes Of A Don' came out in 2000, but you're forgiven if you heard him for the first time on the sadly-titled 'Where U Been'?' from the last 2 Chainz album. Tity Boi might look like the right guy to get with if you want to reinvent your career over a decade after your debut album, but Cap hasn't really proved why we should care in 2014.
'Caviar Dreams' is his best project to date, with semi-popular songs like 'They Know,' 'Reckless' and 'Flippa,' but his alignment with 2 Chainz might be of more harm than good. 2 Chainz became such a phenomenon, he (consciously) turned into a caricature of himself and now manufactures patented 2 Chainz jokes in every verse. That's his thing. Cap 1 needs something more outsized than his go-to collaborator's persona, or else he'll just be that guy 2 Chainz does songs with for the rest of his career.
He doesn't have the Mexican thing that Kap G has going for him, so that's out. He also hasn't proved he's got hooks like Kap does; Cap 1's catchiest song wisely recruits Ty Dolla $ign for chorus duties. In an environment of Young Thugs, Chief Keefs and Kendrick Lamars, Cap 1 might have to get weird if he wants to stand out in Atlanta, Chicago, L.A., or anywhere else. Using footage with Kanye from '98 to promote your 2014 project isn't exactly the best look.
So Kap G takes the W this week, though it's a cautious one. Should he diversify his subject matter a bit and show fans he's more than just The Mexican Rapper, or should he stick with the image he's got and see how far he can take it? Pharrell is the guy he should consult, given P's longevity, but for now, crack open a Tecate, order up some quesadillas, and give a middle finger to la policia.