Like A Mexican: Rapper Kap G Is Putting On For His Culture
Kap G is a rare breed of rapper. Tall and slender, the Mexican-American MC walks with a pimp’s limp and only offers choice words in common exchange. Yet, the 20-year-old, whose wicked knack for storytelling landed him a deal with Atlantic Records in 2011, carries a machete in his mouth.
At the heart of Kap G’s lyrics is the story of his experience as a first-generation Mexican-American growing up in College Park, a predominantly black neighborhood in Atlanta. His music sheds light on those different plights, from the jarring realities of undocumented immigrants – some of his own relatives – to being profiled by police.
One song in particular strikes a cord with Kap G titled “F–ck La Policia,” which touches on the issues of racial profiling many Mexicans experience on a daily basis. Other equally gripping cuts from his debut mixtape, Like A Mexican, include “Tatted Like Amigos” featuring Wiz Khalifa, “Working Like A Mexican,” “Cocaina” featuring Fabolous and “Jose Got Them Tacos” featuring Young Jeezy.
How exactly does a burgeoning spitter amass such a star-studded roster of features? Let’s just say it’s one of the many perks of being endorsed by Pharrell Williams, who’s brazenly dubbed him “The Future.”
Get familiar below.
VIBE Viva: In the biopic Selena, the father says something that resonates with many Latino immigrants, even to this day. He said something like it’s a tough job being a Mexican-American, because you have to be more Mexican than Mexicans and more American than Americans. How do you subscribe to that sentiment?
Kap G: Being first generation Mexican-American, from Atlanta at that, means you won’t be able to figure me out or box me in. In high school, I was never Mexican enough for some of my peers.
What was it like going to school in College Park?
I was always one of a few Mexicans at my school. Living in College Park means living in a predominantly black city but it’s a culture that I relate to and that I love. Sometimes, the Mexicans that did attend my high school always looked at me like I was different. They would hate on [me] and tell me that I was trying to be something I’m not – black. But I’ve always been myself. I’ve always lived life in my shoes. I’m not pretending to be something I’m not.
Right. Because being black and Latino are not mutually exclusive.
Your debut tape, Like A Mexican, touches on a lot of sh–t. Talk to me about immigration. What was it like growing up in your household?
Growing up in my household was crazy. I have four brothers and one sister. Three of my brothers are from Mexico. One of them was my manager, the one who really got me to rap, helped me take the craft to another level. His name is Juan. I remember he was about to get deported. It was crazy. I didn’t really know what was going on, but we were all about to get deported.
We, as in your family?
Yeah, my family. [Juan] tells me the story all the time. My life would be so different. I wouldn’t be here if we got deported. I’m a citizen, yes, but I would have ended up leaving with my family. I grew up in a household where it was normal to hear my mother on the phone talking to so and so about who just got got, who just got sent back over.
So how were your parents able to dodge that bullet?
My mom had to find a lawyer. We basically got lucky. It was really a blessing for us. Someone funded the fees for the lawyer and everything.
Fox Latino asked you about a year ago if you were ready to be branded as a Mexican-American rapper. You said it would be a pleasure to be branded as something that is authentic to you. Do you still feel the same today?
Definitely. This is me, this is who I am. I don’t know how to be something else. I don’t care about what people say about me. At the end of the day, I’ll let the music speak for itself. I’m going to continue to just do me. I mix the two cultures that make me who I am. Why wouldn’t I?
What do your parents think about your career as a rapper?
My mom and dad are really from the bottom; they’re campesinos from Mexico. My mom lost her parents at a very young age. She was an orphan for most of her life. She lost her mom at nine, her dad at 13. She had to grow up fast. She wasn’t even the oldest, but she was the one who had to take care of everybody in her household. And my dad also started hustling at a young age. He dropped out of middle school and everything. So they have the mentality that certain dreams just aren’t attainable. Being a rapper is not a real profession, you know? They wanted me to take the typical route, do the “American” thing. Go to college, get a good job.
Fit in. Assimilate.
Right. But for me, I couldn’t do that. I just believed in myself so much. I was going to make it, one way or another.
With your song, “Jose Got Dem Tacos,” you’re not really talking about carnitas wrapped in tortillas, which is pretty fresh, considering you used an extended metaphor. How much of the song is directly linked to your life?
When I recorded the song, I was having fun. I was telling a story, but it’s real. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but yes. I grew up around it. People in my family, you know. I used that metaphor on purpose. Spanish is really influential, even in Atlanta. I might not speak Spanish too well, but I’m still Mexican for real and I wanted to integrate that in every way possible.
You unabashedly address certain stereotypes, almost embracing them. Why are you so fervent about shedding light on the plights of being Mexican in America? What message are you trying to send with your music?
I talk about these stereotypes because if you’re not Mexican, you really won’t understand. Then people start to make things up for you and those people who think these stereotypes about us, use it as a joke, as a way to belittle. So I feel like I have to address it to let the people who are not Mexican, or come from that life, know – it’s not a joke. We do the things most people don’t want to for a reason. The guy who cuts your grass, he’s out there for a reason. The family living in a house, 50-deep, is crammed up for a reason. My uncle – he’s undocumented – has to worry about authorities every day, all while trying to provide for a family, legally. People who cross the border come here for a reason. And Mexicans are really family oriented, so we have to help each other get on our feet.
What’s been your greatest takeaway from working with Pharrell?
Faith. The audacity to believe in yourself. He saw it in me before anyone else did. He’s like my big brother now, one of the most down-to-earth dudes I ever met.
Whose work do you study?
I mostly listen to Kendrick [Lamar], Drake, Pac, Jay… rappers from the South. But I study Pharrell when I’m not working with him, when I’m in the studio just watching him do his thing with other artists. That’s when I take notes.
Were you nervous at all the first time you walked into a studio with him?
Yeah, man. I just kept thinking to myself ‘What the hell am I about to make with this man?’ I ran through his whole catalog and didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. I thought ‘What direction are we going? What are we about to do?’ I played him all my stuff and all my freestyles, including “F–ck La Policia” before I put it out. I played him everything and all he said was ‘Man, you really about to lead this whole thing for your people.’
Aside from music, you play Fidel in DOPE, which people are raving about. How did you prepare for your role?
I got the call from my homie, KP. He suggested I take up the script because he thought I would kill it. I was assigned an acting coach who really taught me how to get into character. Fidel is like a boss. He’s tough, owns his own business and all. I had to relate to some part of my life to the role to make it mine, to make it authentic. On any given day, I’m super laid back but everyone has that one thing that makes ‘em tick. From there, I sent in my audition tape and, sure enough, I got it.
In light of protests still going on around the country against police brutality, tell me about the experience that led up to “F–ck La Policia”?
I recorded it about two years ago. I was leaving the studio around 4 or 5am with my two brothers. We got pulled over by the police for no apparent reason, no probable cause. They were messing with us, stereotyping us for real, racially profiling us and trying to see if we were carrying drugs or weapons. We were just trying to get home and go to sleep. We were like 30 seconds away from my house. It was a crazy experience. I wrote the song and laid it down the next day.
Photo credit: Jory Lee Cordy