The Weird Al of Houston Rap Makes New York Debut
Rappers with bobbleheads: the next frontier
Chingo Bling + Scavone
August 31, 2005
Here's something I like about Houston rappers: they have personality. It's a city that rewards outsized ridiculousness, maybe the only city in America where a doofy white jewelry designer with fratboy chinhair and bad skin can become a rap star if he swaggers right. And so it's a perfect home for Chingo Bling, a man who has a pretty good shot at becoming the most self-consciously ridiculous rap star of all time. Chingo is a Mexican-American tamale salesman who twists rap songs up like Weird Al Yankovic, turning "Candy Shop" into "Taco Shop," naming a song after his pet rooster. He rock platinum fronts and enormous T-shirts but also cowboy hats and ostrich boots and huge belt buckles. He's a self-created cartoon character.
For the past few months, the Houston writer Matt Sonzala and the New York promoter Oxy Cottontail have been running a sort of Houston-to-New York exchange program, bringing H-Town rappers like Devin the Dude and Bavu Blakes to NYC for the first time, putting East Coast hipsters on to provincial rappers and letting those rappers know that they have an audience outside the Southwest. I wasn't in New York for any of those shows, but I imagine they were hugely different from Chingo Bling's NYC debut. Chingo didn't have his big coming-out party at a cramped, sweaty club; he came out at Joe's Pub, a classy, comfortable spot with candles on tabletops and low atmospheric red lighting and drinks that looked expensive. The opening act was Scavone, a white guy who rapped earnestly over watery live-band funk, boring but also pleasant and comforting. The audience sank back into their seats and made minimal noise. When Chingo came out, he was almost apologetic: "Normally I get a little more crunk."
If Chingo was at all intimidated by this audience, he didn't show it. He's a born performer, huge rhinestoned sunglasses under his black cowboy hat, Nike swooshes painted on the sides of his ostrich boots, telling fart jokes, completely relaxed, more silly and affable than actually funny. "I got the internet showing butts," he said over the "Still Tippin" beat before trying to get the crowd to chant "Fuck Osama" and "Fuck the gas prices." He tried to use "Save a horse, ride a cowboy" as a real pickup line to a real girl in the crowd. He played off Mexican stereotypes hard, talking about tacos and riding donkeys, subtlety playing off his straight-man hypeman Stunta. He has a light, darty, polite flow, and it meshes nicely with the synthy Midwest-whistle beats he likes, Mannie Fresh rather than DJ Screw. His half-hour set wasn't a furious declaration of intent or a forceful demonstration of virtuosity, but it never stopped entertaining. Chingo Bling seems like a good guy, and I'll take that.