LOS ANGELES – Ruben Gonzalez can’t say exactly when the change from the older country style of corridos music shifted to the emerging urban style.
But he knows that when people heard the uniquely Southern California style, it immediately touched a chord.
“When we recorded ‘Bien Lit,’ which immediately hit in the streets, and that brought the attention to muchos grupos – ‘Oh my god! We have ideas like that,'” said Gonzalez, CEO of LA-based music label Wounded Enterprises.
Ideas that reflect the culture and lives of the people in neighborhoods like Compton, California – a birthplace of West Coast hip-hop that is home to acts like NWA and Kendrick Lamar, whose songs tell unflinching stories about growing up there. While traditional Mexican corridos have often focused on less-gritty tales, corridos tumbados and ‘hood corridos offer a different style of storytelling music to a new generation.
“We sing (about) people from the neighborhood, who are from the neighborhood, who have killed, who are in jail,” said Gabriel Ornelas, lead singer for Los Asociados, a band that describes its style as ‘hood corridos.
It’s a modern, urban version of a classical Mexican style of music that Ornelas says explains, but does not glorify, the reality of the lives they live.
“In the streets they are doing bad, you can say, but trying to help people as if saying, ‘OK, this is what happened to me, but I am telling my story so that you know the problem and do not do it and, you know, look for another path,'” Ornelas said.
Corridos are narrative ballads that grew up in the borderlands and chronicled everything from ordinary occurrences to, more often, stories of political and cultural conflict, acting as a sort of oral history. The fast-paced songs are often accompanied by guitars, but Celestino Fernandez, a retired University of Arizona sociology professor, said the focus in the corrido is on the lyrics.
“This is why many corridos begin, ‘This is the corrido of …,’ for the listener to pay attention,” Fernandez said. “A story is going to be presented, a document, then a documentary is putting something that happened in reality, truth or inspired by something that happened in reality.”
Traditional corridos are sung in the third person, but the new style of corridos tell their stories in the first person, according to Fernandez.
“This type of corrido was born in the city, not in the provinces, not in the country, right?” he said. “It’s an urban corrido, it’s what they know.”
Gonzalez said he began thinking in 2017 of changing the typical attire – traditional leather boots, suits and a country-style hat – of the norteño band he was managing to more modern clothes, like jeans, T-shirts, hats and shoes. But the band resisted the move.
He discovered Los Asociados when he heard their corridos version of Oakland rapper Too Short’s hip-hop song, “I’m a Player.” He was amazed with how the song turned out and immediately wanted to manage them.
“They’re from Compton and I am from Compton and we have the gangster mentality and we just writing music about gangster sh–,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez believes Arsenal Efectivo, a band originally from Southern California, opened the door to corridos tumbados, and he made the pitch to Los Asociados: “Let’s not sing about people in Mexico or no drug lords. Let’s stop singing about them… Let’s sing about people here.”
He invited the group to come to the studio and Los Asociados loved the idea. Los Asociados were influenced by the new wave of trap corridos by bands like Arsenal Efectivo, but they are forging their own style, which they call ‘hood corridos.
“We released this rhythm that goes hard and the people liked this movement more,” said Felipe Peñalosa, one of the members of Los Asociados.
Peñalosa said the movement is changing and people are liking the new generation of artists and the tumbadon rhythm they created that goes hard on the U.S. side of the border.
“They aren’t millionaires like Chapo,” Gonzalez said, referring to the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, “but we got stories to tell, you know what I am saying?”
Gonzalez believes the music will be around for a while, but that change is already coming. He notes that reggaeton, influenced by Caribbean, Latin music, reggae and other genres, has started to move from Puerto Rico to collaborate with regional Mexican artists. Colombian singer Karol G in May released “200 Copas,” which combines reggaeton and corrido tumbado, along with a requinto guitar.
“So I think corridos tumbados is already moving to its next stage and that it will make much more movement,” he said.