"I hear they've got some phat rides in Japan," says Paul Lopez, aka Pauli P, half of the Denver rap duo called Deuce Mob.
"Yeah, they're shipping cars over from here," elaborates Pauli's partner, Fabian Garcia (stage moniker: DJ Fame). "They've got, like, $80,000 Impalas there, and all the guys who are into being lowriders dress just like us--oversized T-shirts, khakis."
"During the Michael Jackson era, they probably looked like Michael Jackson," Pauli speculates, laughing. "But now, it's the lowrider era. And that's good news for us."
Pauli's and Fame's knowledge of this particular cultural anomaly isn't as unexpected as it initially seems. You see, they've been doing research. Thump Records out of Walnut, California, has just released Going Solo, Deuce Mob's debut CD, and as part of their campaign to promote the album, the duo will perform at sixteen car shows on thus-far-unspecified dates throughout 1996. Fifteen of these events, sponsored by Lowrider magazine, are set to take place in U.S. cities such as Denver, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Honolulu and Los Angeles (the L.A. gig, at the Coliseum, is expected to draw 70,000 people). But the tour also stops in Tokyo, and it's there that the Mobsters think they'll learn how readily their music translates.
"We'll have to see how we come across there," Fame says.
"If they're buying the songs by the time we get there, they might even be able to sing along," Pauli continues. "That way, if we give the city some love, the city'll give us some back."
Deuce Mob also wants to give something back to Denver--a place that, to say the least, is not known for its famous rappers. The closest thing to a homegrown hip-hop smash that Colorado has produced is Tag Team, the combo that rode the charts for the better part of a year with 1993's "Whoomp! (There It Is)"; the group's core is based in Atlanta but hails from Denver. Pauli feels that the Tag Teamers aren't proud enough of their roots, however. "They don't let everyone know that this is where they're from. They don't represent Denver the way they should."
"But we're representing it," Fame interjects. "You look at the cover of the CD"--he points to a Going Solo photo in which Deuce Mob poses in front of the Denver skyline--"and there it is, right up front. We're hopefully going to put Denver on the map."
The pair have been involved in the hip-hop underground since the early Eighties, when both were members of breakdancing acts. They met in 1982, but for several years they knew each other mainly as competitors: In 1984, Fame's group, D&S Connection Dancers Unique, won a statewide contest, with Pauli's crew, Radio Active, placing second.
"We didn't get together on the music tip until '89," Pauli says. At the time, Fame was deejaying for a number of bands, including the Homeboys. But as time went on, Deuce Mob became his primary concern.
Finally, in 1991, Deuce Mob made its first recording, a twelve-inch single called "I Got the Boom" that the twosome released on their own Loced Out label. The platter turned heads at local clubs and earned the Mob an appearance at a lowrider show in Albuquerque. Kid Frost, among the country's most prominent Chicano rappers (he's signed to Ruthless Records), also performed at the New Mexico showcase, but he didn't take notice of Pauli and Fame until 1993, when he shared the stage with them at a Denver lowrider bash. "Back then we'd been working with this producer out of Hayward, California," Fame says. "He was going to fund all of an album, and we were going to put it out on our own."
"But when Frost got involved," Pauli goes on, "that took it to another level."
A few months later Frost took the Mob with him to L.A., where the collaborators cut five tracks that appear on Going Solo. In addition to help from Frost, they received assists from former Commodore Dave Cochrane--"He's done stuff with Lionel Richie and Paula Abdul, too," Fame boasts--and Foesum, an act from the Snoop Doggy Dogg/Tha Dogg Pound axis that subsequently signed its own recording contract with Atlantic Records. More recording was done in Denver with performers such as A.W.B. (the Average White Boy).
Once the Going Solo material was in the can, Fame and Pauli started shopping it around. Thump--co-owned by Alberto Lopez, the founder of Lowrider--was interested right away, but bargaining between lawyers representing both sides delayed a deal for well over a year. "That turned out to be the hardest part of everything," Fame says.
The wait was worth it: Going Solo may not be wholly original (parts of it recall Kid Frost's recordings), but it's a strong and stimulating piece of work. The sound that Frost and Fame achieve is rich and evocative, with an unmistakably Latin quality that helps differentiate it from the cliches that continue to threaten the rap genre. The beats on "Harder & Harder," "What Are You Going to Talk About," "Night Owl" and other standouts here are slow and deliberate--an ideal match with Pauli's deep, menacing and authentic vocals.
It's too bad that Deuce Mob's lyrics can't keep pace with its sonics. References to Denver landmarks like Federal Boulevard and the South Platte are fresh, but tales such as "Life of a Gangsta"--a cut filled with rhymes about bitches, niggaz, muthafuckaz, Glocks, twelve-gauges and shooting bulls in the face--smack of streets traveled far too often. Just as problematic is "Where You From," an attack on DJ Quik, a California-based rapper who's been persona non grata in Denver since a 1991 show at Mammoth Gardens. (Quik was blamed for provoking a near-riot at the concert. He retaliated by dissing Denver in a 1992 tune, "Jus Lyke Compton," and interviews in the Source, a hip-hop glossy.) The incident is legend in the Denver rap community, but it's been talked to death; another area group, G-SOM, wrote the ditty "Suicide" about it over three years ago. Threatening to put Quik "on a stretcher" so long after the fact feels gratuitous.
Predictably, Pauli offers no apologies for Deuce Mob's rougher imagery. His justifications mirror the ones offered up by other hardcore types targeted by the nation's family-values monitors. "We're not telling anyone to go do that stuff," he insists. "We're just saying, `This is what's happening out here right now.' If you do it, you can relate to it, but nobody wants you to do it. You've got to make the choice."
"It's like on `The Front of a Barrel,'" claims Fame, speaking about another Going Solo effort. "That one says don't get involved in something you can't handle or you're going to end up dead. And I've got kids, man. I don't want them to grow up in that stuff."
"I just consider it fair warning," Pauli concludes.
Fame adds that Deuce Mob isn't a one-dimensional band: "On our album, we have a lot of different flavors--flavors everyone can relate to." The single "My '64" is a prime example; it's a salute to Fame's set of wheels. "The whole first verse is about my car," he says. "Same color, same top."
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Moreover, Deuce Mob doesn't lack a social conscience. Up until now, the combo was best known for a 1993 series of safe-sex public-service announcements produced in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Health--the kind of government organization most rappers shun. But not Deuce Mob. According to Fame, "It was cool, because they let us do it straight up so that it hit you hard. We didn't sugarcoat it, because kids won't listen to you if you do."
"It wasn't offensive, but it was to the point," Pauli contends.
Beyond Going Solo, Fame plans to spread his influence in Denver and elsewhere with Concrete Poetry, a compilation CD featuring local hip-hoppers like A.W.B., Arapahoe Trues, Outlaw, Billie Jean and R&B practitioner Mario Romero that should be in stores by springtime. He hopes that Thump will distribute the completed disc, but even if the imprint passes, he vows to make it one of his highest priorities. "I'm trying to use it as a shopping tool to help Denver artists get signed," he says. "A lot of people from out of state don't look out here for talent. Kid Frost hooked us up, which was cool, but that kind of thing doesn't happen that often. With so many rappers in L.A. or New York, why should they check out here? So I'm going to do it."
In the meantime, Pauli and Fame are preparing for the Lowrider tour, on which they'll be second-billed to Kid Frost. Pauli is looking forward to being part of the entire scene. "I hear they'll have cars that can hop on their backs and roll over," he says. "I wonder how the Japanese will deal with that.