"I'm Sorry," But Koppo Is Not To Be Brown-Boxed

"I apologize I'm here/ It's my fault for trying to live/ My word is all I have to give/ So I'm sorry/ Now I know I was born into a world that I ain't my home/ Maybe they'll love me when I'm gone/ Til then, I'm sorry" - Koppo

Perhaps no rapper in Houston is better at lyrically capturing the plight of the tatted, thug-living Latino in the hood than the grime rhyming, sad-story telling Koppo, a "Mexican Z-Ro" of sorts who's managed to bring bullying delivery and some sorely needed lyrical sophistication and polish to the heavily saturated gangster rap scene of the Latino community.

The scene in no way lacks in fan following from its own, but it has yet to find a breakthrough artist who can effectively cross over to gain citywide respect and undeniable stature in Houston's crowded hip-hop underground, versus being immediately boxed in or pegged due to their skin color.

In blunt terms, the "Mexicans can't rap" stereotype has to be overcome. The stereotype represents the big brown elephant in the hip-hop room. And Koppo of The Fam Entertainment music label could very well pull a 187 on Dumbo.

He's a man whose style can either irk you or grab you at first taste. He regurgitates his own poverty- and death-inspired desperation and "fuck the world" sentiments with gravelly-sounding hooks and exasperating vocals. You get the feeling he's exorcizing anxiety, distraction and despair from deep within him. Depression's never been more fun to listen to.

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Stefani Vara's Operation Musical Rewrite

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Wednesday, just a few minutes shy of 4 p.m., Stefani Vara was driving from Corpus Christi back to her home in Houston after a quick day trip. It had been a while since she heard Tejano music. It's what she grew up with and she realized she missed it. She realized it was part of her roots...part of her.

Far behind Vara's rearview mirror on the South Texas coast, Selena's statue was probably smiling. Gloria Estefan, you can smile too. So can you, Shakira. And you, Alicia Keys.

Stefani Vara pulls a little bit from them all. She can belt like Selena, shake them hips like Shakira and make you dance like Gloria But here's Rocks Off's personal favorite part: She's classically beautiful like Alicia. Trust us, we saw it up close.

But most importantly, for Houston and the great state of Texas, she's back home, after a memorable, but less-than-satisfying experience with indie label, Siri Music, that had a distribution deal with Universal.

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Behind the Lyrics: Bunz is Twin City's Lifeline to Houston Hip-Hop

[Ed. Note: We temporarily interrupt our real-time SXSW coverage to give you something else to read about for one of the last times this week.]

Richmond and Rosenberg are tough places to describe, partly because there are many faces to the two towns, which are referred to on the streets as just one name: "Twin City." Only a dip in the road separates the two cities, which sit about 20 miles southwest of the Houston city limits. There are some pockets that look like good ole' white-picket fence Americana, and there are parts that look like Acres Homes. You have your old-style country homes on one block, but cross the wrong railroad tracks and you're in Fifth Ward. The towns' bipolar landscape is nothing to underestimate.

You remember "City Under Siege" don't you?" It was Fox News' spotlight on high-crime areas in the Houston area back in the early '90s. Well, let's just say "City Under Siege" used to live in Twin City, covering gangs from Rosenberg's 4th Street Crips to Richmond's La Familia Bloods. The gang culture isn't as prevalent today, but you can still get your block knocked off if you run your mouth. The rough edges of the two cities are still prevalent, and they'll cut.

If you're from Houston, Twin City, for the most part, is just a blip you see when you're looking at the weather forecast, but it's where one of Houston's rising Latino hip-hop artists is from and calls home. Alex Perez, 26, is known as Bunz to the streets and the machine-gun flow he's brought to Houston's underground rap scene is turning heads, and not just those of Latino artists and their fans, but all who are invested and follow Houston rap. In fact, you'll find him soon on the Houston Press Mic Pass.

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Behind The Lyrics: Trails, Taking the "What Ifs" Out Of Houston Hip-Hop

There are lots of "what ifs" in Houston hip-hop, too many if you ask Rocks Off. What if Pimp C lived? What if South Park Mexican and Bing didn't get incarcerated? You could play "fill in the blank" all day after "what if?"

And we've wondered if the up-and-coming generation of hip-hop artists will learn from other men's mistakes. Will they see what happened to the generation before them and make different decisions? We're not talking about just major mistakes like going to jail for murder or overdosing on drugs and dying, but allowing elements of street life to overwhelm and dilute the talent so many of these cats have when they step behind the mike.

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We don't like reading too much into lyrics, because after all, they're just lyrics, but on a track called "Game I'm In" on Northwest Houston rapper Trails' new album Young Brown N Wreckin, the hook gives us some hope that maybe the new generation of hip-hop artists in Houston are seeing the light. Maybe not living perfectly, because no one does, but understanding that the music has to dominate the life they live versus the experiences they rap about. The chorus, sung by Southeast's Lil Villain (more on this guy later this month) goes:

"To all my patnas promise we gonna meet again/ Been through the struggle comin' up from boys to men/ My eyes seen sin, breaking the trend from hittin' the pen/ I'm tired of losing all my patnas from the game I'm in."

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Behind The Lyrics: Harkore, A Dread Head Who Reps True Head

Tuesday morning, a guy named Diamond Dave wrote us on MySpace and all we could think of is why in the hell our mama didn't name us Dave so we could have called ourselves that. Can you imagine going up to a fine-ass girl at the club and saying, "Hi, my name is Diamond Dave. Can I buy you a drink?" Then she says, "No, but you can take me home." The name is that fly.

Two Houston entrepreneurs who run a start-up clothing line called True Head actually call him "Flawless Diamond Dave." It isn't because David Sanchez (stick with Diamond, Dave) was responsible for securing their clothing line in their first store, which he was, or because he's been a perfect friend the last four years or so, because he might have been.

It's because when Sergio Gracia (not Garcia) and Ike Bradley wanted to go from educating the public on the four elements of hip-hop - DJ, MC, B-boy, graffiti artist - through their clothing line, to bringing one of those elements to life (emcee) with a music division under their company, Diamond Dave gave them exactly what they needed: a 23-year-old Alief underground hip-hop artist named Jose Quintanilla, better known as Harkore.

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Behind the Lyrics: From B-Boy to D-Boy, Mayalino Makes Believers Of Those Who Find His Music

Mayalino - "True Story" from FULL FLEDGE ENTERTAINMENT on Vimeo.

We don't know how many times Michael "5000" Watts has hosted a mixtape and didn't chop and screw it down. We can't imagine it's been many. We don't know how many times extremely respected producer Happy Perez has heard an artist on MySpace, called him up and put him on a song with Chamillionare. We can't imagine that's happened very often, either. But we can tell you it took only one listen to Jeremiah Morin, better known as Mayalino, for us to want to know more about him.

When we started to write about Houston's Latino hip-hop landscape, it was artists' established reputations that drove us to their music, which drove us to write about their lives. It's changed a bit as of late. With Coast, Preemo, V-Zilla and now Mayalino, their music drove us to them, which allowed us to develop our own reputations of them, which drove us to write about their lives.

That's how it happened with this rapper from the Magnolia section of Houston's Southside. We were in Zilla's dungeon (studio) when we first heard Mayalino, and Zilla told us the reason we haven't heard of him is because he just got home from prison a few years ago.

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