From the archive
ON a dark, lonely street corner, a man in sunglasses leans against his car and waits.
“It’s ‘bout to go down,” he says to his cellphone, as an ember-red Chevy Monte Carlo with cattle horns on the hood pulls up. Out steps a menacing-looking fellow in ostrich skin boots and a black Stetson.
“Senor Bling,” says the man who was waiting. “The streets is fiendin’ for it.”
Up pops the car’s neon-rimmed trunk to reveal foil-wrapped packages of “it.” Bricks of marijuana? Kilos of cocaine? No, tamales plastered with the logo of the Mexican-American rapper Chingo Bling.
Tamales and masa, their cornmeal base, may not have the street cred of drugs, but Chingo Bling has tried to do for them what Tony Montana did for cocaine. In songs like “Walk Like Cleto,” whose video opened with the street corner scene above, he mockingly uses hip-hop’s swagger to urge respect for the hard work and home cooking that help Latin American immigrants survive in a hostile world.
Before a recent show near here at the Key Club, the man who styles himself as the Ghetto Vaquero and the Masa Messiah peered from beneath the brim of that black cowboy hat and made clear his intent: “I’m trying to stay current in hip-hop. Lil Wayne has a style, and so does Jay-Z. But I’m not a gangster, I’ve never sold crack.”
“I’m Mexican-American,” he said between bites of chorizo, scrambled eggs and corn tortillas at Pann’s Restaurant and Coffee Shop. “Don’t pay any attention to the stereotypes. Our real hustle is selling tamales, our white powder is masa. I just try to represent that.”
His message is gaining a wider audience. El Real, the new Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, displays a series of movie-style posters, framed in shadowboxes. Along with Tex-Mex music heroes like Flaco Jimenez and Freddy Fender, the Masa Messiah gets his due. “He’s a rapper,” said Bryan Caswell, one of the restaurant’s owners. “But he raps about Tex-Mex issues, about Tex-Mex ideals. His subjects are the family that gets together in the kitchen to make tamales to make extra money. His stuff is funny. But he uses humor to make serious points.”
Chingo Bling is the stage name of Pedro Herrera, a native of Houston whose parents came from the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. …
Mr. Herrera’s love of tamales is visceral. In the ’70s, his mother, Dora Gauna, made tamales for his father, Pedro Herrera, to sell to his co-workers at the body shop of a Houston car dealership, where he pulled dents from Pontiacs.
But his food references are likely to be more metaphoric than literal. And in the past Mr. Herrera pushed those metaphors to off-color extremes.
This was back when reviewers commonly referred to him as the Mexican Weird Al Yankovic, a title he earned by shooting music videos like “Taco Shop.” In that parody of 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop,” Mr. Herrera transformed a bikini-clad woman, reclining in a bathtub full of shredded lettuce, into a human taco, as he dribbled her with salsa and strewed her with grated Cheddar.