Edwin Lopez

Coming from humble beginnings, struggling to live the life he envisioned for himself, and traveling the world and performing for large audiences of raving fans, Alejandro Ocana, also known as underground hip-hop legend, 2-Mex, has accomplished much of what he dreamed of when he was just a youngster. At the age of 34, he has already more than a dozen solo albums and as many group albums, and says he has at least another 4 albums worth of unheard music that he is preparing to put out. Although he has not had much radio play or financial gain, people who know him and his music invariably become fans, and he has a large base of followers that spans the globe.

Born in East L.A., he moved to Mid-City Los Angeles at the age of 1, and has never lived further than 10 minutes from there, where his parents still reside. During my interview with him, he stops for a call from his mom, and I hear him in the background speaking to her in Spanish. “Si Mami, todo esta bien? Como te fue?” he says in the most respectful, courteous manner you would never expect to see from a hip-hop artist. This is very indicative of what a modest person he really is.

He was raised near Washington and La Brea with both of his parents, as well as his sister Nancy, who is 6 years younger than him. He has fond memories of growing up in a small but loving home with his Mexican-born parents and playing with his sister often. Music was an influence from a young age, as his father would play Santana, Beatles, and the Comets on his guitar and keyboard. They also listened to Aretha Franklin and War, and these were the beginnings of what grew from him.

When asked about his musical influences, they range from The Beatles, to British New Wave, to 80’s hip-hop and even trance. He recalls looking up to Prince and thinking, “Damn, he just has so many records! It was like he came out with a record every week! Record after record after record.”

Some of his other influences came as he would ride the school bus from Mid-City to Pacific Palisades every day. His bus driver would tell them that if they would “shut up and keep quiet,” that he would play KDAY, which was the hip-hop station back then. So for an hour and a half twice a day, he would listen to the music. That is how his tastes began to develop towards other hip-hop artists, such as Tribe called Quest and the Beastie Boys. Eventually he heard other, more politically charged artists, such as KRS-One, Public enemy, and X-Clan. He began writing lyrics, but not reciting of rhyming in front of others yet. He just liked the whole “hip-hop vibe,” as he called it.

He started to hear some Hispanic artists, but he couldn’t identify with the whole “cholito,” or gangster image that is often portrayed. He began thinking, “There’s no Mexican Chuck D! Where is the Mexican KRS-One?” He wanted to hear what he calls “Super-conscious” rap, and so he started rapping, and came up with the name 2-Mex. Amidst early 90’s racial tension, he wanted to be the Mexican Revolutionary Rapper. He says she felt “hard and proud” and that was the initial thing that led to him finding himself and his style. He went to high school with Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas, as well as another artist named Ahmad, who had a hit around that time named “Back in the Day.” He saw them and felt like, “If they can get on the radio and a video on MTV at a young age, then okay, it wasn’t impossible.”

Alex, as his friends call him, loves to play word games and to read. He is proud to have a “dope vocabulary”, as he called it. He heard other rappers use unique styles of rhyme, and he wanted to experiment. He wrote rhymes all starting with the same letter, although he admits he didn’t know what alliteration was at the time. But when he started performing it, not many people liked it. Everybody still wanted to hear the typical gangster raps that were often seen from mainstream Hispanic hip-hop artists.

Eventually he combined with a group of like-minded people, and they started making music and trying to promote themselves. He felt like, “If I like, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” So he just kept making songs and going out to shows. Right around the mid-90’s though, after being on his own for four years, he began struggling. He had no real job, couldn’t pay bills and kept having to ask his parents for help. They would always be there, but they would be on him about it. He felt stressed to see his parents so sad and disappointed at his various troubles. Amidst all this, he was having a legal trial where he had to choose between staying and keeping his apartment, or going on a 17 day tour of Japan with his crew, the Visionaries, and being evicted from his apartment.

He eventually chose the tour, and never regretted it. He says when he did it he felt “Awesome, energized! I was like; I’m in a foreign country! I felt like I did it!” His parents were surprised to see that he had fans on the other side of the world, and he came back stronger, and feeling like things would be okay.

He has since made many more records and was able to show his dad how much his fans really love him. At one of his record release parties at the Troubadour, his father was present to see him stage dive into a sold out crowd, and have them carry him across the whole crowd. Mind you, this is not a small man! His father was stunned, saying “I didn’t know you had any fans! I didn’t know anybody gave a *&#@ about you! OK, now I see what this is about!”

His most memorable experience was performing in Cuba in front of 5,000 people at the Black August Festival. He says “being there was the best experience!” Because of the people he has met he has been able to go to Paris, Czechoslovakia, places he never imagined he would ever go in his wildest dreams. He says he has moments when he feels so blessed to be able to live this life. He is honored, and calls himself a “lucky dude.” He has no real wealth from his years of being an artist; he says all the money he makes at his shows and from the CD sales directly pays for him making more music. He has no real job, and tells fans “You probably have more money than I do!” But he gets to wake up every day and do what he wants to do, which is just make records and work with his friends. He sees other artist with other jobs, and they make “1 album every 2 years.” He says he wants to “A lot, A LOT!!!’ of music. His shows are always high energy and full of people singing along to their favorite 2Mex songs.

Ernie Constantino, 28, calls himself an “avid listener of an eclectic collection of music,” and is also a fan of 2Mex’s music and shows. He says “2Mex appeals to a different crowd, not the typical gangster stereotype of brown people. He represents the other version of hip hop.” He also likes 2Mex performances, saying that “it’s always a good show. His music is live, and he doesn’t just stand there, he has style and flare.” His favorite 2Mex album is “Mindclouders,” because “it has all of his good, political rap.”

2Mex would like to be remembered as a “nice dude” who didn’t hurt anybody, who just made music.” He listens to all his music over the years, and it reminds him of all of his “stages.” He hears when he wanted to be the “freshest” rapper; when he wanted to be the “love” rapper. All of his feelings are there, like a “time capsule.”

“That reminds me of the day we had the studio in the kitchen.” “That girl singing in the background was some girl I was dating.” “That’s the day we were in Texas, bored.” They are all a record, of sorts, of all the days of his life. He says “Sometimes nobody is meant to get what I am saying except my friends, my family, my crew, my city.”

He mentions recently speaking to artist Chino-XL, whom grew up listening to and was one of his heroes. He says Chino joked with him, “Damn, you be rappin’ too much!” He thinks, here is an artist who never knew him before, and now he knows him and his music, and apparently likes it! He still keeps very close to his roots, though, as is shown by his close ties with his friends over the years. One of such is Maria Bispo, 25, whom he met at an event through mutual friends. Although never having attended school together, he always touches base with her by phone or by e-mail, as he does with all his friends. As she puts it, “You don’t have to be somebody to get to him.”

He has much hope for hip-hop as a whole, although he feels it is currently in a sad state. He doesn’t consider himself old, but he hears people talking about new artists he has never heard of, and the listens to them and thinks, “That’s pretty good!” It makes him happy to see a new generation of artists on the rise. He says will continue to make music for his fans, though, and will always consider himself a “hip-hop head.” He loves the music and the art, and appreciates all the love he gets from fans all over. The way he puts it is, “If you care & you know, then you know. If you don’t, then you just don’t know.”