Omar Cruz: Angels and Demons

For Omar Cruz, Hip-Hop was not just some temporary escape from his torrid reality of the ghettos of the West Coast.

It was a form of self-expression and the key to a way out. ‘Cause you see, when the only support you have is the streets, then you literally have to adapt a do-or-die mentality.

Cruz had to face the predicament of not having that foundation and support to pursue music from his immediate family, and on top of that, being type-cast because of his Hispanic descent. When it seemed as though he was hitting one brick wall to the next, he met the tattoo guru Mister Cartoon, who would become Cruz’s Marketing Manager. And with dogged determination and being on the constant grind, they inked a joint venture with Geffen and Interscope Records– the first of its kind for a new artist and his label, B.Y.I Entertainment.

The biggest emphasis for Omar Cruz is about recognizing Latin culture as a prominent lifestyle – something that he strongly incorporates into his message, while also helping to salvage what he feels is the current lacerated state of Hip-Hop. Read what Cruz had to say about Latino culture as a distinguished lifestyle, and recognizing Latino rappers not just as “Latino rappers,” but as skillful artists’ who are just as prevalent as the ones apart that seem to be aiding in the demise of Hip-Hop culture. Your album won’t be coming out until spring of 2007. Considering there’s a lot going on with the West Coast right now, and the buzz that is already starting to circulating with you, wouldn’t you rather get your album out sooner rather than later?

Omar Cruz: Albums for the past 10 years have always seemed rushed, [and] music seems forced. We’re trying to take our time with this. The last project I really worked on was “The Cruzifiction.” It was all original songs, I dropped that in June, we promoted that for a while and I [then] started working on this debut. So I don’t think six months is a long time to work on an album when it’s your debut. I think a lot of the time people think of quantity over quality, and I think that’s why Hip-hop’s hurtin’. We tryin’ to zero in on what’s real and what needs to be heard right now, what’s missin’ in the game. That’s the void I’m tryin’ to fill. Even though you promoted “The Cruzification” as a mix tape, for you personally, would you consider it to be more of an LP?

Omar Cruz: It was just putting it out there. It was a good introduction of what’s going on out there on the street. It was a good introduction as far as on the street, it created a lot of buzz out here in LA, it got a lot of love in the Southwest, and it’s makin’ it’s way out to the East a lil’ bit too. I got a lot of feedback from New York, Miami, Chicago so you know it’s a strong CD that represents us. Which is what my debut is gonna be on a bigger scale. You keep emphasizing that something is missing in Hip-Hop nowadays. If I were to rephrase that statement, would you say that the Latino community just doesn’t have a very strong voice in Hip-Hop as you would like there to be in general?

Omar Cruz: If you listen to what’s going on in Hip-Hop right now, the Hip-Hop that’s poppin’ right now, compared to the Hip-Hop that I was listening to, its not the type of Hip-Hop that I would particularly make. From the Latino side, that’s just not really relevant period, so I’m just trying to bring that to the forefront as well. That’s a whole other problem but in general I’m pretty sure of your readers would say the same thing. It’s lacking right now. You were quoted saying that with you being a Latino MC, you want to be in the forefront. I mean, the population of Latinos in America is the largest, It’s around… 70 million plus —

Omar Cruz: — Definitely. Not to cut you off, but it’s about time. And I’m taking initiative the to raise the bar lyrically and I always mention someone like Big Punisher who was a great influence on me in terms of how he approached music. He was just sick with it, it wasn’t about being Latino. But [I am] Latino, and I am proud of my background. My father is from Colombia and my mother is from Mexico, it’s just in my blood. I can’t help that. That lifestyle that I grew up with out here in L.A., it’s different that you would say a Daddy Yankee, who is from Puerto Rico, and kind of has more of that New York vibe. A lot of time they look at us and wanna just blanket us, “Oh, he must be a Reggaeton kind of artist. He might be a Chulo rapper or what not.” And those are just stereotypes that we gotta go through. On another note, have you been to certain countries in South America?

Omar Cruz: I have been to Columbia. You haven’t been to Brazil?

Omar Cruz: I definitely will go… I ask because you named one of your mixtapes after the movie City of God.

Omar Cruz: I will go Brazil. Because it inspired me to rename the City of Angels the City of God. That was the concept behind that. I feel that so many angels are born out here. I feel like, God’s gotta walk out here too so, this is the City of Angels as well. I just asked because I wanted to see if you were familiar with extreme poverty and dehumanization that happens to civilians out there.

Omar Cruz: In Columbia there was a civil war between the drug lords and the government for years. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, and it goes on throughout all of South America, I believe that it goes to a certain extent out here as well. Maybe not to the extreme, but you got kids with guns out here as well. Any ghetto in the U.S.A. it’s the same thing. It all boils down to poverty, to lack of education, ignoring, neglecting the parts of the communities where there are Latinos, where there are Blacks, where the minorities run high, they don’t give a f**k. I feel, not too far fetched from that. Borders are just separating us that’s it. From Mexico all the way down to El Salvador, it’s the same thing, it goes all the way down. Your father had bought you your first recording equipment but at the same time, I know he wasn’t fond of you pursing Hip-Hop either. So when he bought that for you was it just for fun, or did you express an interest in music to pursue him to by it…

Omar Cruz: My father was going through his own stress at the time and probably wasn’t thinking too much of it. I probably pointed it out, it was a little thing. But as I got older I would just build on it, by adding CD players and stuff like that, adding instrumentals and writing rap songs. Definitely, my dad wasn’t down with it. I remember writing down some N.W.A. lyrics, and him reading the lyrics that I wrote. Like that’s what I used to do when I was a kid, I don’t know why I did it, I just did it. I remember him just beating the f**k out of me for writing that song. I think it was “Dope Man” that was the song. But he’s cool now, he sees it, you got to respect someone who pursues it and doesn’t give up. Is accepting now of your career path now?

Omar Cruz: This is my calling, I feel I don’t even feel like this is something that I chose, I feel like it chose me. There were times when I felt like, maybe it wasn’t for me but things happen in people lives and it’s almost like it’s my responsibility. It’s something that I got to do. You had said that family is very deep rooted within you and with the impression I get from you, also within the Latino culture. But then at the same time music is very important to you as well. So let’s just say up until this point if your family still didn’t approve even though you are a man doing this. If they still didn’t accept and you had to choose between family and your music, what would you choose?

Omar Cruz: That’s a good question. I mean, there was a time when I lost faith in my family and friends pursuing what I was doing. Running the streets, acting wild. Being caught up in the street life sometimes the music would take you there. They probably attributed a lot of that to the music, but that’s just were I grew up at. I grew up on the west side of Los Angeles, and it ain’t nothin’ nice. I wouldn’t have to choose put it that way. Like I said before, you can only respect someone’s dedication and commitment to what they believe in. I think that was the case. You really can’t hate on someone for following what [someone] believes in. I’m in it for the long struggle, you know? Apparently T.I. had made some comments saying that immigrants should be deported and you had addressed that you were not happy with the comments. And I remember reading in an article that at the BET Awards you were there 20 deep and that you did confront him about this?

Omar Cruz: I saw him, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I really wanted to talk to him to see what he meant, so he could say it my face cause then I would have a better understanding. I understand he made some kind of apology through his publicist and whatnot. But if it’s from your heart, just do it yourself. Ain’t nothin’ change, it is what it is, we were out here just representing us. Sayin’ Latinos is here and we doin’ our thing and we ain’t goin’ nowhere type s**t, and it was a beautiful thing. We got a lot of love out here. And it feels good being embraced where we are plus it’s my hometown. So we got to be there regardless. But it’s whatever, and if that’s how he feels, then that’s how he feels. He knows what he said. I just wanted to hear it from his mouth to see exactly what it was and did he mean by that. ‘Cause when he said all immigrants should go back to their country, that’s a stupid thing to say from a man in the position like himself. You will run into him again, so he’s gonna have to deal with it sooner or later.

Omar Cruz: I’ll run into him period. We were taken off guest list from what I understand. Like I said, it is what it is. And that boils down to once again us not being in the game on a level where maybe people wouldn’t say those statements if there was someone there to represent or to respond. I think that’s part of the problem, and a lot of that is gonna happen. And we’re not just one of those extras in videos you know what I mean? That’s gonna have to change. We’re not just those dudes you see in L.A., or in Chicago, or in Miami or in New York. We got skills and the something the industry is gonna have to deal with it.