When N.W.A released Straight Outta Compton in 1989, they exposed the world to the West Coast rap scene, making it possible for kids from the suburbs to relate to every facet of life in Los Angeles. Well, almost. Despite the fact that they compose nearly half of the city’s population, Latino-Americans have never been given their proper due in regards to their importance in the city’s culture. But 27-year-old Omar Cruz is out to change that.
The son of a Colombian father and Mexican mother, Cruz grew up in South Central a fan of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube, as well as East Coast legends like Nas, Jay-Z, and Biggie. His stories intertwine social commentary with his experiences in the streets of L.A. This month he released his latest mixtape, 2007 BC: Before Cruz, and is ready to drop his debut album, Sign of the Cruz, later this summer in a joint 50/50 deal between his label BYI and Geffen/Interscope. XXLmag.com spoke with Cruz hours after as he says he was, “getting fucked up” with The Clipse after a recent performance in L.A. Cruz discusses the rise of the Latin MC in 2007, his new deal with Interscope/Geffen and the perceived tension between African-Americans and Latin-Americans in his city.
Where in Southern Cal are you living now? Is it close to the neighborhood you grew up?
[I’m in] West L.A. It’s crazy because I was born in Hollywood. I’m a first-born child of immigrants. My parents met in Culver City, and they were supposed to have me there, but they didn’t have insurance, so they had to drive to Hollywood. So in other words, I grew up on the West side. I was in school on the West side, but I lived in South Central.
How is 2007 shaping up for you so far?
Everything is great. Right now, we just dropped the mixtape, 2007 BC: Before Cruz, hosted by DJ Skee and Big Mike. I’m getting a huge response here in L.A. Big Syphe and Eric Deluxe, who are the traffic-jam DJ’s out here on Power 106, they broke the record [“Vatos Locos"]. It’s been getting a great response. I feel very blessed and very lucky to be representing for my people, for Latinos here on the West Coast.
What was it about Geffen/Interscope that made you believe they’d give you your platform?
We sat down with them, brought them into our element, and let them know, this is why it hasn’t worked, but this why it will work. We must have creative control. That’s why we got the 50/50 deal over there. I dropped the Blow mixtape and labels started showing interest, but we knew it was the wrong labels when they started asking us if we do reggaeton. It’s not their fault, because they don’t fucking know. A lot of these labels, they’re fucking lost. These A&R dudes, they’re out of touch with the streets. Muthafuckers watch TRL and 106 & Park, and they think they know what’s hot. There’s a whole lot of shit going on in the streets, especially in the West Coast.
On the song “Just When," you ask God, “How many homies are you gonna take?” How many experiences did you have where close friends died?
It’s fucked up, but it’s like, growing up, especially my people, we’re jaded. We’ll get a phone call like, “Damn, homey’s gone." Or, "Yo, homey died." It’s fucked up. It’s [happened] a lot, and it’s not cool. It’s not something we should get used to, but unfortunately, I’m sure in any ghetto, it’s the same shit. But in L.A., the gang culture is very prevalent. You don’t have to be in a gang to feel the L.A. pain of losing somebody close to you. Every fucking day in the news something happens related to…it happens so much they don’t even bring it up unless it’s something big or some kind of huge triple homicide or some shit, because that shit happens all the time out here.
Actually, in L.A., every week of this year there has been a police [officer] involved in a shooting. This has been the craziest fucking year for cops. The cops out here used to pull you over with the flashlight, now they have their guns on draw. Especially if you fit the profile. It’s crazy right now. I touch on a lot of those subjects in my music, that’s what I’ve been through, that’s what I see and that’s what I feel.
The Los Angeles Times ran a feature saying Latino gangs are gaining so much strength, that they are pushing African-American gangs out of the area. What are your thoughts on that?
Let me clear this up once and for all. I really believe that the media enjoys bringing those types of stories to life. The real politics behind this whole shit, we really can’t get into it. In all honestly, it’s deep, and I can’t really even talk about the shit. I’ll keep it simple, [though]. A lot of the shit, it starts in jail and filters out to the streets and it’s been going on for years, it’s nothing new. What happens is, the media likes to see a few incidents and glorify it. The government loves to see Blacks and Latinos at their throats. That’s how you control minorities.
It bothers me, because there really is no true racism in L.A. We all roll together in this one section. From Long Beach to the Valley, we’re all together. But they love to glorify shit. In reality, we all get along. If there’s beef, there’s beef and it’s on some personal shit. Yeah, there are isolated incidents where shit pops off, but that’s been going on for years, it’s nothing new. They just like to glorify it so we keep killing each other and they profit from the media. That’s a non-relevant issue to be honest with you.
When artists like Snoop and Dre came out, they would represent L.A., but not the Latino community. Is that something you want to bring to the forefront now?
When I met [Dr.] Dre I talked to him about that and I told him, ‘Dog, it doesn’t have to be me, but you have to have a Mexican from L.A. on your next album.’ I just said that clownin’, but obviously, I would love to be a part of that. If you listen to The Chronic and [The Chronic] 2001, these albums really embody what people believe L.A. is about, and there’s no reference to Latinos in those albums. It’s not their fault, it’s not their responsibility to do so, but now I think there’s more of a presence, and people are starting to realize you gotta recognize. That’s the beauty of it; you got different styles and different muthafuckas. You have your Baby Bash’s, your Joell Ortiz’s, and your Pitbull’s—all kinds of muthafuckas. My whole thing is, I’m not putting it on Snoop to put me on. I’m not waiting for so-and-so rapper to put me on. There’s been a lot of talented Latino artists that have been fuckin’ pushed to the side, because labels did not know how to market us. They had this mind state that we’re all fuckin’ Cholo rappers, or on some R&B or reggaeton-type shit. Thank God, Interscope/Geffen came through.
There's a religious undertone to your music. Does religion play a big role in your life?
Yes. There's a duality to it. First and foremost, I’m a spiritual person. For me, music really is my religion. Hip-hop is my religion. It’s what I do everyday. My religion is my business, I was born and raised Catholic pretty much, but I mean, the religious undertones are relatable to what hip-hop means to me. That’s always been something that I feel, and as far as music for me, it saved my life, so it’s always been an everyday thing for me. If I don’t write everyday, I’m definitely building and thinking of concepts. I live and breathe this shit.
You took Omar Cruz from your grandmother’s surname. How influential was she to you?
She was amazing. Cruz means cry. I’m very spiritual and I feel like…I don’t know. I feel like my grandmother is watching me. She passed away like 16 years ago, but I feel like I represent that success story. My mom was basically born on a farm. My pops came from Bogotá, Colombia and my mom came from Mexico. They came here with a dream to live and have a better life. For me to be in a position [I’m in] now is amazing. And I haven’t done anything yet, but I feel that urgency. It’s beyond me, I feel like I’m opening doors for so many people.