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OBX follows in the trailblazing Latino hip-hop footsteps of Big Pun
It’s been eight long years since Cristopher Rios, the Bronx-born lyricist known as Big Punisher, passed away from heart failure at age 28.
As Big Pun, Rios was a cultural trailblazer: the first Latino solo emcee to go platinum, with 1998’s Capital Punishment, seven years after Cypress Hill accomplished the feat as a group. Rios weighed over 600 pounds at the time of his death and was posthumously revealed to be a domestic abuser, yet he still inspired a generation of Latino emcees including Immortal Technique, Joell Ortiz, and San Antonio’s own Jason Avalos, aka OBX the Mex.
“When I heard Pun, I was kind of blown away,” says OBX, pronounced Obeks after his graffiti handle. “We’ve always been outcast from it, like Latinos can’t rap. We’re stereotyped with rap like it’s only about low-rider shit, but it’s really not. There are some good Latin emcees out there and Pun was really the one that raised the bar. He was lyrical.”
Growing up on San Antonio’s North Central side, OBX — a moniker which Avalos defines as “originated beyond experience — was drawn to rap music in the mid-’90s via Eazy-E protégés Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. His involvement with a local graffiti crew helped reinforce his appreciation for hip-hop culture, and he was soon rapping at parties backed by tracks such as Master P’s “Make Em Say Ughh.” He eventually gravitated toward artsier acts like Outkast and the Wu-Tang Clan. He credits music with helping him skirt the Alamo City’s infatuation with street gangs.
“I can honestly say that hip-hop saved my life,” says OBX, recalling his time running around streets like Blanco and Lee Hall. “There were times in my life where I didn’t know what direction I was going in. A good friend of mine had gotten killed. But I stayed home and was writing instead of going out. God’s my salvation but hip-hop really saved me through a lot of bad shit.”
OBX’s solo debut, Once Upon A Time in San Antone, was released last year though D.B.D. Family, a label/crew he founded in 2000, and has sold more than 3,000 copies. The polished production was recorded over a period of two weeks in OBX’s home studio, and features guest verses from Death Before Dishonor family members, JP, Sel, Kuse, Profet, and solid work from beat-crafters Insane, Smooth Beats, and DJ Dyce.
Highlights from the disc include the politically themed “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Dear Lord” which, along with “Take U Higher” and “Heart of the Street,”establish the currently incarcerated Sel as the smoothest San Antonio rapper you haven’t heard. OBX’s conversational flow fuels the record, particularly on “Sound of San Antonio,” which simultaneously serves as a valentine and barbed critique of the Alamo City.
“He’s kind of a throwback to what emceeing really is, which is rare nowadays because most people don’t take the craft very seriously,” says Epic
Records/Cinematic Music recording artist Question, who drops a verse on “Commen Men.” “He has real passion for the art of rhyming. You got a lot of people out there who are rappers but he truly is an emcee. I think that’s the one thing that really stands out about him. He takes pride in lyricism. He takes pride in storytelling. He takes pride in the way he delivers.”
Question even sees parallels between OBX’s development and the rise of Big Pun. “He’s very proud of who he is, but at the same time he’s also very, very talented and that stands out more than anything. I think the potential he has is that there’s a lot of people who relate to that, there’s a lot of people who look at him as a leader in the community. He caters very well to the crowds that he’s dealt with and now he’s starting to branch out and starting to make music for everybody.”
“That’s hard to do, especially with the kind of music I’m doing here,” OBX responds. “San Antonio is so, I’m not gonna say one-sided, but it’s so in a shell. It’s hard for people to adapt to shit down here, especially with me coming in and doing official hip-hop.”
OBX’s next project, The New Hope, is slated to drop later this month and the preliminary tracks exhibit Avalos’ growth as an emcee. His production is tighter and his flows more confident, though he unfortunately continues to rely on the term “spic,” which he redefines as “Spanish people in charge.” With The New Hope on the horizon and a video for “Sound of San Antonio” in the works, OBX is poised to join Question, Kyle Lee, Famous, and Fast Money in the pantheon of premier Alamo City rappers. •
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