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Crooked Stilo

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Biography

Hip-hop has been performed in a variety of languages -- everything from Japanese to French to Polish -- but if rap has an unofficial second language (second only to English), it is Spanish. Latino MCs have been flowing in Spanish ever since the Mean Machine recorded the bilingual "Disco Dreams" back in 1981. And in Los Angeles -- a city with a huge Spanish-speaking population -- two of the proponents of Spanish-language rap have been brothers Victor "Lunatiko" Lopez and Johnny "El Duke" Lopez, who comprise the duo Crooked Stilo. The Lopez siblings don't rap in Spanish exclusively -- they are bilingual and can just as easily flow in English -- but Spanish rapping has been an integral part of their work, not merely an afterthought. Crooked Stilo are versatile, offering both hardcore rap and more commercial pop-rap; they have been affected by the hardcore street rhymes of Cypress Hill, Ice-T, Kid Frost and Funkdoobiest, but they haven't been oblivious to the more pop-flavored material that Cuban rapper Mellow Man Ace recorded back in the late '80s and early '90s. And the Lopez brothers have never listened to hip-hop exclusively; they have also absorbed a variety of Latin music and have combined hip-hop with Afro-Cuban salsa, Colombian cumbia and other styles. While many of the Latino MCs who are based in Southern California are Mexican-Americans, Victor and Johnny Lopez are of Salvadoran descent. In fact, both of them were born in El Salvador, a Central American country that -- like neighboring Guatemala -- is culturally rich but has a long history of poverty, political unrest and politically motivated violence. (According to various human rights organizations, tends of thousands of Salvadorans were slaughtered by far-right-wing, military-backed death squads in the late '70s and '80s -- and for 12 years, the country was plagued by a long, bloody civil war that officially ended when the Salvadoran government and leftist guerrillas signed a peace treaty on January 16, 1992). Searching for a better life, the Lopez brothers' parents left El Salvador and moved to Los Angeles -- a city where the family encountered problems of a different nature. L.A. didn't have any fascist death squads, but it did have drugs, gang violence and street crime -- and when the Lopez brothers started getting into trouble with the law, their parents sent them back to El Salvador. But after two years, Victor and Johnny Lopez returned to L.A., where they formed Crooked Stilo in 1991. The '90s found Crooked Stilo building an underground West Coast following and recording a few independent releases, including their debut album, Crooked for Life and 1999's So What U Want (released on the R-Town label). In 2003, Crooked Stilo signed with Fonovisa Records, a major label that is best known for regional Mexican music but sometimes ventures into non-Mexican areas of Latin music. Performed mostly in Spanish, Puro Escandalo, Crooked Stilo's first album for the Univision-affiliated Fonovisa, was released in May 2004; the cumbia-influenced "Ya Lo Saben" was chosen as the album's lead single. ~ Alex Henderson
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