"I want people to see our struggle.”
From the magazine: ISSUE 91, April/May 2014
I be getting pesos, rolling abuelos, Kap G brags on his immigrant-saga single, “Mexico Momma Came From.” Aztec in my blood vessels. Like many of his peers, the 19-year-old Atlanta newcomer raps like a sad robot with a mouthful of grits, but Kap G’s origin story is starkly different. His parents hail from San Marcos, Mexico, a small city an hour from Acapulco. “It’s very beautiful, but poor,” he says, describing a visit to the family seat. “The houses were all small and one-room. The bathrooms were outside. The water was pumped in through a well.”
The youngest of seven children, Kap G was born George Ramirez in Long Beach, CA, where his parents emigrated in the late ’80s. The family lived there until an older brother joined a gang in grammar school; wary of raising their children in a violent environment, they headed east, landing in College Park, GA, the Atlanta suburb that just so happens to have given birth to Outkast, 2 Chainz and Ludacris. Kap G’s father did construction and drove trailer trucks while his mother worked as a hotel maid; his brothers punched the clock at warehouses. “I saw how hard my brothers grinded,” Kap G says. “They woke up at four in the morning—work, work, work. I ain’t no lazy dude, but I knew I had to do something different.”
At Tri-Cities High School, Kap G started freestyling over instrumentals from local stars like Gucci Mane and Yung LA, an approach he continues today with tongue-in-cheek flips on Atlanta hits like “Versace,” at one point turning the hook into tamale, tamale, tamale. His breakout was 2012’s “Tatted Like Amigos,” featuring Chief Keef, a serendipitous collaboration that started with a haircut, of all things. While Kap G’s brother was visiting Chicago, a barber introduced him to Keef’s music; the brother tracked down the rising star, who agreed to record a guest verse for Kap G’s song immediately after hearing its twinkling beat. That track caught the ear of Kawan Prather—an Atlanta record executive who nurtured the early careers of Outkast, T.I. and Yelawolf—and he became Kap G’s manager, helping him land him a deal with Atlantic.
The label seems to have devoted real resources to making Kap G Atlanta’s first Mexican-American rap star. It’s about time: while the city has become America’s de-facto hub for club music over the past decade or so, its Hispanic population has been growing, too, multiplying five-fold in the metro area since 1990. Kap G’s latest tape, Like a Mexican, is a testament to the label’s support, pulling in original beats from Pharrell, Drumma Boy and Bangladesh as well as features from Young Jeezy, Wiz Khalifa and Texas Latin-rap legend Chingo Bling.
Kap G says his goal is to subvert stereotypes with his music: “I want people to understand the truth about Mexicans. We don’t live eight to a house because we like it, we do it because we’re trying to save money and get by day by day.” While supporting first- and second-generation immigrant communities is a surprisingly novel concept for major label hip-hop, Like a Mexican appeals to the city’s entrenched love for trap, with Kap G mostly spicing up stock ingredients with Spanish ad-libs and lyrics like Nachos extra queso/ I’m stacking it like Legos. In any case, visibility is a powerful step toward equality. “My uncle is illegal and makes a great living,” Kap G says, “but every day when he drives, he worries about getting stopped by police. He has a kid in school. He’s just trying to live legal. I want people to see our struggle.”