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El Hyphy

Here’s the story of a band from Modesto,
A small city east of San Francisco.
Led by the brothers Guajardo,
They’re known to the world as Los Amos.

They got started back in the mid-’90s
Playing los narcocorridos,
And over the course of a decade,
Los Amos altered their appearance

From flashy-shirted, big-hatted cowboys
To black-suited, no-hatted tough guys,
Los Amos’ transformation was dramatic,
And their music changed right along with them.

This transition was shaped by two forces:
The demands of their well-structured business,
But also their repeated incantations
Of one magic word from the Bay…


But before we get hyphy, we need to answer this question: Why were some guys in Modesto, California, playing corridos—Mexican story songs about the drug trade—for a living in the first place? The answer lies with two names, corridistas you’ve probably heard of, immigrants to los Estados Unidos, legends in their field.

In the late ‘60s the band Los Tigres del Norte settled in San Jose, an hour south of San Francisco at the lower tip of the Bay. As San Jose’s population expanded, Los Tigres became the popular face of corrido. They sang songs of smugglers and gangsters and lobbed critiques at two national governments. Los Tigres identified profoundly with the plight of the Mexican immigrant. And yet something about them remains undeniably… what? Stodgy? Showbizzy? Disconnected somehow from the younger generation. Los Tigres can come across as the Springsteens of norteño—both gifted and ambitious, applying the music of their roots to big important social themes, which in turn makes them seem daddish and corny. So then they duet with members of Rage Against the Machine, as though that’ll somehow help.

A young corridista named Jessie Morales (aka El Original de la Sierra) once told Bill...