All four of the top-ranked Bay Area Spanish-radio stations play some variation on a Mexican theme. For listeners between 18 and 34, the second most popular spot on the dial is KRZZ, 93.3 FM ("La Raza"), a regional Mexican station in San Francisco.
At its core, regional music is steeped in the cultural traditions of rural Mexico, in folkloric forms that have been around for more than a century. But Chicanos are coming up with their own cutting-edge hybrids of rap and Latin music. Los Angeles duo Akwid melds banda with breakbeats, and Jae-P pairs G-funk with norteño. These artists earn some airplay on Hurban stations but get very little love on Bay Area urban radio, despite the fact that they each sell hundreds of thousands of records.
La Kalle's Espinoza insists that urban music with Afro-Caribbean roots is much hotter right now than "urban regional" sounds like Akwid's. One notable exception to Mexican American obscurity is Chicano rapper Down, whose chart scorcher "Lean Like a Cholo" is currently in heavy rotation on La Kalle. Similar to urban-regional artists, Down wears his brown pride on his throwback jersey sleeve, but he does it by invoking Southern California barrios, not rural Mexican pueblos. His homeland is Nuevo LA, a city with the second-largest concentration of Mexicans in the world.
Given the size of the Mexican American population, you have to wonder how many Chicano artists are out there searching for a record deal or some airplay. "Some people blame the radio stations, some people blame the record companies," Espinoza wearily attests. "I don't know. I listen to my kids I play whatever is hot." But Mexican and Chicano music is hot right now. It just can't seem to find a home on youth-oriented "urban rhythmic" radio formats like La Kalle, much less English-only Bay Area stations such as KMEL, 106.1 FM, and KYLD, 94.9 FM, whose audiences also lean heavily Hispanic.
Although Mexicans and Chicanos are currently relegated to the broadcast barrios of Spanish radio, it will be interesting to see how those borders open up once media companies realize the American mainstream is more brown and proud than ever.