Sick Jacken sees the gas mask wherever he goes. That's the iconic emblem of Psycho Realm, the underground rap familia that he and his brother, Gustavo "Big Duke" Gonzalez, founded in the late 1980s as adolescents on the streets of Pico-Union. Since the mask was first used in the album artwork for Psycho Realm's eponymous 1997 debut, Jacken has spotted it on the streets of L.A. barrios, at his daughter's elementary school graduation, even in his parents' ancestral hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico. Its ubiquity is testament to the group's ability to transmute its experiences into sagas of the streets of any hood with shared social concerns and sense of struggle.
"We went on a tour of Mexico, and when I walked up the hill to my dad's old house, the first thing I saw was a kid waiting on the steps for his grandma," Jacken, who was born Joaquin Gonzalez, says at his three-room studio compound/tattoo parlor in an industrial park in Santa Fe Springs. "He walked over to me and says in Spanish, 'Can I show you something?' Then he picked up his pant leg and showed me the Psycho Realm tattoo."
Adorned with a 1930s gangster fedora, the logo is based on a photo by noted local photographer Estevan Oriol. To Psycho Realm fans, it's not merely a cool ghoulish image, it's a flag of undying allegiance.Jacken's latest, Terror Tapes 2, a collaboration with fellow Pico-Union rapper Cynic, drops May 15 and builds on the connection painstakingly forged over 20 years of recording and rocking everything from Paid Dues to MEChA shows at Cal State Northridge, Big Duke's alma mater. In fact, the group's first break arrived after B-Real of Cypress Hill caught Psycho Realm at a 1994 benefit against neighborhood violence.
Soon after, the Cypress Hill star helped them get a record deal with Sony-Ruffhouse. So deep was B-Real's admiration that he even joined Psycho Realm for their debut album, before amicably stepping back to let them forge their own path. Fans flocked not merely because of Psycho Realm's ease at rapping in English and Spanish but also because it was the lone major Latin rap group chronicling the daily obstacles faced by first- and second-generation Mexican and Central Americans.
"Psycho Realm fans are as die-hard as Raiders fans. They buy the posters, the tickets and the shirts. [Jacken] is a people's champion. He'll sit and talk with his fans after the show, even have a drink with them," says legendary Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs, who collaborated with Jacken on the high-concept conspiracies of 2007 album The Legend of the Mask and the Assassin. "[Jacken] was an avid reader as a kid and has a unique inner vision for storytelling. He's lived many years in a short time."