In Chinatown, Alejandro Ocana, otherwise known as 2Mex, is performing on Aaron Ross’ online live show, Who’s the Ross. It’s a warm, mellow Thursday night.
When 2Mex starts his set, he does not shy away from calling attention to his prosthetic leg: “I know what you’re thinking: I went to the beach and didn't put sunscreen on my leg,” he jokes. The audience laughs. “I'm a Raiders fan, so I kind of turned into a pirate. It's a dream come true.” Maybe only half-kidding, he adds, “For concerts, I use my fake leg to sneak in weed.”
After the show, we walk to a Chinese restaurant across the street. It’s close to midnight and the streets are empty. “I feel like I just got out of jail,” 2Mex says, referring to his last couple days at the DMV trying to get his passport and license. “I was in the American Subversive Activities list, so they always sweat me. They always treat me like shit." He says he was placed on the list after he performed across the street from the Democratic National Convention with Rage Against the Machine back in 2000.
2Mex has been rapping for more than 20 years. He was born and raised in L.A. but now lives in San Bernardino. He’s a prolific artist. Apart from his solo work, he’s most famous for being in hip-hop groups The Visionaries and Of Mexican Descent, and as a KDAY radio host. He’s had a successful underground career, which to him means “not giving a fuck.”
His on-the-spot writing style is reflective of that attitude. An improvisational master of ciphers and freestyles, he’s a verbal jazz musician, relying on technical prowess and intuition rather than over-intellectualizing his rhymes. “I search for that first line, you know, that first concept, and kind of do a stream-of-consciousness, and after that, I try to keep with the concept I came up with,” he says.
His new album, Lospital, out August 15, was originally going to be called No Leg No Love Lost. 2Mex lost his leg last year due to complications from diabetes, a subject he says he only addressed after the album was completed. “After we finished the record, they convinced me to write about my leg. Throughout the record you might hear me mention my leg two or three times, and then I fully address it on the last song,” he says. “I didn’t want the record to be about just my leg.”
Lospital features 10 producers on 14 tracks, including Julio Francisco "Ceschi" Ramos, owner of Connecticut-based label Fake Four, and Justin Warfield of L.A. synth-rock group She Wants Revenge. The album's features include Eligh of Living Legends, Slug from Atmosphere, CookBook from Christian rap group L.A. Symphony and Jay “The Record” Turner aka TRT — the latter of whom, 2Mex tells me, has ghost-produced for Cypress Hill and Xzibit. "He’s a very underrated guy.”
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2Mex is an enigma of sorts. He grew up on East Coast black nationalist rap like X-Clan and Public Enemy, and came up alongside the West Coast progressive rap of artists like the Freestyle Fellowship, Souls of Mischief and The Pharcyde. But he didn’t limit himself to any one style. “I was considered in my neighborhood or in my school to be half hip-hop and [half] KROQ,” he says. "I’ll be listening to Public Enemy wearing a Cure T-shirt. I was into Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, all this British new wave music.”
Lospital contains some anti-Trump themes, but the record deals heavily with depression and suicidal thoughts — subjects 2Mex insists aren't directly related to his leg. “I’ve always been a dark kind of dude. ... I’ve always been a dude that listens to The Smiths,” he says. “I even have a tattoo that says Kiss Me Kiss Me, which is an album from The Cure." He points to his forearm, showing his tattoo. “I tend to merge drugs with depression, or drugs with despair, because I feel they go together.
"I like writing stuff for myself, little codes, subliminal stuff that only one person will get,” 2Mex explains. “There is something beautiful about making something for yourself. If the world picks up on it, that’s cool, but [it's] not reliant on it. That's how I feel my music is.”
2Mex's Lospital is available for pre-order now via ilove2mex.com.