Mexican corridos with a trap beat: The future of L.A. music might be Rancho Humilde Records
On a quiet, hedge-lined block in Downey, the affluent, now majority-Latino suburb in southeast L.A., Jimmy Humilde, CEO of Rancho Humilde Records, is putting the finishing touches on the latest addition to his lavish home: an indoor shark tank. Soon to house a leopard shark and a gray shark, the aquarium sits at the base of a white marble staircase, crowned by a painted fresco of cherubs and a single eagle flying between fluffy clouds. The eagle pays tribute to Humilde’s late father.
“One thing that I promised myself is that, if I made it, I wasn’t leaving the hood — now I’m two minutes away,” says Humilde, now 41. “That’s where I get the good tacos.”
During the pandemic, the mansion he shares with his wife and two children became the temporary headquarters for his homegrown independent label, which over the past couple of years has disrupted and conquered the highly competitive and often insular world of regional Mexican music. The house has even served as a luxe pandemic crash pad for some of the young artists — from Sonora to Miami to South Central L.A. — that he signed to the label. “They go crazy for the trampoline,” he says, waving a tattooed arm toward the backyard.
Dressed in casual blue jeans, a black T-shirt and a fitted cap that reads “Humilde,” he swans across the property, past the pool and toward a garage the size of a full mechanic shop. There, he keeps more than a dozen 1960s Chevy Impalas, freshly polished and painted in splashy reds, blues and greens. The cars feature prominently in the music video for “Feeling Good,” a 2020 collaboration between Rancho Humilde stars Natanael Cano and Ovi, Chicana rapper Snow Tha Product and Long Beach legend (and regional Mexican music superfan) Snoop Dogg. Humilde couldn’t help but appear in the video , gleefully manning the wheel of a teal lowrider.
“You can take the homeboy out the hood,” says Humilde, flashing his Cartier watch. “But you can’t take the hood out the homeboy.”
Co-founded in 2011 with his friends José “JB” Becerra and Roque “Rocky” Venegas, Rancho Humilde counts more than 80 acts who share one mission: to evolve the regional Mexican music tradition for a younger, more bicultural generation of fans. The label champions artists whose heritage is not just reflected in corridos, the gritty Mexican folk ballads that narrate the inner lives of hustlers, immigrants or ordinary people trying to survive but also in the sounds and styles of their favorite rappers from the United States. The resulting blend is described as “corridos tumbados,” or “trap corridos.”
“It’s like a new era of hip-hop,” says Humilde. “This genre came in and reshaped the Mexican sound.”
It’s a departure from regional Mexican music’s establishment, which favors analog interpretations of norteño, mariachi and banda sounds. After prominent bands like Los Tigres del Norte or Los Tucanes de Tijuana mainstreamed corridos by spinning epic desert tales about real-life drug lords and smugglers — dubbed “narcocorridos” — the trap-infused corridos on Rancho Humilde connect more with young city dwellers. In recent years, albums by Cano, Fuerza Regida and Junior H have surpassed many legacy acts on the regional Mexican Billboard charts, tallying hundreds of millions of streams with their streetwise corridos. “The L.A. vibe is our secret sauce,” says Humilde.
The rise of Rancho Humilde is inextricable from the larger growth spurt happening in regional Mexican music. According to a 2021 Chartmetric study, among the share of Top 100 artists on YouTube, regional Mexican music grew by 30% in 2020. That same year, Apple Music reported a 30% uptick in regional Mexican streams, and Spotify reported 1.8 billion annual streams of regional Mexican songs. “Regional Mexican as we know it is redefining itself and expanding its reach across borders,” says Spotify’s Head of Latin, Monica Herrera Damashek.
“We skip radio and television promo, because what we do speaks directly to the people,” explains Humilde, who has doggedly promoted his artists on YouTube and Instagram. “We still use the regional [Mexican] instruments, but our movement comes from urban life, the city life. At this point, calling what we do ‘regional Mexican’… is like calling reggaeton salsa.”
Humilde grew up in once-multicultural Venice. “My best friends growing up were Black, Mexican and a white dude named Sean,” he says. He tried his hand at a few different instruments, hoping to play in a corrido band someday, “but I was no good at any of them,” he laments. “When I heard Chalino Sánchez at 14, I fell in love with the whole corrido movement, the same way I fell in love with N.W.A. But at the time, Spanish music wasn’t in. Everyone was into rap and house music.”
Humilde dropped out of high school to begin working the flyer party circuit in the ‘90s . There, he studied the world of L.A. nightlife harder than he had any subject in school; whether it was a hip-hop house party or a warehouse rave, Humilde promoted it. It was through his other job at a taco truck that he forged connections with the city’s Mexican American community, who at the time preferred to dance to banda music. He met his business partner, Becerra, by selling him tacos; eventually, they began plotting parties at a house in Compton that J.B. christened “Humilde Rancho,” or Humble Ranch. “That’s when people starting calling me ‘Jimmy el Humilde,’ and it just stuck,” he says.
Humilde began booking shows for burgeoning corrido acts like Komando Negro and Los Hijos de Barrón — “then we’d play West Coast hip-hop and reggaeton in between sets,” he said. “You know, for the girls to dance. I wanted my parties to be different, to be L.A.”
Humilde rapidly expanded from booking artists to managing and developing them. But soon enough, Hijos de Barrón would be scooped up by Universal, and Komando Negro by emerging indie label DEL, also home to young corrido acts like Eslabon Armado and the late Ariel Camacho.
“We’d invest in building artists’ careers, then other labels would snatch them,” says Humilde. “I didn’t know anything about running a label, but I was getting tired of losing people.” By 2011, Rancho Humilde Records was born.
“I looked up to guys like Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre and Master P,” says Humilde, citing storied hip-hop successes like Death Row and Bad Boy Records as the blueprints for his business. His early signings were aligned with SoCal’s weed culture; Orange County group Legado 7 coined the term “corridos verdes,” or green corridos. “Weed was about to be legalized here in California, so we hit the stoner market with them,” says Humilde. He also took a chance on Arsenal Efectivo — "[led by] this crazy mofo, Francisco [Rodriguez],” he says. “He’s the one who started calling the music ‘trap corridos’ — because he was actually trapping. He went to jail for transporting illegal weapons to Mexico.”
By 2020, releases by both artists went platinum.
Today, 19-year-old Natanael Cano is the label’s most popular act. Hailing from Hermosillo, a town in Sonora, Mexico, the lanky singer-guitarist has clocked hundreds of millions of streams on YouTube and Spotify. Cano’s 2019 album “Corridos Tumbados” debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at No. 166 — a first for any Rancho Humilde act — and 80 weeks later, remains at the top of the Regional Mexican albums chart. By the summer of 2020, Cano was the third most-consumed Latin artist in the U.S. according to Nielsen Music, behind reggaeton powerhouses Bad Bunny and Ozuna.
“When he got his first big paycheck, Nata bought two things: a house for his mother and a truck for his father,” says Humilde, who signed Cano after watching him play guitar on Instagram. “Then he bought the GT-R.”
Phoning from inside his Nissan GT-R sports car, Cano is a man of few words apart from his songs, which detail mercurial teen romances, as well as his dreams of stardom. “I keep it simple,” says Cano. “When Jimmy signed me, I asked him for $30,000 and a trip to L.A. I said I’d make it up to him... and I did more than that.”
Cano’s breakout moment came in 2019, when reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny appeared on Instagram, downing tequila and singing Cano’s “Soy el Diablo” (“I Am the Devil”) into his phone. The two would cobble together a remix, for which Bad Bunny adopted a norteño cadence to match Cano’s bristly acoustic guitar work. “I don’t just record a corrido with anyone; it has to bring something different to the table,” says Cano. “That’s where the opportunity is.”
Bad Bunny is one of the few outsiders that Humilde has vetted and approved to work with his label. “I’ve turned many people down,” says Humilde. “Another reggaeton guy wanted to work with us, but I thought his song was a little degrading to women. I won’t release anything that talks bad about women — my mom would whoop my ass.”
In early 2020, Humilde signed 18-year-old singer-songwriter Ivonne Galaz, Rancho Humilde’s first female artist. Born in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Galaz and her older sister came to the United States as teens after their mother died of leukemia. Galaz recorded her first song with Cano, “Golpes de la Vida,” or “Hits of Life,” which recalls her journey from a shy tomboy in Sonora to a self-assured young woman living in L.A. “I do not come to show you what I lack,” she sings with a smooth, unruffled alto.
“I actually lived in the same [downtown L.A.] building as Jimmy Humilde,” says Galaz. “My brother-in-law spotted him in the elevator one day; the next day I went upstairs to play him my song. I played it like 10 times. They never heard a woman sing corridos like that before.”
Following in the footsteps of lesbian ranchera singer Chavela Vargas, as well as the audacious Long Beach banda star Jenni Rivera, Galaz is not just trying to remix the genre, but the culture around it. “I think to be a good artist in these times, you have an open mind to new lifestyles, new sounds, new anything,” she says. “Just be open.”
Cano and Galaz are two Mexican artists who’ve come to embrace the distinct hybrid of Mexican American popular culture. “That doesn’t happen a lot,” says Fuerza Regida frontman Jesus Ortíz Paz, who wrote “Radicamos en South Central,” or “We Live in South Central,” as a reclamation of his Angeleno roots. “Mexicans from Mexico used to look down on those of us from the States. We’re hood, but we are Mexican. We deserve respect.”
Fuerza Regida’s 2019 album “Del Barrio Hasta Aquí” (“From the Hood to Here”) debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican Album chart — but the band didn’t always feel so confident. In Fuerza Regida’s early days, explains Ortíz, “we tried wearing the traditional suits that they all wear, with the boots and the hats. When we tucked our shirts in, we just felt fat. Now we just dress like ourselves, and people still like us.”
For all the fans Rancho Humilde has cultivated in recent years, it’s also generated some pushback from the regional Mexican establishment. In a YouTube interview, iconic regional Mexican singer Pepe Aguilar, son of mariachi legend Antonio Aguilar, lamented music’s turn from tradition, describing contemporary music as “mediocre” and “cheap.”
“You could’ve just said that you don’t like the music and moved on,” spat Cano during an Instagram Live video, flashing a middle finger towards the camera. “My mom doesn’t even like you!”
Aguilar later denied ever talking about Cano. “I don’t even know who you are,” he said in a video on Instagram.
Meanwhile, Cano’s outburst piqued the interest of mariachi pop superstar Alejandro Fernández — son of Vicente Fernández, known as the King of Ranchera. Last month, the younger Fernández co-signed the corridos tumbados movement with a spirited remix of Cano’s 2019 ballad, “Amor Tumbado” — outfitted with a traditional ensemble of horns, strings and accordion. It’s a sign of things to come, says Humilde.
“[People from Mexico] didn’t always respect us, but now they’re interested in how we do things. We like hip-hop, we like low-riding,” he says. “Our releases consistently top the Latin Album charts on Apple Music. What we do is working.”
Ever the self-described hustler, Humilde won’t settle on being CEO of a record label. His upcoming projects include a Diddy-style return to making his own music, starting with his recent release, “Desde Abajo”; a screenplay for a movie to feature Ortíz as the lead; and, closer to home, a summer camp for local kids, run out of an office space he purchased in downtown L.A.
“I put down a million dollars on that space so that our kids could have opportunities,” he says. “I want to represent my culture, my L.A. This city is my heart.”
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