King of the low-riding rhymers, Los Angeleno Kid Frost (Arturo Molina Jr.) brought hip-hop home to Mexican-Americans in 1990 with a potent single, “La Raza.” That coolly devastating declaration of ethnic pride — rapped in a dead-serious bilingual whisper over a groovalicious late-night sax track — leads off and closes Hispanic Causing Panic, a likable album that just doesn’t contain enough other numbers like it. “Come Together” has the cool sound and positive unity lyrics, “Homicide” goes halfway and “Ya Estuvo,” sparked by rollicking harmonica wails, teaches a lesson by translating Spanish verses into English to satisfy a curious onlooker. The rest of the album, while easy enough to roll through, reveals Frost’s alter ego voice — ordinary and unaccented — and says nothing that hasn’t been on a hundred other records.
Latin Alliance, the soundalike work of a Frost-led collective of local Hispanic hip-hoppers (A.L.T., Markski, Lyrical Engineer), is a topical album which peaks with his inevitable rapped-up cover of War’s “Low Rider” but also includes appealing rhymes about identity, undocumented aliens, community unity and social dangers. Other than the fast-flowing Hip Hop Astronaut, who drops an invigorating breakout jam over busy conga drums in “Valla en Paz (Go in Peace),” the Kid’s preeminence goes unchallenged here.
Frost pops the conceptual clutch for East Side Story, sketching out a loosely told saga — in slang-packed raps, old soul songs and audio drama scenes — of a Chicano victim of police racism who winds up in jail and slips deeper into “Mi Vida Loca.” (The fact that the MC switches from first to third person doesn’t make it any more cohesive, but the idea is plain enough.) While several producers surround him with compelling busy-bass music, Frost reverts to his best c’mere-lemme-get-wit’-you voice, interpreting himself for an out-of-town trip in “These Stories Have to Be Told” and “Another Firme Rola (Bad Cause I’m Brown),” adapting Bill Withers’ “No Sunshine.” talking over the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” even jousting across the cultural divide with a dancehall toaster in “Home Boyz.” More musically than dramatically compelling, East Side Story — hip-hop with a bright mind, a good heart and a stylistic difference — is the one to hear.
So it’s doubly dismaying to hear Frost make like a dumb-ass gangsta on Smile Now, Die Later, a truly mixed-up, muddled-up mess recorded with maximum pretension for Eazy-E’s label. Rapping slang in a voice that quotes 2Pac and alternately apes Ice-T and Warren G, Frost (with production by A.L.T., Cold 187um from Above the Law and others) tries a bit of everything — except what made East Side Story cool. There’s swoony female soul vocals and G-funk boomin’ beats, a guest appearance by Rick James (!) and flamenco guitar, lurid crime melodrama and “La Raza Part II.” “You Ain’t Right,” rhymed over “You’re No Good,” paints grim first-person portraits of various ne’er-do-wells without comment and then slags off drive-by gang-bangers; “How Many Ways Can You Lose a Body” makes a joke of corpse disposal. Bury this one with it.