How 2Mex’s Near-Death Experience Influenced His New Album

2mex

Last year, Los Angeles rapper 2Mex woke up one morning with a swollen foot. By the time he got out of bed, it had swelled to the size of a football, and 2Mex got himself to a hospital. When he got there, his doctors took one look at his foot and immediately began discussed preventative measures in order to simply keep him alive. As they deliberated, 2Mex slowly began slipping into a coma; the doctors feared the untreated infection would lead to irreversible brain damage. The swelling—the result, as it turned out, of undiagnosed diabetes—threatened the rapper’s life; the doctors had no choice but to amputate his right leg from the knee down. Looking back at how close he came to death, 2Mex now considers himself lucky to have only lost a leg.

The outpouring of support he received after his operation—from fans and musicians alike—should come as no surprise, considering the number of people 2Mex’s music has impacted. That love kept him going, as depression took over, and the realities of life with a lost limb slowly settled in. 2Mex has always been a legend around Los Angeles, but his work has been mostly behind the scenes. The numerous friends, collaborators, and admirers who visited him in the hospital helped 2Mex understand his outsized impact on Los Angeles’ hip-hop community.

2Mex came up at the Good Life Cafe’s popular open mic nights—it had hosted artists like The Pharcyde, Biz Markie, and Fat Joe, and gave way to the open mic workshop and a freestyle collective called Project Blowed. He gained early notoriety with his first group, Of Mexican Descent, but spent the next few years floating through the purgatory of indie rap, releasing five LPs between 2000 and 2010. Those albums satisfied his loyal fans, but didn’t net much attention from an outside audience. 2Mex was in stasis. For all the awfulness that surrounded his trip to the hospital, it also showed the rapper that his community had deep respect and love for both him and his music.

On Lospital, 2Mex’s first LP since his 2010 release, My Fanbase Will Destroy You, he balances love, anger, joy, and sadness in equal doses. Gone is the scathing cynicism that became a key part of his identity as the records continued to come with nothing more than mild adoration from his local fans. On Lospital, 2Mex uses his emergency hospital visit as a point of reflection, rapping about his peaks and valleys from the perspective of a man who’s faced death and is lucky to be alive. We catch up with the L.A. legend to discuss Project Blowed, hospital room parties, and the impact of technology.

2mex

You were an early part of Project Blowed. What did growing up in that community mean to you and your career?

I came right before Project Blowed, at the tail end of the Good Life Movement, which was like the prelude to the Blowed. Coming into the Good Life and just being able to be around Freestyle Fellowship, Medusa, and all these cats, it was like walking into a place where there was 75-85 talented people with the same drive. Project Blowed was much wilder, though. The Good Life was about song structure and performing for five minutes a week. We’d sign up, and it’d be like a talent show. The Blowed was the next level of graduation where it was more battle rapping and the creative juices were flowing. It was awesome to be part of that and have groups like Freestyle Fellowship and all these people let us into that crew. Being part of that opened up a lot of doors for me. It was great to see that level of creativity and originality.

Are there any things from those early days you applied to Lospital?

Most definitely. The one thing I learned at the Good Life was songwriting. It didn’t matter what you looked like, what race you were, what city you represented—as long as you could make that magic in those five minutes, you’d get applause, approval, and respect. In 30 seconds, they decided if you sucked or not. You just had to start killing it. It was like a workshop, just trying to sharpen your knives. I learned how to perform in front of hostile crowds, too. The people around you make your music better.

How did you link up with rappers like Slug for this new record?

I’ve known the Rhymesayers dudes forever. The reason I reached out to Sean [Daley, Slug’s birth name] to be on my record, though, was the first week when everything happened to me, one of the first people to reach out to help was Sean. I was lying in bed and Sean reached out. I was touched. Sean was in town playing when I was making the record, and I made a point to check it out and I was like, ‘Man, we need to get this off the bucket list. We should do something, just me and you.’ I just picked out a dope beat that he immediately liked. It was a way for me to reach out and say thank you, because Sean was one of the first people to bring light to the situation and help.

What was it like seeing the whole community gather around you?

It was crazy. As soon as you get to the hospital, they get you on morphine, so I was in and out of consciousness. The wave of people I saw—my family, my musical family, emcees from all over the world—all these people were checking up on me. Everyone from Immortal Technique to Necro to Rhymesayers, and all kind of cats.

Anyone I ever toured with reached out. It was such an overwhelming gesture of love that I never had a chance to be depressed. I never had a chance to be sad about the situation because everyday I had so many interactions, so much hope, and so much love. It was a blessing. It seemed like every person I ever encountered in my life came to visit me or sent me a message. That’s crazy. I didn’t have any time to feel bad, because from the moment it happened, I was overwhelmed with love and support. My hospital room was like a club—I had 20-30 visitors a day. People were making beats in my room, we were having parties, doing all sorts of shit. The mood that my family and friends provided was something that was unreal.

2mex

This is your first solo album in seven years. Did you approach this album differently, especially coming off the heels of your medical emergency?

Even though my songwriting is pretty quick—I listen to a beat, write to it, don’t second guess myself, and drop it—this record is the result of a lot of effort. I had a team around me. I had the Water the Plants label helping me, as a sort of hip-hop incubator. I had people to bounce ideas off of. Normally, I’ll just get a beat, write to it, and drop it—I never really cared what people thought about it. This album was a more collaborative effort where we were bouncing ideas off the wall. We would think about pacing, and skill in the rhymes. I made a song called ‘No Love/Leg Lost,’ after finishing the record, to address my experience. I touch on it on the the record, but no one wants to hear a whole album of, ‘Hey, I lost my leg.’ There were a few mentions, but I wanted one song at the end to address it, and to thank the people who gave me support.

Do you think your outlook on life has changed since the emergency?

No, because I’ve always been a positive person. The issues that I have with depression, regardless of how I’m feeling, I have to remember that we all have those issues. We all feel lonely. Living in the digital propriety, all the ‘likes’ and all the attention we receive online is false adulation. It’s not real. Only love is real, only real human interaction is real. We live in a world where we can synthetically get the interactions we are missing in real life. Because of this digital overlay, it can be hard to connect with the truth. Sometimes I talk to people online, and I’m like, ‘This is cool, but you wanna meet me somewhere? You wanna call me? Let’s have a conversation.’ If we don’t meet, it means we’re not friends.

The loneliness I battle with is in my head. ‘Of course your lady cares, of course your friends care, of course your parents care.’ But we’re all so caught up trying to survive, to scratch and claw and get anything we can for ourselves, that sometimes we feel that we’re not loved in the right way even when we are.

I want to talk a little bit about your first group, Of Mexican Descent. In the rap community, there aren’t a ton of Mexican-American rappers in the game. How do you approach being a leader in that community?

Of Mexican Descent was started in 1992. We were really lucky at the time, because I grew up listening to East Coast hip-hop. KRS-One, Public Enemy—political, intelligent, pro-revolutionary artists. I was thinking to myself, ‘Where’s the Mexican KRS-One? Who’s the Mexican dude repping these vibes?’ We were lucky enough to be that group for Mexican kids. We weren’t talking about lowriders and picnics all the time. We had some deeper thoughts. We were lucky that our journey influenced a lot of people in the L.A. underground, and beyond.

Coming off of being a hip-hop fan and wanting to be a songwriter and creative, the Good Life and Project Blowed connected with what we were doing. It was about mind expansion more than rapping to get paid. For us, we were fortunate that we got to experience that time frame. All the Busdrivers and all these groups, traveling and all the other things the Project Blowed stamp gave us. The Project Blowed was a stamp that gave folks like me and Busdriver access. Aceyalone and those cats really opened the doors for us to travel—go to Germany, go to Japan, and grow as artists.

Do you think the urgency to be at the forefront of Mexican-American rap has only increased with the rise of Trump?

It plays a big role in my music. There are three or four ‘FDT’s on my record [laughs]. When Donald Trump went into the election, I went into a depression. I have a radio show on KDAY, and when he won the election, half of my sponsors were so nervous about the future that they just left the show. It was a wave.

That whole bullshit affected me a little bit. It’s reflective on the record a little bit. It’s a duty as a person to address things. A lot of people want to perpetuate the ‘ignorance is bliss’ angle. I’m not like that. I want to know what’s happening, even if it leads to darkness. I need to know what’s going on so I can move accordingly.

The album deals with a lot of depressing thoughts while still balancing that with love and positivity. How did you move out of your hospital experience with love and hope prevailing?

Why do we survive all the things we do? Because we have to. Because we will. No matter what, love prevails, it fights back, and it wins. We all have this love that we think we don’t have, but we do. That’s the trick. We’re truly loved by a lot of people. Some people don’t know how to love you right, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the next link in the chain of dysfunction. One thing I found for myself is that battling with depression, having fans and performing doesn’t equate to having assurance. I remember jumping off stage at shows into crowds of hundreds of people, going home still feeling depressed without understanding what it was. Now, as an older person, I realize it’s in my head. We all have that love but there’s a disconnect because we’re distracted—by paying bills, financial burden, the Internet, the negative company we keep. Depression to me is a synthetic battle, and I have to always keep in mind that love is real and everything else is a distraction.

I’m the same person now as I was a year and a half ago before the emergency. I haven’t changed. I tell people all the time, ‘I lost my leg, but I didn’t lose my mind.’ It’s an adjustment and a lesson. I didn’t know that diabetes was in my family. I was undiagnosed. That’s no fucking excuse, though. I was a grown man that didn’t take care of himself. I was drinking two liters of Coke and eating a cheesecake in the middle of the night. If you’re gonna drink ten Gatorades a day, this shit is gonna happen. I was so wrapped up in art, living, and surviving, that I didn’t take care of myself. At the end of the day I don’t want people to applaud a person that didn’t take care of himself.

Will Schube

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