At 12 years old, Kristopher Nava started experimenting with corridos by taking songs like Gerardo Ortíz’s “La última sombra” and creating his own version. “I would go on YouTube and watch videos of corridos and try do the song my way. The way I wanted to sing it,” Nava told Billboard during a phone interview.
He then started his own band, T3R Elemento, when he was 14 years old. Fast-forward to the present day, and the now-18-year-old is going on a national tour titled El Mundo da Vueltas with fellow DEL Records artists Lenin Ramírez and Oscar Cortez.
For rising corrido singers Nava and Cortez, this is their first national tour as DEL Records artists, and it comes with great responsibility, as part of the new generation in the regional Mexican/corridos genre where rookie artists are implementing a fresh take on traditional corridos or regional Mexican ballads that typically chronicle a specific lifestyle (often drug-related) and touch on societal issues and/or historical events.
Veteran singers like the late artist Chalino Sánchez, Los Tigres del Norte and Los Tucanes de Tijuana made corridos popular in the United States back in the ’80s and ’90s. In recent memory, it’s young artists like Nava, from Las Vegas, and Los Angeles native Cortez, age 25, who are taking on corridos.
“We’re like a newspaper,” Cortez told Billboard. “We’re reporting what we see in the streets. My corridos callejeros (street corridos) are a hybrid style because I’m Mexican-American and they reflect the culture of the streets I grew up in.”
His song “Del Rojo,” featuring Ramírez, Ulices Chaidez and Los Del Arroyo, which debuted at No. 9 on Regional Mexican Digital Song Sales (chart dated May 19, 2018), describes his bicultural upbringing and his humble roots in East Los Angeles.
YOUNGER ARTISTS, YOUNGER FANBASE
Contrary to Cortez and Nava, whose careers are just beginning, Ramírez — a 2019 Billboard Latin Music Awards finalist in the Regional Mexican Album of the Year category — has a few charted songs under his belt, and this tour isn’t his first time at the rodeo.
“I’m lucky I’m still around,” the Sinaloa-born singer/songwriter said jokingly, adding that he believes there is a direct correlation between new, younger artists and a younger fanbase.
“I remember when I was a kid, I’d listen to Chalino or Ramón Ayala, and they were much older than I was,” said Ramírez. “Nowadays, the artists are between 18-26 years old and they’re always on social media, which in turn attracts teenagers.”
T3R Elemento’s guitarist and tuba player Sergio Cárdenas added: “We have a lot of young followers because of Kris. He’s a teenager who can easily connect to millennials and newer generations.”
Both Cortez and Nava can attest to their young fanbase. On social media, Cortez uploaded a video of kids covering his song “Callejón 58” while Nava’s encounter with young fans has been memorable. “What surprises me the most is how young the fans are. I’m like, ‘You’re 4, how do you recognize me?’”
T3R Elemento is also popular on the Billboard charts, steadily climbing positions. Their latest album, The Green Trip, debuted at No. 1 on Regional Mexican Albums (chart dated Dec. 1, 2018) and it led the list for four consecutive weeks.
Elemento is also a 2019 Billboard Latin Music Awards finalist, vying for the win in categories such as Hot Latin Songs Artist of the Year, Duo or Group, Top Latin Albums Artist of the Year, Duo or Group and Regional Mexican Artist of the Year, Duo or Group.
Not only are the new generation’s corridos culturally relevant by detailing a bicultural lifestyle in the U.S., they also reflect a society that is more open to legalizing weed, through corridos verdes or corridos about weed.
According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. That’s double the number of what it was back in 2000 when the number of those in support was 31 percent. Furthermore, when it comes to generational support, 74 percent of millennials say the use of marijuana should be legal.
Growing up, Cortez listened to music by Los Bukis and Los Yonic’s and it wasn’t until his teenage years that he became interested in hip-hop and rap. “I even started rapping myself,” Cortez said. Listening to a combination of both English and Spanish music “has been a big influence on the music I create today,” he added.
Kris’ influences are similar to Cortez’s, who also grew up in a bilingual setting, where both rap and corridos are now part of his musical DNA. “Both cultures and languages are in my music,” he said while implying that he wants to focus more on creating music in English in the near future.
It’s inevitable to think that Nava and Cortez’s early exposure to both corridos and rap influenced their interest in this new trend of corridos verdes.
The new (and not so new) generation of corrodistas have jumped on the weed-inspired subgenre. Although Ramírez doesn’t consider himself a millennial per say, he also doesn’t want to stay behind on the latest trends.
“I tried something new by singing a few corridos verdes. I’m not opposed to trying anything new. I recorded a couple of weed corridos and now onto the next trend that comes along. As an artist, you can’t stay behind,” he said.
His song “Rolling One” feat. T3R Elemento peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican Songs airplay chart (dated Oct. 6, 2018).
Although seemingly relevant, corridos verdes have received their share of criticism and artists have experienced backlash. “I create the music hoping that everyone likes it,” Cortez said. “Even though corridos should be just for adults, kids are listening to them as well.”
Ramírez echoed his tourmate: “I’ve always said that my songs aren’t for people under 18 but everyone has access to anything nowadays.”
Over on streaming platforms, weed corridos are creating a noteworthy buzz.
With more than 16,000 followers on Spotify, the weekly playlist titled Corridos Verdes described as “música para el humaderón” or “music for the all the smoke” features 50 songs by artists like T3R Elemento, Virlan García, and LEGADO 7 – all artists with each more than a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
On YouTube, T3R Elemento boasts of music videos that have surpassed the millions of views. Such is the case for their music video “Aerolinea Carrillo” feat. Gerardo Ortíz which has racked up more than 145 million views.
Ramírez’s “Rolling One” feat. T3R Elemento has nearly 100 million views and just one week after it was released, their latest collab “Hierba de Receta” already has more than 2 million views on YouTube.
Ramírez, T3R Elemento and Cortez recently released their latest corrido verde titled “Hierba de Receta” in January just in time for their current tour which will take them to cities such as New York, Chicago and Nashville.
Pablo Varela, promoter for Bakersfield Sports Arena and whose been in the music industry for 24 years now, said that concert goers are accepting and approve of the new generation of regional Mexican singers who cater to every generation singing the oldies but also “modern” ones at concerts.
“As someone from the industry, I welcome younger talent because they are our future,” Varela said. “I personally think it’s very beautiful to see young artists adapt their culture while also show pride in their Mexican roots. At the end of the day, age doesn’t matter. New artists will always have my support,” he concluded.