Album Cover via That Mexican OT/Instagram

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Donna-Claire says ScHoolboy Q has a perfect rap voice.

I begin with a confession: I had no clue That Mexican OT did a very viral, very good, song with Paul Wall and DRODi. As a critic and rap obsessive, I missed “Johnny Dang” upon release. Poor me. Instead, at the tail end of July, while browsing YouTube for entertainment in the form of old interviews with photographers and live-plays of tabletop board games, I was served That Mexican OT’s final pre-album single “Barrio” with Mexican rapper Lefty Sm. The video for “Barrio,” which shares a director with the “Johnny Dang” video, depicts Mexican OT in his titular “Barrioooooooo” rapping amongst the chickens (apparently his thing?) and enjoying a little double-cup and taco combo meal. With his beefy baritone, he’s a Texas rapper through and through, with the added wrinkle of pulling from Midwestern chopping in spurts to give his brassy Southern bars some unexpected melodic syncopations.

Now, me being me, I decided to spend the next week listening to every bit of music Mexican OT has splattered onto streaming and YouTube. I read an excellent Spin profile from this year. I listened to podcast episodes with questionable hosts, but valuable insights. Mexican OT has a painful family story from moving around after losing his mother to his father’s incarceration. The rapper born Virgil René Gazca came up on the family battle rap circuit, with a strong hint of learning how to son his elders: “My dad would wake me up in seventh grade—house full of women and dudes—and he’d want me to eat these dudes up in rap battles.”

These early lessons in hip-hop sparring helped develop That Mexican OT’s sense of rap lineage. He’s spoken about the importance of South Park Mexican’s contributions to Tejano rap culture at length. When standing up on tracks with contemporary Texas rappers like BigXthaPlug, you can hear the reverence for the syrupy deliveries that mark Southern hip-hop tradition. Even across his discography, Mexican OT has burrowed deeper and deeper into the streetwise themes that color Texas rap, without relying on purplish tropes to carry his music. The twists of his bombastic flows push the traditional forward, too, something like a battering ram bashing through tightly latched castle doors. OT’s gravy-laden voice sops up the finer textures of his beat selection, soaking in a historic richness that I can only further describe as “really f*cking good.”

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In his Spin profile, writer Max Bell details a gruesome night in Texas backcountry for Gazca that sent him on the path to being a full-time artist: “That life-altering realization, as it does for so many, arrived when he was running from the law. He was also soaked in urine, his toes caked with fresh cow shit.” Yes, this is gross. Sure, it’s easy to read this story and sink into the thin shivery veil of real rap is back before backing up and wondering if anything is real at all. But I assure you, Gazca, That Mexican OT, is it. This man spits with a curly inflection that whips around like the way a body might invert to totally demolish a keg at a house party.

His 2022 album Nonsense and Mexican Shit, his best to me before I heard late July’s Lonestar Luchador, is engulfed in an awesome wave of personality. And therein lies the key to success in another bloated year for upcoming rappers across the country: a definitive presence. Mexican OT floats atop classic curvy Southern productions with the understated delicacy of a shrouded wizard. As each song advances the Mexican OT agenda, the rapper sheds his magic-infused cloak and adorns his flashy Tejano heritage, rising to the occasion alongside his smart selection of Texas rapper features: BigXthaPlug, Maxo Kream, and others. No matter the tone of the song, Mexican OT’s shifting raps grow from garden snakes snuffling through the grass into menacing king cobra strikes.

Lonestar Luchador is a breathless statement piece in Mexican OT’s prolific output. It is his first piece of undisputable, essential listening, maxing out his sly humor and detailed depictions of lean and serving coke. Even the attempts at vulnerable ballads, particularly “Breannan,” and later “OMG,” skirt the bottoming out you’d expect from a boisterous rapper taking a stab at bluesy pain music. “Breannan” is Luchador’s weakest offering, sure, but it is carried by Mexican OT’s pear-shaped vocals that ultimately swell in a moment of glorious distortion. Padded out by a comical skit and then lifted by the plodding “Hit List,” the structure of Lonestar Luchador makes it beyond listenable. In an era where throwing on a complete album feels more and more like aimlessly wandering through drafts from A-list artists, That Mexican OT demonstrates a strong understanding of pace. The album is a pleasure to listen to.

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Taking a cue from the psychedelic-influenced cover art—That Mexican OT is illustrated in his luchador cape and mask, inches from the expansive galaxy and surrounded by shrooms—I decided to take a mushroom gummy and give Lonestar Luchador the listening experience it deserved. There was something so grounding about Mexican OT’s voice as I ascended the psychedelic elevator and found myself flooded with lucidity and positive feelings. I tried to write down the lines that twisted up a snarl on my face out of joy, but the ruling in my tripping notebook overwhelmed me. Instead, I will share the value of rolling on your back on the couch, and bopping your head to music without having to think too hard. Even sober, Lonestar Luchador is sublime as an album that doesn’t require you to suspend belief to enjoy it to the fullest.

That Mexican OT’s fluid swagger is a cradle of comfort as rap approaches its 50th birthday and the latest swarm of “hip-hop fell off” discourse floods the continuously-ravaged social media hellscape. The centerpiece of Lonestar Luchador, “Be Careful Texas,” captures the health of rap’s future via Mexican OT’s three different flows, mastery of melody, and narrative capability. “Mama died when I was only eight…” foregrounds a story of being betrayed by the gang and dealing with the fallout of emotional and material pain. That Mexican OT has a strong grasp of himself, as evidenced on the “Conscience” skit, which tackles Mexican OT’s drug use and killer, destructive hustle. An ominous, “you’re gonna live forever” concludes the skit and sends a shiver down the listener’s spine as “Cowboy in New York” personifies the rapper’s worrisome addictions. These darts of emotionality elevate Lonestar Luchador over the rest of Mexican OT’s discography.

How can rap be dead when the budding regional stars are shouldering it across a river of placid imitators? Though “Johnny Dang” is the breakout moment, it is somehow not the best song on Lonestar Luchador. This is proof itself that Mexican OT is an enduring artist and not a singles machine. He knows who he is, and lays it all out on wax without hesitation in a style that is inimitable. That Mexican OT represents, to me, the latest course of rap turning towards more regional enclaves to produce mainstream stars. Or, more simply, look at Ice Spice. Is That Mexican OT about to go out on stage with Taylor Swift? No, of course not, but my larger point persists: the more rising artists who honor their rap roots, the less we have to worry about the health of hip-hop.

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