By STEPHEN H. CRANE
Arizona Sonora News
(Stephen H. Crane III is a reporter with El Independiente)
The small, crowded hookah lounge was filled with an audience awaiting a young artist’s first performance.
But the performer’s flash drive failed. He had no music to back him up.
“The crazy thing was that I performed acapella,” he said. “I went up there and ripped the stage. People were going crazy.”
Spit Hell Manuel, AKA Manuel Andrade, may have had a rocky start as a performer, but today Andrade is making a career for himself in hip-hop. He has four albums available, and has created well over 40 songs.
He grew up and currently lives in Avondale, Arizona, which he describes as pretty rough.
“‘They told me, being Mexican in rap ain’t cool, so I’m here to kick doors down and break all the rules,’” says Andrade, quoting his song, “Feel It.”
Chicano hip-hop has been around since the 1990s, but was not widely known for over a decade. For a long time fans referred to it as “underground’s underground,” meaning that the genre went unnoticed by the mainstream media.
Around 2012, Chicano artists from Arizona like MC Magic, Pyro AZMB, and now Spit Hell Manuel, started gaining attention from fans and the genre was noticed.
Andrade was raised mostly by his great-grandparents, who taught him Spanish. “I didn’t fit in too often because I was too fat, or too smart, or geeky, or whatever the hell it was that week, you feel me? It’s whatever though,” Andrade says. “It molded me.”
He worked random jobs over the years, which furthered his knowledge of Spanish and Chicano culture.
“Chicano is who I am, fam. It’s a lifestyle,” Andrade says. “It’s waking up and knowing you gotta look bien firme when you walk out with the homies. It’s what I’ve lived growing up and how I think to this day,”
He picked up the saxophone in fifth grade. He wrote his first song in eighth grade when he collaborated with his older brother to compose music for a friend who had died. After sharing the song, students at his school wanted copies.
“Music was just an expression of what I couldn’t say out loud,” says Andrade, now 22. “And nowadays it’s still a way for me to be myself and to say what I truly feel inside.”
Getting to where he is now was strenuous, Andrade says, but also intimidating. He felt people looked down on him.
“It wasn’t until I started to spit that they started to come closer to the stage, that they realized that I was really about it, you know?” Andrade says.
“Legit, if you aren’t a hustler in this game, you aren’t going anywhere fast, period.”
Fan Andrew Talahaftewa, 22, says Andrade’s music is different from traditional hip-hop. “His music is revolutionary. He breaks the stereotypical ‘cholo chicano rapper’ barrier,” Talahaftewa says. “He speaks about his own life, and he knows how to infuse his emotions with the beat he is listening to.”
Another fan, Anthony DeLaura, 23, appreciates Andrade’s style because it’s thoughtful and real. “Most songs out today are all about partying, drugs, or getting drunk, but Manny’s music has meaning behind it,” DeLaura says. “You feel like you’re listening to someone talk to you one-on-one through a song.”
To Andrade, having friends and family enjoy his music puts him at ease. But one of the biggest drawbacks to focusing on his career, he says, is missing time with them. But the effort is paying off.
“He’s one of the more diverse and musically intelligent artists I’ve ever worked with,” says Ryan Downing, Andrade’s producer.
Andrade describes it differently. “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit, pimp, and it’s not meant for everyone who thinks they can rap, this game,” he says. “But if you’re ready to lose it all before you begin to win, by all means, come on through.”
At the end of the day, Andrade is an entertainer. He strives to make people feel what he is feeling through his words and lyrics.
“If it doesn’t bump or if I can’t smile while listening to it, I won’t release it,” he says. “My music must trigger emotions and thoughts. Has to, period. Otherwise, it’s garbage to me.”