Mr. 21 of Criminal Records
29 March 2009
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Even though both you and the whole Criminal Records family are in this game for some time right now you're still underrated and not well known. Who is Mr. 21? What is your background?
[ Mr. 21 ] : First off I wanna take time to thank BayUndaground for taking the time to do this interview and for always being supportive of Mr.21 & Criminal Records!
Let me start off by telling you a bit about myself. I started getting "the bug" to rap back in high school. It wasn't till Kid Frost came out with "La Raza" & Proper Dos came out with "Mexican Power" that I truly believed there was room for a Chicano in the rap game. Although they opened the door in a sense. They were a world away.... in LA & for that reason to some extent their shit didn't get much play in the BAY. During this time I was busy being young, dumb & full of... well you know. I ran with the Homeboys out in West San Jo. Soon Darkroom Familia began making some noise & before you knew it the "Norteno" rap scene took off. By this time I found myself doing some time - locked up. As you all know this is the time when you start dreaming of the shit you are going to do when you get out.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Where does "21" come from?
[ Mr. 21 ] : I was 21 at the time. Or I should say, I turned 21 in jail; that sucked. One of the few homies who was around and helped me out during this hard time was Traficante. He had actually been producing for some time. So I began selling him the idea of starting a group "DOS XX" & putting out an album when I got out. Even though I never really tried free styling or writing to a beat up until that point. Nonetheless I was determined and nothing was going to stop me.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Please tell us a little something about the label. When and how was it created?
[ Mr. 21 ] : Soon after I got out we began collaborating: Taffic & I. We started printing up shirts with DOS XX plastered on the front & "Boracho Productions" on the back. We soon came up with the name "CRIMINAL RECORDS" for the label. We were out selling & promoting our T-Shirts & we still had not begun recording or producing any music yet.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : What were your (meaning the label) first projects to come out?
[ Mr. 21 ] : That's when TEKPOT came in to the picture. We were all familiar with each other from our days at De Anza College. Tekpot had actually starting recording what would ultimately become our first unofficial release - "Well Equipped". This was really a Tekpot release under "Funk Mafia Aztlan": his label at the time.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Who's now on the team?
[ Mr. 21 ] : "Well Equipped" was the compilation that brought Criminal Records together: Mr.21, Taficante, Tekpot, Scrilla Mac & Fada J. It was during the recording of the project that I met Fada & Scrilla. Somewhere in between we started working on the DOS XX project "The Most Hated".
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : And how did it go? What were the general opinions on it? Did it do good in your opinion?
[ Mr. 21 ] : Tek & Traffic worked with me on writing & recording. I was new to all of it. BUT I WAS HUNGRY! It took 14 months to get "The Most Hated" completed. People loved it. The cover was a big attraction. The songs were really raw & uncensored. We didn't give a fuck. We were like "Fuck a Bitch"! The album definitely did well. We had to reprint it twice. To this day people still ask for it. Unfortunately it is out of print at this time. BUT YOU CAN STILL GET THE MP3 ON ITUNES OR CDBABY!
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : What happened next?
[ Mr. 21 ] : We were constantly working on projects. BUSINESS WAS BOOMING! The getting was good. The Independent Rap Scene was at its peak. We were working on Fada J's "Game Recomp" & Scrilla Mac's "On the Hustle". At any gien point we had 2 or 3 projects in the works. TEKPOT stayed busy. He was our primary producer & engineer. He owned the Studio. I being the hustler that I am, wanted to stay busy. I started working on my solo "Mexican Phobia". This was my sophomore album in a sense so I had a bit more experience. I really felt comfortable trying different things (styles). The producers remained the same. I think we all just began maturing gradually. Not to mention we began working with other cats.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Later on you came up with pretty many releases. Could you summarize your discography and say a little about each project, so people know what they can expect from it?
[ Mr. 21 ] : All in all we released 14 albums (if I am not mistaken) Let me start from the beginning.
1. "Well Equipped" our first comp .
2. DOS XX "The Most Hated" - Mr. 21 & Traficante (a motha fuckin classic)
3. Fada J "Game Recomp". Fada's first solo (a true lyrical genius)
4. Scrilla Mac "On The Hustle". Scrilla's first solo (the only other mo fa who hustles as hard as me)
5. "Portrait Of A Criminal" compilation. Oour first comp since "Well Equipped". Everyone in SJ who was doing shit at the time was on this project.
6. Mr. 21 "Mexican Pobia". My 1st solo. Many tell me this was my best album.
7. Brown Skin Artists "Street Stories". 10 year anniversary re-release of the Bay Chicano Rap Scene pioneers Chuco & Bago.
8. "West Coast Killaz". A Scrilla Mac project featuring Traficante primarily.
9. Tekpot "The Roach Motel". Tekpot's Masterpiece. This album has great production.
10. Mr. 21 "Devil's Advocate". My second solo. Some more hard shit.
11. Fada J "2 Young Ta Die". Another Bay flavored favorite.
12. "City of Sharks". A comp that trully pays tribute to the Teal Town & all who make up the San Jo Rap Scene!
13. Scrilla Mac's "408 Riderz". Another Scilla Mac's project that brought together some of SJ's Top Sharks.
14. Tekpot "Tek Guevarra". Tekpot going back to the savage days.
15. Mr. 21 "Ace King", My farewell solo.
16. Cartel De Cali (The Spanish Album). This is some cool shit whether you speak Spanish or not, you'll love it.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : One of your most recent releases is Cartel De Cali recorded together with C-Locs and Big Chuco. How did that collaboration happen?
[ Mr. 21 ] : This Spanish album was a must. I could not call it quits without having it under my belt. C-Locs and I talked for years about putting it together. Chuco was on board as well. Some of the most fun I had doing a album. We all worked great together. Go buy that shit!
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Speaking of collaborations, how do you find the San Jose rap scene? Are people united out there? Can we expect more joint ventures?
[ Mr. 21 ] : At this point I can speak on the scene as a whole in SJ. I really don't know where it's at or where it's headed. I can say with certainty that the best years came & went a long time ago. The era when mom & pops stores where everywhere and even big chain stores were supportive of local artists.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : I heard you claiming Norte on a couple of tracks, but still not that often. So you're not only directing your music to homeboy rap fans?
[ Mr. 21 ] : There is no denying I put it down for Northern Cali. After all this is my region. At the same time you gotta be apealing to the world if you wanna sell CDs.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : So, what is the nearby future for both you and Criminal Records family? Any chances for Dos XX 2?
[ Mr. 21 ] : For now.... I am still enjoying retirement. I don't believe I'll be coming out (like Brett Farve) any time soon. One of the thigs I would like though is to get together with Traficante & hopefully put out the DOS XX 2 that people been asking for.
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Why did you decide to retire?
[ Mr. 21 ] : It was time. Like the outro in "Ace King": "something told me it was over".
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : I heard you have some special prices on cds right now. What's up with it?
[ Mr. 21 ] : For now everyone can come by & visit my myspace page: myspace.com/mr21aceking and take advantage of my stimulus package (any 4 CDs for $20) Even President Obama can't offer that!
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : You managed to become someone in this rap game, which is not an easy task. Could you give some advices to young cats struggling out there?
[ Mr. 21 ] : Listen, I don't wanna discourage anyone from getting into the rap game, but damn! You gotta have thick skin. Now more than ever you are likely to fail... that's just the sad reality. That's not that I say you can't do it. Know your limits! Don't invest all your time or money into it! Pick a camp that is compatible with you! Don't procrastinate! I know motha fukas that been "putting out an album" for years and still ain't put out shit! Nowadays you gotta use Technology, internet & so on. You gotta evolve with the game!
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Since you're in this game quite long you must have seen how it changes. How would you compare the current state to the one when you started?
[ Mr. 21 ] : The biggest change is constant change! No one stays in this game long enough. So it's hard to sustain & maintain. The biggest set back is the constant decrease in outlets who sell CDs. Downloads to some extent killed the Rap Game as I first knew it. But then again downloads are the way of the future...you either love it or hate it use it or misuse it!
[ Bay Undaground.com ] : Thanks for the interview, homie.
[ Mr. 21 ] : Last but not least I wanna that all my fans who have supported me for a very long time. I may not be a big name, but those who know me know me well. I am always open to take your e-mails & comments. You can hit me at: