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[ a conversation with macho | by ben forrest ]


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Macho With His Wife, Elise (New Breed)It was August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C. The speech of his life. The speech of his dreams. Dr. King took to the podium that day, not the leader of the free world but the leader of a people that wanted to be. He spoke to thousands, but his words reached millions. Maybe billions, if you count the generation that has heard them second-hand. They were his words but they were not his. They were words of a brighter day. A day of freedom.

Today they are free, but not really. Today we in Christ are free, but not really. Today Rosario "Macho" Ortega (New Breed, Tunnel Rats) is free. In a certain way. Really.

Freedom is what he named it—his first joint con solo. We're talking freedom from record labels, not white men in white suits with murder in their eyes. We're talking freedom in Christ, not freedom under law. We're talking about rocking the mic for (a little) money, not basic human rights. But we are talking about freedom. It was his dream too.

"Freedom" is Freedom's second track, but it's the next song that hammers the theme home. Says the emcee, "I hate labels. They could care less about my words or give a second thought to my art. All they care is what a sucker bought. And it's probably top ten on the charts, but it's not hot."

These are strong words—honest words, he insists—written along with the rest of the song in the heat of a moment. Words that have ticked people off.

"Sometimes what's in your heart flows out," he says to this website, regretting nothing, "and it might not always be uplifting—seemingly. But truth is freedom. And I got that out of my system. I'm happy with it. I like the song a lot."

During most of the song, he's talking about the evils of the music industry in general, not necessarily Uprok Records, a division of Tooth and Nail Records, which was his first and only experience with a major label. But then there are lines like "For three long years I pulled every nail out with my teeth" that are going to make cats wonder. Macho seeks to set the record straight.

"This song is sure to raise questions and start rumors in the Christian hip hop community," he says in a commentary that came with my digital copy of the EP. "No doubt, there's gonna be talk about beef between Macho and Uprok—but that's not the case." He then goes on to quote from correspondence with former Uprok staffer Josh "Plastic" Niemyjski, who was apparently quite upset after first hearing the song but came to understand and accept it. "He does my PR and we're all good," Macho told cMW.

Uprok has seen many of its acts fly the coop over the past couple of years, losing supergroup Deepspace 5 as well as mars ILL to Gotee and the Tunnel Rats to an indie label of their own making. And while Macho has gone out of his way to say good things about Uprok, there is clearly some level of discontent among those who work within the music industry and those who observe it closely about how things play out.

Freedom EP - Click to buy!FEED magazine, for example, ran a cover story in its latest issue that called music "the new cotton," which Macho says is a good analogy but not applicable to all situations.

"On the obvious hand you have the artists who are clearly being pimped and are just a product of the machine," he told cMW. "They are out there making money for the rich label owners and the super powers that basically control the industry as we know it."

"On the other hand there are some options for indies to be very successful as well as original and make a lot of sales while still being 'under the radar'... you don't necessarily have to be picking cotton to be in the game."

This is Macho the Mild. In interview mode. Pulling punches he doesn't pull with a mic in his hand. Not saying things like "The industry ain't the thinkin' emcee's best friend / They want a shameless, brainless, aimless head that remains nameless…" as he does on the song "Labels."

Which Macho is the true Macho is something I can't tell you. Probably, he's both. As either his stage self or his sage, diplomatic self, I get the impression he's telling the truth. The truth that sets him free. At last.

Thank God Almighty.
- Ben Forrest
April 2005
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