- A new generation of narcos are taking over in some of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups.
- They’re bringing some changes to the drug trade, including new music to celebrate their exploits.
- Their “narco-corridos” are now defined by Trapteño, a hybrid of US-origin trap and Mexican norteño.
Culiacán, México — A new generation of narcos are taking over for the old guard in some of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations, and they’re bringing with them a new kind of music to celebrate their exploits.
In the mountains of Sinaloa state in northwest Mexico, during a recent gathering of Grupo Flecha (“the Arrow Group”), an elite paramilitary army that protects notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Ismael “El Mayo” Zambadathe speakers hummed with music distinct from the narco-ballads that Zambada and others of his generation made popular.
“We are people from the man in a hat, taking care of our turf,” the lyrics, mixed with trombones over a hip-hop base, said in Spanish. “We are the Mayiza my dudes.”
Historically, the Mexican regional style of folk music known as the narco-corrido was used by drug traffickers to celebrate their feats or to tell the stories of those who died defending their turf.
But now the 12-string guitars and accordions that defined narco-corridos are being replaced by the hip-hop drums and loud synths of “Trapteño,” a hybrid of the US-origin hip-hop subgenre of trap and norteño, a style that originated in Mexico’s rural regions.
“This music was a consequence of the Sinaloa Cartel’s plugs [contacts] in Atlanta, where Trap music first went viral,” a Flechas commander told Insider.
“The Sinaloa Cartel has a lot of contacts in Atlanta, and the life of the people in Culiacan and the people in Atlanta is not too different. The drugs, the girls, the mafia — we connected with that,” said the commander, speaking anonymously for personal security reasons.
Even though the musical style is new, the lyrics are largely the same, telling stories highlighting the exploits of popular drug bosses, describing killings, and detailing how kingpins rose to the top of their business.
“In the old ranch, life got hard and I had to get out. My mother gave me her blessings and I grabbed the Glock,” say the lyrics of one song by composer and singer Emmanuel Massú, known as “El Enfermo.”
Massú thinks that a new generation needs a new way to approach the old tales but that the connection to the old Mexican narco-balad remains.
“People need to listen to new ways of saying how we live and die in Sinaloa,” where they’re on “the frontlines of this monster,” the drug trade, Massú said.
The Flechas commander interviewed in Sinaloa state said the younger generation is not the old narco-corridos leaving behind but rather that Trapteño makes them feel like a more modern group.
“If you look at us, we no longer dress as the old ones, with the hats and the boots. We dress with designer shoes and shirts or bélicos,” the commander said, using a term for military attire.
While the style may be changing, these narco-tales are significant in the world they are Mexican criminal groups inhabit, according to Juan Carlos Ramírez, a San Diego State University professor and one of the few experts on the narco-corrido.
“These songs have a strong influence between cartels,” Ramírez told Insider. “One of the first things a criminal organization orders after fighting with another group is to call the singers and ban the name of their enemies from their songs.”
The songs provide a different — and maybe more accurate — version of what is happening inside Mexico’s criminal underworld, Ramírez added.
“Usually the official record is a lie. That is why it is important to have a different record, to contrast versions and eventually find the truth,” Ramírez said, adding that the new musical style will have an impact on younger generations outside that underworld .
“This is attracting a younger audience. They find the music appealing and eventually end up getting caught up by the lyrics celebrating a drug boss or a whole group,” Ramírez said.
The rise of a new genre with more appeal to a younger generation could also be a worrying sign: For years now, drug cartels have been recruiting younger Mexicans, sometimes children, as lookouts, dealers, and even sicarios.
There could be some 30,000 children already working for the cartels in Mexico and some 250,000 more who could be recruited over the next few years, according to the Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico, or REDIM.
“Children enter these criminal organizations at a very young age — [it] could be even around the age of 9 years old — and eventually they start getting more responsibilities and promoted to more dangerous tasks like trafficking or looking over stash houses,” Tania Ramírez, REDIM’s director, told Insider.
At the top of this new generation of narcos are the “narco juniors” who are following their fathers into the business. Their upbringing inside the cartels, and the reputations and lifestyles of their fathershave made them more shrewd but also more aggressive, sources in the criminal world say.
“These juniors — sons of the Guzmáns but also descendants of other drug bosses — are using their names to operate openly in Sinaloa without any consequences,” said a Sinaloa Cartel member in Culiacán, the group’s home turf. “They are a new litter, smarter but also more violent. They grew up around guns and killings, and it’s showing.”