Gift beyond Measure: Interview with 2MX2

In San Luis, Colorado, I was lucky enough to meet with members of 2MX2, a Colorado hip-hop and rap band. They, accompanied by artists Lolita Castaneda and Ramiro Rskwared Rodriguez, came to the oldest town in Colorado as artist-facilitators to run music workshops for the Move Mountains Program. Their music inspired the youth of San Luis, and 2MX2 members readily shared their talents, knowledge, and passion for their art form with younger generations.

Beneath the whispering leaves of the trees above, I sat next to Owen Trujillo and Juice E.T. Hugo. We balanced slightly jagged tree stumps in front of the previous night’s fire ashes. The communal fire pit had gone out, the last fire burned before most us, the artist-educators and facilitators for the Move Mountains Program, began leave-taking.

Owen and Juice then began to tell me their story.

 

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Deen: This is Lindsay Deen with US Represented, and I’m here with members of 2MX2, Owen Trujillo (from Zacatecas, Mexico) and “Juice” E.T. Hugo (from Denver, CO), a Colorado hip-hop band.

Trujillo: Yeah. Hip-hop, and Hugo likes to say, “hip-hop anonymous.” It’s pretty versatile. We do a lot of Spanish hip-hop and English hip-hop and fuse it with many genres–whatever we’re into at the time.

Owen Trujillo -San Luis 2015 - Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Owen Trujillo -San Luis 2015 – Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Deen: So tell me a little bit about how you guys came together.

Trujillo: Juice is my cousin, and I grew up with him. We’ve been best friends since I was ten, and he was 13. When he started rapping, I just learned from him, and eventually started rapping on my own. In 2006 we decided to actually start monetizing our music by doing shows. We thought it was either big dreams as rap stars or getting a 9-5. We didn’t want the second option.

Deen: What would you say was the biggest challenge in monetization?

Trujillo: Balancing what people want to hear versus what we want to express. That’s been one of the struggles. And which audiences are listening to us, and how to be appropriate in certain situations. Our audiences have become younger and younger over the years.

Deen: A lot of your music is really culturally based, and a great thing for youth to experience. It’s also political.

Trujillo: I think that’s what our advantage has been.

Juice E.T. Hugo - San Luis 2015 - Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Juice E.T. Hugo – San Luis 2015 – Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Hugo: I like being able to capture a couple of different markets because we speak two different languages. We like to cater to the audiences that are listening, and sometimes that’s why we make a certain type of music, or on certain albums we’ll sound a certain way, because it’s for that specific audience. But it also goes along with our evolution. We keep evolving as artists; it’s a part of our DNA. We gotta keep changing it, so as we keep growing, the music keeps growing along with us, and it attracts the audience that I think we’re supposed to attract at that time.

Deen: Can you tell me something about how it’s been being more community-based artists instead of taking the spotlight as national artists? What’s different?

Trujillo: It’s a lot more real when it comes to the community. We’ve done tours with national acts before, and we’ve gone all around the country, and the pedestal that bands get put on because they’re part of the artist entourage is not as real as the perception people have when you’re in the community. Band members are viewed as somebody who could be a superstar, but we’re also down on the floor working with youth. So it’s a lot more real. There’s no superficial layer as much as there is when there’s national acts.

Deen: And how do you think being more community-based allows you to connect with your audience?

Trujillo: More than anything, it allows us to know who the audience is. When we open up for national acts, it feels like we don’t know who’s there for what, and we don’t know who they are. Most likely they’re the type of people we wouldn’t want to hang out with. ‘Cause usually, they’re not there for the same reasons we are.

Hugo: The relationships community-wise–I feel like they’re more organic versus how it’s more political when we’re doing something national, where people want to be around us because we’re part of that big artistry. When it’s a community, it’s so tight, it’s so close, that we actually get to interact with people and be ourselves rather than having to be a politician and saying whatever the people want to hear. It’s a lot more organic when its community based, for sure.

Deen: And you’ve been down here for six or seven days working with the youth in San Luis through the Move Mountains project. Can you tell me a little about that?

Trujillo: We’ve been in contact with some of the youth here since we were here last July, so it was exciting to reconnect with them. We were only here as performers last time, so when we got here as facilitators of workshops, it was a little different. We have a fine line to walk between the cool artists that we are versus the authority figures that we have become. I think that when we started by performing and then talking individually with them, it was like a sigh of relief for them that we didn’t have more policing adults–although we were. We were subliminally doing it, but it was really cool to get to know each one of the youths. They had a lot of insight, too, on what works in music, what they’re listening to now, and which parts of our workshops actually benefited them. I think we learned a lot from them on how to be better workshop facilitators, how to perform better, and how to also explain better. Sometimes, I think that artists have a hard time explaining their art. I have a hard time explaining anything sometimes, but with art, it’s even more complex.

Hugo: Yeah, definitely. What I actually get from it–anytime I’m working with kids–is that they’re just so ahead of where we were back at their age. They’re just so onto things, and they’re quick learners–they pick things up really fast. Most of the time, I end up learning more from them, through the questions, ideas, and theories they come up with. When I hear from them, it’s like, “Oh.” It’s something so simple but it’s something I hadn’t thought of in that way. So that’s an awesome part for me. And watching the video of all the things that the kids had done leading up to us getting there–through our time there, that was really beautiful, and I hadn’t experienced anything like that. I was even telling Owen, I wish they had something like that when I was a kid because it recaps everything and really makes visible, wow, all the things that were accomplished, and it’s amazing.

Deen: So do you think that was your best moment?

Hugo: I would say so. And also, just being with the kids, and making the music video. They were just so wonderful to work with. It was just so much fun. When their energy is let loose, it just comes off. There’s no stress or anything. It’s all about self-expression, and I think that that was another big moment for me for sure.

Owen-Juice Working with Move Mountains Youth - Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Owen-Juice Working with Move Mountains Youth – Photo by Garey Kennebrew

Trujillo: I think my best moment was when I took them to play basketball. One of the kids introduced his cousin or his friend to me, and I shook his hand, and [this kid] told his friend about doing all this stuff with me, and it was great to see how much better they felt about themselves just by knowing us and being a part of what we’re doing. And everybody was dancing. So the moment I thought was great was to know that I could make these kids feel cool, and eventually, that’ll translate to themselves feeling cool on their own. And then, seeing them dance was awesome. That’s what’s up. That was my favorite part.

Hugo: Yeah.

Deen: I think you guys captured that amazingly in the video.

Trujillo: Oh, yeah, the video was fun. I would say that was the second best part, was seeing everybody watching it and the emotion that I felt they all just let out. It felt like everybody felt like they had a good light on them. So that was awesome.

Deen: What’s next for you guys?

Trujillo: Next? We’re looking at coming back to Southwest Colorado and into New Mexico, so we’re trying to set up a small tour around this area of Colorado as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and all the cities in between, leading up to California. We have so many connections in all those places, but they’ve been so scattered throughout the year, and we want to make them happen more in one time to gather momentum. But when we get back, we’re going to finish an EP that we’re working with a producer from Poland. We met him years ago, and he’s been sending us beats, and we finally have a whole project with him. And at the end of August, we’ll be in Munich, Germany, on the 27th. We’ll be performing there with some other rap groups. We’re going to be traveling a little bit, but we want to do something that’s more in our hands than us being invited or booked for something else. We want to organize it.

Deen: So you can do it the way you want to and connect with people wherever you go instead of, like you said, being on that pedestal or untouchable or whatever.

Trujillo: Yeah, we don’t like that at all.

Deen: I think it really drives a lot of the beauty of the art away when the fans aren’t connecting directly with the artists.

Trujillo: Yeah. The ones I love and that mean something to me are the ones who were able to connect with me in a way that didn’t seem arrogant. Arrogance is the worst quality that artists possess, sometimes. For me, that’s what the community connection does: it takes the arrogance out of it.

Deen: The removal of ego. That’s beautiful.

Trujillo: It’s a lifelong battle that all of us face, but it’s something that keeps us on our toes.

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We ended our interview on a contemplative note. The group of artists and educators that came together for the Move Mountains Project felt, for all of us, like family, and the time had come to say our goodbyes.

As I thanked Owen and Juice, I vividly recalled the energy in the crowd as they performed on-stage at the festival–electric. I saw the transformation these talented artists created with the youth in the Move Mountains program. I met each of the Move Mountain’s participants at the beginning of the program, and in each case, the amazing person who emerged out of such an intense month of mentor-ship had more confidence, bravery, and bearing. Owen Trujillo and Juice E.T. Hugo gave the youth something precious and rare—the gift of listening and authentic, caring interaction.