"I'm basically a record label's nightmare," says 2Mex, the hip-hop Zelig who's flooded the market with some three dozen albums over the last decade. "Over here, we're like, 'Career suicide is our style!'"
Over here is 2Mex's Los Angeles home studio, where he and producer/roommate Deeskee turn out at least one song a week. A veteran of the city's underground rap scene, 2Mex (aka Alex Ocana Jr.) has recorded and toured both alone and collectively with the Visionaries, the Mind Clouders, Of Mexican Descent, SonGodSuns, the Shapeshifters, Afterlife, the Returners and probably a few more I'm forgetting.
2Mex's highest-profile project of late is the Look Daggers, a band he formed with the Mars Volta's Ikey Owens. Their sound falls somewhere between the rampant eclecticism of TV on the Radio and the live-instrument-driven hip-hop of the Brand New Heavies, and the group's first album, Suffer in Style, boasts one of the most idiosyncratic guest rosters in recent memory, including members of Mastodon, Reel Big Fish, Thelonious Monster and the Long Beach Dub All-Stars.
The Look Daggers came about after 2Mex met drummer Tony Hajjar (who at the time was playing with Owens in At the Drive-In) during a recording session for the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label.
"We did a couple of songs with some electro project that never came out," says 2Mex, "and that got me into At the Drive-In and then Mars Volta. Ikey was like a Long Beach kid, and we talked about doing something. And then I was on some shitty East Coast tour — like real shitty, like wasting-my-time shitty — and he's like, 'C'mon man, let's block off three days in Long Beach.' So I convinced [record label] Up Above to give us some seed money, and I flew home and we did half an album in three days."
The finished Look Daggers album came out last year to widespread critical acclaim, and another is on the way.
"I think Suffer in Style is a good record, but the new Look Dagger stuff is much better now that we're friends and we have a band that actually practices. Live music is just so much better than running around the world with a CD, you know? And Ikey's amazing. He's just so talented that he almost makes me want to abandon sample-based hip-hop."
The Look Daggers project comes at a good time for 2Mex. Just two months ago, his longtime group the Visionaries officially called it quits.
"The Visionaries saved my life, actually," says 2Mex of the L.A. political rap collective that put him on the hip-hop map. "In 1997, right when the group formed, it was a real bad time for me: I couldn't pay my bills, couldn't pay my rent, couldn't really get a job.
"And then, you know, I got in trouble with the law. So going to tour Japan and Hawaii with the Visionaries — that trip literally saved my life in the sense that, 48 hours before I was on the plane to Japan, I was sitting in the courthouse, possibly on my way to jail."
"It was kind of like an assault thing. We were at a show and they pushed me and a friend down a flight of stairs, and so me and a bunch of people fought with the bouncers. And one of the bouncers was wearing glasses and got hit in the eye. It was just random bullshit, you know? So we got busted for that.
"So when the Visionaries went on that tour, it was like a breath of fresh air — you felt like you did something. That was the one year where I felt like I could have fallen off the radar because of where I was at, you know?"
Diggaz with attitude
While the Visionaries are no longer together, 2Mex isn't exactly inactive. In addition to his current solo tour, he and Deeskee have a new group, the Returners, whose debut album, Break Up Your Make Up, channels the spirit of mid-'90s era Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang Clan.
"With Deeskee's beats, he was really going for that era and groups from New York like the Cella Dwellas and especially the Gravediggaz," says 2Mex.
In fact, the Visionaries pays direct homage to the Gravediggaz — a group that included hip-hop luminaries Prince Paul and RZA — with a chorus that lifts one of their best lyrics: "Critics say go to hell, I go yeah? / Stupid motherfucker, I'm already there."
Which is not to suggest that 2Mex will be running out of his own words any time soon.
"I just wrote a song yesterday that Busdriver produced for me, and it was like 64 bars and I was just laboring through it. And then I'll listen to some rock song, and it's literally four bars over and over again, and it's like a hit. And I'm like, 'Man, this would be so easy.' Except, you know, I can't sing."