“It changed my life. I can’t minimize it. I went from nobody to somebody,” Guero Loco tells me as I inquire about his experience as a Spanish language rapper in the Indianapolis Latino music scene. Born Steve Stiegelmeyer and raised on Indy’s Westside, Guero Loco — the name translates as crazy white guy — has established a substantial career as one of the dominant reggaeton artists in the Midwest.
Last Thursday I traveled to Chicago with the MC for the International Reggae and World Music Awards. Guero Loco was nominated for and won Entertainer of the Year for the Chicago area. I spoke with Guero Loco about the award and his music career as we drove home to Indy after the red carpet ceremony.
NUVO: How did it feel winning the award tonight?
Guero Loco: I feel totally humbled. I was up against a lot of great artists. I feel good, but I know I got this award because my people supported me.
NUVO: There were a lot of amazing performers and honorees on hand for the show tonight: artists like Third World, Tarrus Riley, Freddie McGregor, Mutabaruka, Judy Mowatt and Calypso Rose. How did you feel sitting among all these legends?
Guero Loco: It was powerful. I’ve never been in such an environment where the main message was love. The overall message we were hearing tonight coming from all these artists was peace, love, unity and positivity. I was like “Wow, this is awesome.” I was in awe.
NUVO: Speaking of positivity, on our way here you were telling me that your music and lyrics are turning toward a more positive direction. Can you tell me what inspired that change?
Guero Loco: There was one incident that caused me to think about that. I was performing at the Fiesta Indianapolis, after I came off stage all these kids started running up to me. My daughter was also there watching me perform. When I saw the impact the music had on these kids and I saw the look in their eyes, I was like “Holy cow, what am I doing?” That’s when I realized I could have a positive influence as an artist.
NUVO: In your personal life you’ve been involved in political activism Particularly you’ve become known for your role campaigning for the Dream Act. As an artist, do you think it’s possible to influence political change through music?
Guero Loco: Maybe not one artist alone. But yes, I think music as a whole can influence change. Especially if many artists come together. Look at all the negative things that musicians influence. I believe that if artists come out with more positivity, society will make that shift as well. We are what we listen to, ingest and watch. We’re a product of all those things.
NUVO: I’m curious what originally inspired you to begin your career in Latin music. Was it a particular song or artist?
Guero Loco: No, it wasn’t any one thing specifically. When I started in Spanish music it was as a radio show host, not as a rapper. So I was listening to this music all the time. I was exposed to so much Spanish language music. It was an evolution really. I knew reggaeton was going to be the next big thing. I saw how big English language hip-hop was and I knew Spanish hip-hop could do the same.
NUVO: Spanish isn’t your first language. Was it tough for you to start rapping and writing in Spanish?
Guero Loco: Writing in Spanish made me more disciplined. When I’m working with English, the words come to me more quickly. I started out as a freestyle artist, I could spit on top of any beat. It was so easy for me and I think that made me lazy as a writer. In Spanish I didn’t have as big a vocabulary, so it forced me to focus more on my writing.
NUVO: Culturally speaking, was it difficult for you to transition into the Latin music scene?
Guero Loco: At first it was weird for me. But now I think it’s weirder for other people. My album is called Fuera de Lugar, which means out of place. But ironically I feel more at home when I’m in the Latin clubs. I’m not Latino, but those are my people.
NUVO: Your producer Ocho traveled with us here today and you thanked him in your acceptance speech. Tell me what he brings to your music?
Guero Loco: Ocho is an amazing artist. He makes my tracks and he comes up with a lot ideas. Not only does he do all this behind the scenes stuff, he’s not afraid to step out and be in front of people. Recently he’s been playing guitar during my live performances.
NUVO: Ultimately where would you like to go with your music?
Guero Loco: The only thing I can guarantee is that my music will always be almost 100 percent Spanish and it’s always gonna have a hip-hop flair. But I want to take my music to another level that I haven’t been to before and I will do that through fusion. There will be a little bit of everything on my next album. People aren’t going to be able to put there finger on what style of music it is. They’re not going to be able to say, “oh that’s rock, that’s hip-hop or that’s reggaeton.”
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features a mix of classic and contemporary tracks from Latin America.
1. Ondatrópica - Punkero Sonidero (Soundway, 2012)
2. Los Mirlos - Sonido Amazonico (Infopesa, 2012 reissue)
3. Manuel Alvaraz Y Sus Dangers - Esclavo Moderno (Soundway, 2010)
4. Los Miticos Del Ritmo - Get Ur Freak On (Soundway, 2012)
5. Bomba Estéreo - Fuego (Nacional Records, 2011)
6. Lisandro Meza - Tu Sera Mi Cumbia [Afro Kumbe Remix] (white label, 2012)
7. Frente Cumbiero - Pitchito (Strut, 2010)
8. Los Miticos Del Ritmo - Another One Bites the Dust (Soundway, 2012)
9. Curro Fuentes - Santa Marta [Sonora Mix] (white label, 2012)
10. Toto la Momposina - Dos de Febrero [Atropolis Edit] (white label, 2012)
11. Petrona Martnez - Sepiterna (white label, 2012)
12. Banda Los Hijos De La Niña Luz — Dejala Corre (Soundway, 2010)