Latino rapper Raul "Blaze" Cervantes's first public appearances were impromptu, one-on-one street battles.
"We would battle each other at the beach for, like, $40 or $60; whoever wins gets the money." The crowd would decide who won based on who had the best punch lines ("Not even your own family supports you/ Your mother only kept you because it was too late to abort you").
"If you make the other guy nervous and he chokes and can't say nothin' back, you win. Sometimes you go two out of three.... Most of the time I battle black dudes. Sometimes even their own homies have to tell them, 'Come on, give him the money. He beat you.' "
Blaze, 21, raps in Spanish and English. In 2003, he won $1000 in a Z-90--sponsored MC battle and was interviewed on the air. Then Blaze got a call from Lil Uno, the local rapper who owns Sicko Records.
"[Lil Uno] told me there were not too many Mexicans who could flip a script like that." Uno included Blaze songs on the Sicko Records compilation Lifestyles of the Sick and Famous, which was released last summer.
"He got money from [the sale of] the CD, but he never gave us any money," says Blaze. "He always would say, 'Next week I'll give you $1000,' but it never came through."
Blaze spent last summer in Guadalajara. When he came back, he took a trip to the mall.
"I went to F.Y.E. [a record store] and I saw that the [Sicko compilation] was now on a label called Low Profile; Uno sold the record to them."
Blaze says he never allowed Lil Uno to sell or license his music to another company.
"When I asked [Lil Uno] about publishing [rights], he told me that that doesn't mean anything, that I shouldn't worry about it. He told me that he was getting my name out there, and I should be happy for the recognition. Then out of nowhere, I go back to the mall again and see the CD again. This time it's on EMI Latin [label]. I was, like, 'Wow, he really did get international distribution.' But I also was, like, 'I need to sue this dude.' "
Lil Uno responds via e-mail: "Not only did I give him a couple hundred bucks for these songs, I did him a favor and added him to one of my compilations and gave him some justice. I think the only time his name has ever been on the shelf was because of me.... I haven't heard anything about him until now. I would expect a thank you from him once again for the free promotion."
Blaze, who now performs with Puerto Rican rapper Numbiz as LPLD (Lost Product Latin Division), says he is not sure what he is going to do.