Lupillo Rivera is dressed in his trademark pin-striped, double-breasted suit, a silk tie knotted perfectly between the starched white collars of his shirt. His three bling-bling Bentleys are arranged in a fan behind him on the street in a posh Los Angeles neighborhood where LA Laker owner Jerry Buss keeps a palatial Mediterranean residence. Alternately donning the felt, pearl-colored cowboy hat then removing it to reveal his now familiar shaven head, he is all smiles and patience, an almost adolescent glee evident in the round face sporting a neatly trimmed mustache as he turns for a barrage of photos.
“How’s that?” he asks, crouching in front of a Bentley bumper, the shot almost a nod to the East LA homeboy stylebook. For another shot, he sits at the wheel of a Bentley convertible or stands just behind an open door as if preparing to hit the road.
All around LA County
and on several Metro buses, larger than life billboard images currently
picture Rivera, a multi-platinum artist, with the keys to a bright red
Ferrari in his hand.
Ferrari!” exclaims the text on the highly visible signs. A local
radio station, appropriately named La Raza, has been enlisted for the
giveaway. On the street, he is amiable with a Telemundo television crew
on hand for an interview.
According to Rivera,
the giveaway is a celebration of his new deal at Univision Music, now
the most prominent Latin music label in the industry, a muscular giant
that touts synergy as it leverages the number one Spanish-language television
network and now the nation’s largest Spanish radio network behind
“That was the
second car I ever bought,” says Rivera, “I got a pretty big
contract from Univision, and I decided I owed it to the public as a little
reward to them…like a thank you.”
If you haven’t
heard of Lupillo Rivera, you have no business claiming even a remote familiarity
with Latin music in the U.S. You suffer from extreme “tapado”
syndrome and are immediately ordered to seek a remedy. We recommend three
tall shots of $50-a-bottle tequila, not difficult to find since the Mexican
elixir has become so fashionable among the rich and famous. Try Don Julio
For those unfortunate
enough to have been living with their heads under a rock for the last
several years, Rivera is Southern California’s answer to the famed
corrido kings of Mexico, among them Vicente Fernandez, Pedro Infante,
and Jose Alfredo Jimenez—classic south-of-the-border, singing cowboy,
matinee idol equivalents to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis,
Of the aforementioned
Mexican icons, hard-drinking lady-killers with hearts of gold and a soft
spot for the common folk without whom their career would not have been
possible, only one—Fernandez—still lives. And Rivera, not by
choice, is his heir apparent, outshining—in both record sales and
media profile—even the aging Fernandez’s actual son, a pretty
boy pop star once trumpeted by music producer Emilio Estefan.
If Rivera has a lock
on musical stardom in an industry that straddles two countries, it has
not come overnight, but has instead been earned, the fruit of dedicated
efforts stretching across two generations. As a child, Rivera worked closely
alongside his father at the family-owned Cintas Acuarias, a fledgling
record company that recorded Mexican artists direct to cassette in a humble
neighborhood studio and distributed the product at local swap meets in
Long Beach, California.
“I think it prepared
me because I was able to see what singers were going to make it based
on their attitudes,” says Rivera, recalling the lessons he absorbed
while shadowing his father in the family enterprise. “In this business,
you have to have a good attitude.”
Hard work, sheer determination,
a genuinely friendly disposition and an honest appreciation for his fans
have made Lupillo a household name in homes from Chiapas to Wisconsin,
a favorite among audiences of all ages. The attitude he refers to is more
than evident. Today, for example, he is posing for the cameras of this
magazine—moving his collection of vehicles back and forth—being
photographed for his new CD, and driving a female host around the block
in the topless Bentley for a television interview.
Moments later, he
is in his home—an impressive Sante Fe style structure just a few
houses down from Jerry Buss—discussing the car crash in Mexico several
months ago that could have been much worse.
“It could happen
to anybody, you know,” he explains. “I’d been working for
six days and just decided to take the wheel. I fell asleep… and wrecked.”
The accident, which
occurred on the way from Juarez, Chihuahua to El Paso—where he would
have boarded a flight to Miami for yet another interview—left him
with a number of fractured ribs and a severely sprained ankle.
Raised on the west
side of Long Beach, he is gradually adding to his new home, a café
con leche colored stucco embedded steeply on a hillside perch with a spectacular
view. His “chante” is a testament to terrazzo tile, hand-carved
wood, and a proud Mexican heritage. On the walls, gold and platinum records
are complemented by rustic images and the trappings of “el folklor,”
guilded mariachi sombreros and mementos from an exhausting life on the
road as a troubadour who bridges contemporary Mexican American culture
with the greatest traditions of Mexico.
A parade of hits such
as “Despreciado, El Rey”—among many others—and a string
of successful albums already under his belt, the young thirty-something
vocalist has set his sights on new frontiers. Responding candidly to a
question on his silver screen aspirations, he reveals that he is currently
in an acting class.
don’t want to come out like all the Mexicans…you know. They
use us as gangsters and that type of thing,” he says decrying the
dearth of leading roles for Latinos in Hollywood. “I want to be able
to come out, say… maybe as a detective, maybe as a hero in the movie.”
By Rivera’s standards,
oft-ignored performers such as Esai Morales should get more credit and
greater opportunities. “I think he’s a hell of an actor. He’s
demonstrated that he’s got what it takes,” says Rivera of Morales.
“He deserves a major role… he should be on par with, say a Richard
“It feels good,
but then again, it feels like a big responsibility. I’ve got to act
a certain way around certain people and sometimes I’ve got to be
myself. And sometimes it’s hard to keep up that way,” he confides.
It is all part of the price he pays to achieve his goals, Rivera notes.
was the fourth idol of Mexico and I want to be the fifth,” he adds
with his signature honesty. “If the public gives me the opportunity.
And thank God, we’re working a lot in Mexico. We’re actually
working more in Mexico than here in the United States.”
If audiences for Lupillo
in the U.S. generally number upwards of 20,000, his draw in Mexico is
twice that. He recalls one particular show in the working-class Mexico
City suburb of Ecatepec.
hired about 15 security guards. They put wooden roadblock barriers around
the stage. He was expecting maybe 18,000,” Rivera says. “More
than 42,000 people showed up. They tore down the barriers. They had to
call the cops.”
As the godfather of
what is now touted as “urban regional Mexican” music, that is—traditional
Mexican ranchero, norteño, and banda interpreted by artists raised
in urban environments with hip-hop and rap influences—Rivera accepts
the mantle and the euphoric “desmadres” that accompany the calling
with a good-natured shrug. Describing a Wal-Mart grand opening in Palm
Springs for an expected crowd of 1,000 to 2,000 people, he assumes responsibility
for the melee that followed.
“I said, ‘Just
put up a small stage and I’ll sing for an hour.’ And, I mean,
they weren’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared. There was like 11,000
people,” he says. “Police showed up. They had helicopters flying
all around us. Supposedly, they wanted to arrest me ‘cause I was
causing a riot.”
“Actually, that’s the way my whole career has been,” he says as he settles into the tall director’s chair, resigning himself to the make-up girl’s careful hands and studied artistry. The happy grin and the electric sparkle in his gaze communicate the obvious: he enjoys what he does; there is nothing more he would rather be doing.
OPEN YOUR EYES
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