Shortly after rapper That Mexican OT takes the head of the table in a private room at Manhattan’s Bowery Meat Company, he inquires about a waiter and announces, “I’m hangry!” If his “hanger” is anything like mine, I worry it could hinder our conversation. But his friend (and “Johnny Dang” costar) DRODi jokes with him and OT immediately grins, flaunting the full luster of his shiny grill. If this is his version of hunger pangs, I think, we’re in good shape.
The Bay City, Texas rapper, who recently released the video for “15 Missed Calls,” is in New York for a couple of days to handle business — and have a little fun. I happened to run into him and his several-person entourage the next day at one of 50 Cent’s Barclays Center shows, and the day after that at an Apple Hip-Hop 50 party; he greeted me with hospitality both times. During our steak dinner (replete with a couple of exotic Wagyu slices), he tells me that he’s relishing that his fame occurred faster than he anticipated. “I thought where I’m at today, I’d be in seven years,” he says. “That’s all God’s plan. I’m just here moving with the punches, going with the wind, enjoying it.”
In May, OT dropped “Johnny Dang,” a single from his recently released Lonestar Luchador album. The song has over 20,000,000 YouTube views because of OT and DRODi’s bars as well as a standout verse from rap vet Paul Wall, whom OT connected with through their mutual partner, producer BDON. OT sounds like a natural on “Johnny Dang,” with a bassy voice that coats the low end of the TobiAli production like smoke billowing out of a Texas BBQ pit. His effortless knack for tongue-twisting makes him a glove fit in the lineage of great Houston rappers (Bay City is an hour-and-change away from Houston). OT paired the song with a DGreenz-directed video where he dances with Johnny Dang in his Houston shop, showing off his magnetism in a manner similar to his viral “On The Ranch” freestyle, where he took the On The Block series to his farm and rapped “Johnny Dang” with a chicken in his arm.
“That’s everyday living. That motherfucker was just right there so I picked it up,” he recalls. “[The freestyle] fucked a lot of people up. I don’t look like I be spitting the way I spit. So when I do, it fuck them up.” He’s been subverting expectations all his life.
Born Virgil René Gazca, OT grew up in Bay City with both of his parents before his father was incarcerated during his youth. He characterizes Bay City as a small, but diverse city, joking that it’s comprised of a “stop sign, then the hood, then you out of there.” According to OT, his youth consisted of “skating, riding horses, I was fucking thugging. I was doing everything.” He tells me about “being an entertainer since a child,” recounting the time he rocked a crowd at the department store Palais Royal at just six years old. “I fell from my daddy nut sack with this energy that he had,” he contends.
His mother dealt drugs to provide for the family, and OT says seeing the throes of addiction was normal to him. “I [saw] people doing some fucked up shit in my home at a young age,” he says. “And of course my mama [was] like, ‘Shit, get fucked up, come get some more.’” His mother was killed by a drunk driver at just 26, leading him and his younger half-brother to stay with his grandmother before moving with his recently-released-from-prison father in Austin before his sixth-grade year. His first rhyme was about her death, but he eventually grew a passion for rapping, citing rappers like Big L and 50 Cent (as well as singers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and George Strait) as influences. “[I was] jamming to country, rock, rap. I like everything,” he says.
While his parents encouraged his love for rhyming (his father would make him have rap battles against his adult friends), he laments that his other family members didn’t foster his passion and would “lie” to him in ways that affected his self-esteem. “My family fucked me over,” he says. “I used to be called an ‘embarrassment.’ They would tell me that my dad didn’t love me. Eventually, I believed them and I became broken at a very young age.” He says that their coldness connected him to other kids who were “nobodies and underdogs.”
His at-times chaotic upbringing eventually placed him on the road to repeating his parents’ missteps. “My mama did drugs when she was pregnant. I did a lot of drugs. I was really surrounded by drugs,” he reveals. “A lot of that polluted the fuck out of my mind. I was surrounded by so much fuckery at a young age. It fucked me up a little bit. I fucked myself up, being completely honest.” He also tells me he beat a prior federal case involving counterfeit money and a “fuckload of bad shit, fucking with the wrong people.” Eventually, OT got into a police chase which led him into the dark South Texas woods, doing two things while evading the cops: peeing on himself to keep warm and thinking of raps. “I remember I kept getting mad like, ‘motherfucker can’t you fucking focus?,’” he recalls. “I just wanted to rap. That’s when I realized there’s no running from this shit.”
OT got serious with his craft and released his first album South Texas Project in June 2020. The 13-track project was a career milestone, but he still wasn’t all the way there as a rapper. He credits his manager Greg Gates for giving him the advice that took his songwriting to the next level: “he was like, ‘look bro, you [just] rapping right now. You need to start making songs.’ I recorded ‘La Muerte’ the next day. I was like, ‘oh yeah, I can do this shit.’” That lightbulb moment sparked a torrent of recording which led to a bidding war between labels. He signed with Interscope Records in spring of 2021. “I see an immense difference being with the label,” OT says. “I’m not saying I couldn’t have done it without them, it would’ve just took a little longer.”
Being a Mexican rapper in a Black art form also hastened his ascendance. “It was hard,” OT reveals. “I remember a lot of Black people would be like, ‘What the fuck are you doing, bitch?’ They would come at me crazy because rapping is a Black thing,” But he says the skepticism wasn’t universal: “don’t get it twisted. Some people were like, ‘you going to be somebody.’” His first projects as a signee were 1 Double 0 in October 2021 and Southside Steppin two months later. In August 2022 he dropped Nonsense and Mexican Shit, an 11-track project he had over 80 songs to choose from due to his newfound studio rat mentality. OT says Lonestar Luchador represents another level of elevation.
“Not only do I have shit that shows range on there, I had fun making that because I mean, at this point, how [much] fucking better could I do this rap shit?,” he says. ”I’m just having fun making other genres of music and enjoying it. And then having the scripts with Ralph Barbosa Jr…Man, that shit was funny. I got to [collaborate with] bigger names for features [as well], so it was just a bunch of new shit, to me.”
Lonestar Luchador has five skits with comedian Barbosa Jr. who has done comedy specials on Netflix, Comedy Central, and HBO. Three of the skits include OT commentating alongside him from “Bootyclappers Arena,” with OT raving about one wrestler doing a “reverse doggystyle lilyhammer.” Their comedic chops inculcate his project with immersiveness that helps Lonestar Luchador feel like more than a playlist. OT also gets adventurous on tracks like “Cowboy Killer,” which starts with him in full hoe-down mode, crooning with a Texas accent about how “there ain’t no room for an outlaw like me” before he floats over producers Hollo, Olivier Bassil and Triggmixedit’s 808s (while still channeling his inner Willie Nelson). OT recalls that the song made his father tear up. “I was sitting in my living room performing [while] writing [“Cowboy Killer”],” OT recalls. “And I looked back at him and he’s just crying. And he’s like, ‘Man, son, you’re fucking beautiful.’”
OT calls his father his “number one fan.” The 24-year-old went from late-night rap battles in their living room to the cusp of rap stardom. While he’s already come a long way, he tells me he’s thinking about his next steps, divulging his idea for a Def Jam Vendettaesque backyard wrestling game. He also tells me his ever-present cowboy hat and penchant for chickens is no gimmick.
“When I retire, I want to be a cowboy,” he says. “I want to have land, cattle. I’ll be farming. I’ll have my own staff out there in the field. And not only that, helps with taxes. It’s always good to have land. I’ll never want to have to go to HEB for any product. I don’t want to have to buy anything. I want to have it all on my land,” adding that he envisions being “the plug” for Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Stewarts. He tells me he already tends to his friend CJ’s land, where he has “a couple animals.”
By the end of our meal, everyone is standing outside the steakhouse while deciding OT’s next move. A man in an SUV pulls up behind the crew’s sprinter; OT walks up to him and holds a conversation that I can’t hear. I’m not sure if the man in the truck is a music executive who came to the upscale neighborhood for dinner or a fan that OT was meeting for the first time. I get the sense that he would have been just as amiable, either way.
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