Sometimes he calls himself the Latin Frank Sinatra. And sometimes, the Latin Elvis.
Ricky Martin? Nope. Marc Anthony? Try again. Then, it must be Enrique Iglesias? No, but he's the guy who helped Enrique blow up in the U.S.
It's Gerardo Mejia. Perhaps you remember him better by his extensions-swingin', washboard-ab-bearin', Spanglish-rappin' '90s alter ego, Rico Suave.
"I'm like Al Pacino in 'The Godfather Part III': every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in!" laughed Gerardo, 37, who hung up his bandana and skintight jeans for good in 1995, four years after his Spanglish smash, "Rico Suave," stormed the top 10. Or so he thought.
"What can I say? I'm the Roberto Duran of Latin hip-hop," he said, referring to the oft-retired five-time world champion Panamanian boxer. Before Martin was shaking his bonbon, before Enrique found his "Rhythm Divine," there was Gerardo.
Now an A&R executive at Interscope Records — responsible for bringing Iglesias to Los Estados Unidos and signing southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx — Gerardo is giving it one last shot with his own music. And like Duran, Gerardo swears he's doing it just this one last time — with his first album in seven years, the recently released Gerardo — and then retiring. For real.
The ball got rolling more than a year ago when Bill Walker, president of Universal-affiliated dance label Thump Records, asked Gerardo if he'd be willing to do a single aimed at the Latin market. When "Still Rico" ("Sigo Siendo Rico" in Spanish) made a little noise, Walker convinced Gerardo to get back in the studio and record a full album as a 10-year anniversary tribute to his 1991 breakthrough.
Although his time behind a desk had rusted his rhyming skills, Gerardo said he had a few of his streetwise pals help him update his flow. The results are songs like the salsafied "Es Gerardo," in which the married father of three cheekily boasts that he can still swipe your girl and lays claim to being the Latin chairman of the board. Go ahead and laugh, he said, he knows Rico Suave was the first "pop" in what later became the "Latin explosion" of the late '90s.
"I have to boast a bit and keep you up to date on what's going on with me," said Gerardo, explaining why he drops Sparxxx's and Iglesias' names in the track. "I was sick of walking the streets and having these old Spanish women come up to me and say, 'Que pasa con tigo?' ["What's happening with you?"] When I told them I was working at a job now, they acted like it was a bad thing, like I was working at a car wash or something!"
Realizing that his audience wanted the Rico Suave character, not Gerardo coming back as some sort of hardcore rapper, the rest of the album sticks to the crossover formula he rode to the top with his debut, mixing authentic Spanish rhythms and instrumentation with dance music and rapping. "Ta Canon" and "Escandalosa" are straight get-on-the-dancefloor party jams, and his comeback, "Sigo Siendo Rico," is somewhat of a sequel to "Rico Suave."
"When I perform live I just do the first couple lines of 'Rico Suave' as part of a medley with 'Still Rico,' otherwise they'll make me do the whole song," Gerardo said of his signature hit, which he was surprised to see land at #9 on VH1's "100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders."
Gerardo swears this time it's all for fun and that he's not looking to ride the fame train again. "I originally wanted to do an all-Spanish album," he said. "Because in the Latin market, if you do 100,000 [in sales], you're gravy. But," he added with a mischievous laugh, "they convinced me to do some English songs ... just in case something happens."
While he cherishes music as a hobby, Gerardo said his work as a record executive is now his first love. "Guys like Bubba and Mark McGrath [of Sugar Ray] come up to me and they're like, 'Man, I can't believe it's you!' " Gerardo said. "I think being an artist works to my advantage because I'm an executive, but I've been there, so I know what artists are going through."
No matter what happens with Gerardo, the singer knows he's already won over some new fans. "My kids didn't really know what daddy did before," he said. "But when all their friends told them their daddy was famous, they liked it. So, I take them to the shows now and when the girls scream they think, 'Why are they screaming? That's just my daddy up there, he's a goofball.' "