For my people
iHop Borders blends hip-hop and folk music, flaunting Green Bay’s Latino community
By John McCracken
Jose Ortega wanted to get the upper hand when picking a stage name as other rappers would always bring up race and ethnicity during rap battles or diss tracks.
Ortega, a Green Bay hip-hop artist who mixes traditional Mexican folk music with contemporary trap beats, uses the moniker iHop Borders.
“They can’t make fun of me if I’m making fun of myself,” Ortega said.
Ortega, who moved to Green Bay five years ago, has been making music since 2012 and is originally from the Eau Claire and Minneapolis area. Ortega’s latest single “Pa Mi Gente,” explores and highlights Green Bay’s Latino community.
“I wanted to make something for my community,” Ortega said.
Ortega said “Pa Mi Gente” is called a “corrido con banda,” which has its roots in traditional Mexican folk music known as corridos. Corridos are narrative in nature and have been around for centuries, with a heavy prevalence during the Mexican Revolution. The songs were used to tell stories about news, history, culture and daily life.
A “corrido con banda” is a newer iteration of the folk ballad, which has been popularized in the last couple of decades by blending hip-hop beats and electronic flair to the centuries-old song structure.
In the music video for the single—which translates to “for my people”—Ortega is seen rapping outside of local taqueria Los Pinches Tacos (627 N Irwin Ave), trying on traditional garb and contemporary street clothes at Myriam y Edgar Clothing (2215 University Ave) and Deportes E Impresiones (1723 1/2 University Ave) while also browsing sweets and towering cakes at El Manjar Bakery (1741 University Ave).
‘There’s a bunch of other cultures here too’
Ortega said jumping between local Latino-owned businesses was an intentional effort to showcase a community of people not often seen in the limelight, even if those people make up a large portion of the area.
Brown County and Green Bay’s population has exploded in recent years, especially the Latino/Hispanic population.
“I just wanted to showcase everything that we got going on,” Ortega said. “Because when people think of Green Bay, they think of a very white city, but I want to show that it’s not like that, there’s a bunch of other cultures here too.”
2020 Census data released in August shows Brown County’s population increased by 8% in the last 10 years—the third-largest increase in the state. Brown County’s Latino/Hispanic population grew 46% in the last 10 years, now making the demographic group the second largest in the county at just over 26,000.
The areas that overlap with Ortega’s music video showcase this growing community. Block-level Census maps show the University Avenue corridor as well as the east and northeast portions of Green Bay have the highest Latino/Hispanic concentration in the city.
This growth isn’t new. A 2017 report from the University of Wisconsin Extensions found that from 1990 to 2014, Brown County’s Latino population increased more than thirteen-fold and is now over 10 times larger than it was before the turn of the century.
Ortega said despite this growth, there’s a lack of events focused on the Latino community and an internal lack of cohesion.
“There’s not a chance for bonding,” Ortega said.
Ortega said one way for the local music scene to grow and invite different genres to the table would be to have more diverse bands, venues and promoters.
“I feel like people would come if you make a show that’s a different genre,” Ortega said. “I think people just think ‘well no one will come’, but how do you know because there are none.”
Looking local and inward
Oretga said making waves as a Latino rapper in Green Bay is tough, but the Latino community found in the city—and the new music video—help soothe the ache.
During an interview with Green Bay City Pages, Ortega showed off local Latino-owned businesses along the east side of Green Bay. Ortega was quick to chat up the owners of local businesses, especially the owner of El Manjar Bakery, Jose Hernandez.
Hernandez recently baked a birthday cake for Ortega’s family. While at the bakery, Ortega spent time browsing the assorted pudding flavors, baked goods and large cakes Hernandez was busy making for other local parties.
Ortega said while Green Bay’s and Wisconsin’s Latino community is tight-knit, their experience growing up in Wisconsin was polarizing.
“It’s almost like you’re not brown enough for the people in Mexico and you don’t fit in here because you’re not white either, Ortega said. “You’re just kind of inbetween.”
Ortega has wrestled with the identity crisis that comes with being a second-generation American and to ease this tension, the Green Bay rapper dug down, looked inward and created community-focused music.
“If you’re not doing something for the community and just doing something for just yourself, it seems silly to me,” Ortega said.
Coming out of and still reeling from 2020—a year of political and social unrest—Ortega said their music has been even more focused on social issues.
Ortega released the single “Say Their Name” in late 2020, a more slow and menacing song focused on recent social and racial uprisings.
“You give a voice to the people who are being ignored,” Ortega said. “The stuff I’m saying is nothing new, it’s stuff that my community has been saying for decades. But if people don’t listen, we’re going to make them listen.”
Ortega recognized that Green Bay isn’t entirely known for its hip-hop scene, especially Latino artists. Even without a large network of hip-hop peers in their corner, Ortega approaches the music and craft of “corridos con banda” in the historical context of the genre as well as the early history of hip-hop and other genres—with a focus on narrative and oral storytelling.
The ease of access to hip-hop drew Ortega to the genre and the rest is still unfolding.
“There’s certain genres that are more like the people’s genres,” Ortega said. “Like punk and hip hop—you don’t need a lot to make those kinds of genres. Any poor kid can could go and do it.”
John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.