I revisited The Carter shortly after I started writing about Spanish guitars. As the mournful yet sultry notes of "I Miss My Dawgs" cut the air, I remembered that this was the song where I first located Spanish guitars as a common feature in a certain style of rap musics. Although Spanish guitars can be potent signifiers of gettin arriba wit it, they are often deployed when a rapper takes a sensitive turn and acknowledges the ultimate toll of street life. However, the use of acoustic guitar on such a track does not guarantee the guitar is Spanish. On paper, Scarface's "What Can I Do?" is a Spanish guitar enthusiast's wish fulfilled, but its thug passion is of a different cultural origin, more Delta blues than flamenco.
2Pac is the ur-sensitive thug, and arguably the progenitor of Spanish guitars as a trend. Perhaps his time in the Bay was his first exposure to Spanish guitars and their expressive potential. In the initial log of my Spanish guitar peregrinations, Mr. Si Mane Price of The Martorialist recommended songs by The Jacka, Mac Dre, and Baby Bash as evidence of the Bay's contribution to the oeuvre. Considering its formidable Mexican population, the Bay is a strong candidate as the ground zero of Spanish guitars in rap music. The appeal of Mexican culture to the existential thug is easily understood. The mutual preoccupation with death provides a natural affinity between Mexican art and gangsta rap. The narcocorridos of today, the anointment of Morrissey as token Anglo amongst Mexican-American youths, only confirm death obsession as a continuing thread within the culture.
The Jacka made music for the thinking thug - arguably better than anyone ever has. From "Innocent Youth" and "1, 2, 3" to "Gang Starz," he was an active participant in the Spanish guitars subgenre and an architect of its future. Few rappers have availed themselves of Spanish guitars and integrated them so seamlessly into their artistic vision, as if the Spaniard who first plucked the strings of passion only did so to provide a worthy bed for the Jacka's future raps.
This Memorial Day, as you chug your Miller Lite and suck chicken bones and ribs like a sorry heathen, listen to Jacka rock some Spanish guitars and think about the dead.