By: Ace Woe
Manuel Vazquez starts his day at 4:30 AM, loading Porta-Vac equipment onto his truck and commuting to the pool-happy neighborhoods of Coachella Valley. He first moved here in 2018, after sobering up from coke and meth addiction back in Mexico, where he was born; ironically, it was the cigarettes and alcohol that proved more difficult to quit. Nonetheless, reflecting on these adversities helps him stay cool in the Coachella sun.
It’s become a therapeutic process. Cleaning pools is straightforward—merely return the pool to its original state, move on to the next one, and repeat. This allows him to listen to music, studying “the game,” as we call it, soaking in the lyrics and stories of his people. On this particular day, he continually imagines a fireball streaking across the sky; the vestiges of fictional aircraft, still lingering in his mind from the previous night, when he watched the season two finale of Breaking Bad with his father. Viewers of the show will recall images of a pink bear floating in Walter White’s pool, having fallen from 30,000 feet.
Moments like these—as fleeting and inconsequential as they may seem—inspire Manuel Vazquez to continue crafting the legacy of his rap alter ego: Denser 91s. The name itself stems from his past, rolling with a professional graffiti crew down in Sonora. “Denser” refers to the density of his work, while ‘91 is the year he was born; about 15 hours away by car, in Sinaloa.
His father worked in hospitality while his mother built tenure as a teacher, which is why it was particularly disappointing when Denser dropped out of college in 2013, after studying psychology at U.A.B.C. for three years. Considering the subsequent period of drug abuse and familial estrangement that followed, it’s more than a blessing to be binge-watching iconic, genre-defying television with his father, even and perhaps especially during a global pandemic.
He hadn’t considered that a show about a white man getting into the meth industry actually had the potential to unite his family, but the story of Mexican drug lords feuding with their American counterparts… hits close to home for Denser 91s, who was raised in Mexico and now lives on US soil; especially an episode like “Negro y Azul” (“Black and Blue” in Spanish) which begins with a Mexican “corrido” or folk tale about Heisenberg and territorial battles that transcend borders and cultures. While Denser 91s may be focused on Latin hip-hop at this stage in his career, it was actually poetry and corridos that first drew his attention to the power of lyrics. In fact, part of what drove him to forego academics was his involvement in a poetry club on campus. While he was beginning to dread psychology courses and the pressure of making his parents proud, he was also honing his writing skills alongside other young creatives who were realizing their true passion. Regardless, after being recommended by his colleagues and professors, he declined an offer to travel to the nation’s capital and compete in a poetry recital, eventually putting his academic career on hold altogether—but he never let go of the lessons he had learned or the realization that this was only the beginning of his creative journey.
Now, with his family reunited and his substance use officially behind him, he’s prepared to seek the blessing of Coachella’s burgeoning music community. Teaming up with 18-year-old producer prodigy Fariel, who not only just graduated from Coachella Valley High, but recently signed on with Kryptic Reign Music—Xpression The MC’s new label—Denser is putting together a 6-song EP that combines his love of hip-hop with his affinity for Latin roots. In the meantime, you can stream “El Humo” on all major platforms and read the lyrics (including an English translation) on the biggest lyric analysis website in the world: Genius.