Zeke Gutierrez and his twin 10-year-old sons, Sebastian and Zeke Jr., have been in line for over an hour.
The trio made the 110-mile drive down from Bakersfield to Los Angeles to catch rising rapper That Mexican OT on the penultimate date of his 20-city U.S. tour, a sold-out show at the Echoplex. Gutierrez and his sons are among a crowd of approximately 50 dedicated fans who arrived early in hopes of getting as close to the stage as possible. Someone is blasting “La Chona” from a Bluetooth speaker and a small dancing circle has gathered in front of the hot dog vendor, an omnipresent figure of Angeleno nightlife.
That Mexican OT captured the attention of social media this week thanks to a clip that showed him standing in a field flowing the chorus of ‘Johnny Dang.’
Doors won’t open for another hour, but the boys are charged with the type of energy kids get when allowed to do something “adult,” smiling with anticipatory excitement. The elder Zeke beams at his sons while explaining why the long drive was made.
“I found OT on HipHop News, and then my boys saw him on TikTok and they got obsessed,” he says. “It’s a lot to get here, but it meant a lot to do it with them.”
But for as long as the Gutierrez family’s trek was, it pales in comparison to the journey of the man they came to see.
Born Virgil René Gazca, That Mexican OT hails from Bay City, Texas. It’s a place out of a Bruce Springsteen song if the Boss wrote about Mexican Americans living in coastal towns barely surviving on the ancillary businesses of the oil drilling industry. Among the biggest employers in Bay City are the OQ Specialty Chemicals plant and the Tenaris seamless pipe mill.
“I think the best you’ll be out here coming up is like a plant worker,” That Mexican OT says from a photo booth that’s been turned into a makeshift interview space.
Being a plant worker was never in his cards. The way Gazca tells it, he was born to rap. That he’s saying this through a custom gold and diamond grill worth more than a down payment for a house in his hometown makes his words easier to believe.
It’s been a busy year for That Mexican OT. The 24-year-old, R-rolling, tongue-twisting Tejano rapper had already been making a name for himself in his native state (the OT in his name stands for “Outta Texas”) when a music video recorded on the popular YouTube channel 4 Shooters Only went viral. In it you see That Mexican OT standing in the middle of a field, rapping his track “Johnny Dang” while holding a chicken named Pollo. As if that weren’t enough, you see a charro rider in the background.
The clip created enough hype that some were dubbing That Mexican OT the next big thing in hip-hop. It was with that momentum that “Johnny Dang” broke into Billboard’s Hot 100 on July 25, a list it’s stayed on for the last 11 weeks. The following week, “Lonestar Luchador,” was released by Manifest/GoodTalk/Good Money Global, and That Mexican OT performed at a Spotify concert in Houston, in coordination with his inclusion on the streamer’s coveted playlist Most Necessary.
Beyond being one of the catchiest songs of the summer, “Johnny Dang” establishes That Mexican OT’s Third Coast rap bona fides. The regional genre of hip-hop boasts a rich legacy: the Geto Boys, UGK, DJ Screw, Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall, just to name a few.
It’s the 42-year-old Wall who brings That Mexican OT into that illustrious group. The former upstart, now label head, not only signed the him, but also features on “Johnny Dang, ” a track that pays tribute to the Vietnamese immigrant turned jeweler to the rap stars.
“Paul’s an amazing person,” That Mexican OT says.
“He has nothing but love in his heart. Not only is he a Texan, he’s a Texas legend and he’s a white boy! That’s another reason why I feel like he looked out for me, because we both don’t look how we sound. You hear us and you don’t question if we belong.”
For OT, the journey to the green room of the Echoplex, where he’s surrounded by tens of people vying for his attention, wasn’t an easy one.
“I was just misunderstood, as corny as it sounds,” he says as he sits inside the photo booth. He lights and pulls from a joint in between answering questions and being photographed.
“I felt like the world owed me everything. I had nothing given to me being where I’m from. My mother was taken away from me at a young age. My father was taken away from me, you know what I’m saying? And I got separated from my family.”
Gazca’s father, Carlos Moreno, who works as head of That Mexican OT’s security, offers some more illumination: “I was in prison when his mother was killed [in a car accident], my mother actually went and grabbed him and took care of him until I was released. I can’t even imagine what it does to your confidence as a kid.”
The loss of a parent, and the state-mandated distance of another led Gazca to retreat into the one constant in life, his rapping skills.
“I started in seventh grade,” he says, acknowledging that even as a kid he knew making it as a rapper would be a long shot.
“But, what else was I going to do? I started out being a hoodlum, but could I survive that life? I had to make this work. Before I was doing the rap s—, I was on acid, laid out in the middle of the street. Being a junkie, having no life. Anything I’ve ever had, I took it, you know? So I decided to take this.”
Our interview ends and That Mexican OT walks from the photo booth to mingle with members of independent clothing label Paisa Boys and TikToker DoKnow. His energy seems limitless as he makes time for everyone, the same smile, the same swagger, and the same effortless charisma that made the viral chicken video take off.
Moreno stands a few feet away, smiling as That Mexican OT works the room.
“None of this surprises me about my son,” he says. “He’s been talented his whole life. But what I get the most joy out of is finally seeing true happiness.”
To say that the Tejano rapper is at home onstage would be underselling the concept of comfort. He strolls on casually in basketball shorts, sandals and a T-shirt — the same outfit he’s been wearing all night. The scene quickly turns chaotically good, less a rap show and more a beer-soaked backyard Lucha Libre event. The crowd is ravenous, and That Mexican OT feeds off the energy, becoming bolder and wilder with his onstage antics. At some point, he loses his shirt and busts out a backflip.
Mid-show, he pulls a young fan sporting an Edgar cut onstage and signs his forehead with a sharpie. The barrier between performer and audience quickly blurs as the set progresses. By the end of the show it feels like there are more fans on stage than on the floor, a trick of the eye that makes no sense considering there are almost 700 people in the venue.
After the show, the Echoplex staff empties out the venue, letting only those fans who spent $100 for a meet-and-greet linger. Among them is a pair of sisters who had their mother knit a luchador doll in the likeness of the “Lonestar Luchador” album cover. It’s moments like this that OT seems at his best, repeating the same positive mantra he’d been telling every camera all night
“All I want to do is put good energy out there, it’s just good to be good,” he says. “You feel good. You are good. And when you surround yourself with good, it’s like you’re destined for good.”
The way That Mexican OT’s career is going, there’s a good chance that the he will be playing bigger venues than the Echoplex in the foreseeable future. If the sellout shows and growing streams are any indicator, it’s entirely possible that by the time the 10-year-olds from Bakersfield reach their teens, they’ll be telling their friends “I was there” stories about the next great rap star.
Jaime Falcón lives in Southern California. His work has appeared in Playboy, USA Today, the Village Voice, Okayplayer, and the Independent.