Out of Cuba and out of prison: US-rapper Hecto unleashes a new style of hip hop with Cuban roots and shares a story of finding yourself
By Katharina Moser
Sometimes the one thing that helps you to find yourself is music – and there is hardly someone for who this is more true than for Hecto, the US-rapper with Cuban roots who is once again mixing up the rap scene. His newly released track “Mercy” does not only present a refreshingly unique style to hip hop fans of all kinds, but also offers a glimpse of a life story that once more shows the power of rap to do nothing less than change a life.
It is noon in Nashville and Hecto is busy driving around in his car, dark sunglasses covering his eyes after a long night. Between spending time to work in the studio and enjoying the life of a man who has just re-entered the life as a rapper, sleep surely is the last thing to think about. Also, living life to the fullest is Hecto’s main source of inspiration. “In my music, I want to talk about real life, the things that I’m doing and what I have experienced and been through”, Hecto says. “When you tell the truth in your songs, people can connect to it. When your music is honest, it goes a lot further.” Hecto takes a moment to think. “I guess it is easier to express things in the music than to say it to someone face to face. I’m not someone who talks a lot or expresses how I feel. I hold a lot of things in. Maybe it all comes out in the music.” Hecto has been writing music since he has been 14 years old, writing song lyrics in class instead of listening to the teacher. “I have always had a passion for music and since then, my style and lyrics have gotten better and I have grown as an artist. This comes from being consistent.”
The music hub Nashville has an impressive history of rap artists who have carefully crafted and perfected their style in this city, yet, Hecto has a strong sense for differentiating himself from the careers around him. “I definitely want to be different. I need to stand out”, he says. He does not want to be influenced too much by the work of others. “I don’t have people who inspire me to make music. Life inspires me. I inspire myself. Of course I have people who I look up to as far as business goes. But I try not to listen to too many people because you end up sounding like them without even knowing. You automatically pick up certain melodies or lyrics. That’s why I try not to listen to others consistently because I do not want to end up sounding like them.”
Hecto´s authenticity also emerged from his cultural identity and his journey from Cuba to the United States. He arrived in the US when he was eleven years old and did not speak English at first. “Coming to a different country is hard, especially as a kid. You got to start over and find yourself, learn a new language – at the beginning I did not understand a word the teacher was saying at school.” His Cuban roots have been a major inspiration to his music since then and have shaped every aspect of his style. “Everything I have been doing in the last months is in Spanish and is marked by Latin trap and Reggaeton, whereas before I had mostly rapped in English. I am now at a point where I’m definitely going back to my roots in terms of Latin music. I feel like I should have done that way before – it’s crazy how things work out sometimes”, says Hecto and laughs a little. “I definitely want to let my Cuban heritage come through in my music. I want to let people know where I’m from and what I represent.”
His origin does not only leave a mark on his style, but also on his lyrics and the message he wants to deliver. Just recently, he explains, he felt like he had to say something about the president of Cuba and voice his criticism. “I don’t want to be too political, but I definitely want to speak up. Cuba is going through a bad situation, there are a lot of struggles over there.” Cuba is stuck in an economic crisis that led to enormous inflation and food prices going through the roof. People have become increasingly dissatisfied with the government and policy makers. According to Hecto, politicians are stealing and lying. “I am not a political rapper, but I do like to speak my mind”, he says. “I don’t know if this is going to change anything, although I truly hope so. But I think why I really do it is so that people know that I care. That I’m not just over here blind to the fact what is going on there. I want people to know that I feel what they feel. And I guess we all feel the same about the situation.” For Hecto, the development of his music and his own style has also been a way to manifest his own identity and to build his personal bridge between Cuba and the United States.
While his heritage has given birth to a stylistic journey on the verge between classical hip hop tradition and an individual and growing Latin American input, another take of events in Hecto´s life has certainly had an impact of their own. As he tells us, he was just released from an almost five year long prison sentence following several charges in 2016 and 2017. “In 2016, there was a conspiracy drug case with gun charges, and half a year later I got a homicide charge for which I was locked up. I got fined in both cases, but the homicide ended up being dropped to manslaughter”, Hecto explains to us.
While this has weighed on him during his time in prison, he has maintained his positive outlook on life. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m not thankful it happened, but it opened my eyes, allowed me to grow and taught me to appreciate things much more. I have been given a second chance, that’s why I want to do better and not make the same mistakes.” His time in prison has changed his perspective on his own life, but Hecto also shares the sound realism of those who have been through quite a lot in their life. “I have to live with it, I can’t regret everything. My past is my past, and I’m ok with it. What I do now is try to do better. I know I made some mistakes in the past, and now I want to show people that maybe I’m not all the way the same person any more as I was five years ago”, Hecto reflects. “I need to be positive, try to build something and move forward – and I can’t do that if I’m stuck in the past. I know my mistakes and I think I have paid for them.”
Now that Hecto is out of prison, he has to find his way back into society again. “It was weird at first. I was used to being in a cell, in a cage, used to being told what to do all day – what time to wake up, when to eat, when to go to bed. With that jump back in the real world, you have all this freedom and all those people telling you this and that… You need to find yourself again. Also to find yourself within the music again.” Hecto says he has been writing music the whole time incarcerated. “I filled like five or six notebooks of music. Music is always there. It is something to come back to. And it takes your mind away from whatever else is going on.” For Hecto, his journey in music has been all about finding himself – and that took time, a lot of work and passion. “I have been through a lot of things – but then, everybody has been through something”, he says in his matter-of-fact way.
For Hecto, music is a positive way out, and yet he does not see his journey as a good example for others going through similar struggles. “I don’t think I’m a role model. I’m not perfect and not here to be perfect and that’s why I don’t generally want people to look up to me. I just do my music, but if I can help someone with it to do better, I would love to do that.” Just as much as he is no-nonsense about the impact he has with his music, he is about the listeners he attracts. “I speak to people that want to listen. When I write music I think of people who might go through something similar to what I have been through, but my music is for anyone. I am thankful for those who can relate. But whoever doesn’t like it, don’t listen.”
For the time being, he spends his time in the studio and shooting videos to the songs. Among them is a song that was produced by Southern rap icon Yelawolf which is to be released next year. For his future, Hecto has big dreams and imagines himself playing on festivals and filling stadiums. “Big dreams, but one step at a time”, he says and smiles. Next month he will open the Nashville show for Nengo Flow, a household name in Latin music. “I love doing live music. Being on stage is the best part. You can connect with people and that’s where you get real feedback about your music. You see how it touches people.”