Gerardo: Suave Operator

Gerardo bumps and grinds his way to the top of the rap pack

Credit: sharpshutter/Getty

I've lost I don't know how many bandannas by now," says Gerardo, the ever-shirtless Spanglish rapper who can be heard rolling his r's in the Top Ten single "Rico Suave." "The girls come up and grab you. They try to get a hold of your ass. In the beginning it was fun. Now it's like… 'Shit, I'm looking out.' The other day this girl goes, 'Ooooh, Gerardo,' and sticks her hand out. Boom! She hits me in the nose. I go back on my butt. I see this tidal wave of girls coming. I get up. I start running. We got to the limo just in time. Then they started rocking the limo. The cops had to come and beat them away. That was at a mall, man."

Hype hath no fury like Gerardo. The former dancer and actor was born Gerardo Mejia III— an accountant's son— some twenty-six years ago. His family left Ecuador when he was twelve and wound up in Los Angeles. In January, Gerardo released Mo' Ritmo, a Latin-tinged debut album of bilingual just-a-gigolo raps. Soon, Saturday Night Live's Dennis Miller was announcing that Puerto Rico was changing its name to "Puerto Rico Suave," a certain late-night talk-show host was referring to himself as Arsenio Suave, and Madonna was leaving this message on the rapper's answering machine: "You've been a bad boy, Gerardo, and you're gonna get spanked."

What follows is an account of one of Gerardo's sixteen-hour workdays, a day spent on the suburbs-here-we-come promotional trail blazed by M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice. The G-man, it turns out, is perfectly pleasant. He says "Thank you very much" a lot. When he steps on someone's foot, he says, "Sorry. I've got big feet." Gerardo still lives with his folks, and, true to his roots, his performances include the rallying cry "Are there any Latinos here tonight? Are there any Hispanics in the house?" At a time when pop personas seem to be largely put-ons, Gerardo is exactly what he claims to be: a nice young man who wants to have nonstop sex, or at least talk about it.

11:30 a.m.: Gerardo has brunch at his hotel and reflects on his life. At twenty he quit his job at his father's accounting firm — "My dad almost killed me" — and turned his attention to street dancing. Flashing a fake ID, he started hanging out at L.A.'s hard-core rap clubs. (Ice-T used to call him onstage to "pop" during his shows.) Gerardo soon went on to win dance-offs on Solid Gold and Dance Fever. Later today, one of the rapper's dancers will assure him, "You were a real disco king, Gerardo."

1:15 p.m.: Gerardo arrives at the MTV studios, in Manhattan, where he's taping a week's worth of segments for The Hot Seat.

1:35 p.m.: He walks to the set, briefly ducking into a bathroom to do push-ups. "So I don't look too skinny," he says.

2:41 p.m.: Midway through the taping, Gerardo is asked to list his top five pickup lines. He reels off four, then draws a blank. The predominantly female crew suggests, "You have haunting eyes." Gerardo lobbies for "Are those real?"

3:10 p.m.: Gerardo is asked to list his favorite female body parts. The crew suggests "ear lobes," "neck" and "hair." Gerardo lobbies for "chest," "sushi" and "a nice, plump butt."

"People have asked me, 'Are you a sexist? Are you a chauvinist pig?' " Gerardo said earlier. "No, man. This is all done in good taste and fun. I'm not gonna say I'm an angel. Am I a womanizer? Yes. I will not deny that."

4:45 p.m.: Gerardo and his dancers head to New Jersey, where they're scheduled to do a radio promotion at the Freehold Raceway Mall.

6:30 p.m.: The limo arrives at a lame strip mall. "This isn't our mall," promotion man Don Maggi insists, scanning the storefronts. "We're going to a mall mall." 6:40 p.m.: The mall mall is found. Hundreds of thirteen-year-old girls are crowded against the tiny stage, screaming for free T-shirts. "Tiffany did a mall tour," Maggi says.

7:04 p.m.: Gerardo and a phalanx of security men make a rugby-style entrance through a video-games store, and the rapper mounts the stage, which is across from a GapKids. A shrill cry goes up. Gerardo runs through "We Want the Funk" — his new, George Clinton-inspired single — and "Rico Suave." He pumps his pelvis, dances shirtless and slithers on his belly. Someone throws him a teddy bear.

7:30 p.m.: Back in the limo, Gerardo displays three fresh six-inch scratches on his back. Road manager Nick Light shakes his head. "Those little girls go nuclear," Light says. "At least the older girls have some common sense." Dancer-choreographer Hugo Huizar agrees: "Yeah, the older girls just want to fuck him." "Which is easy," Light says. "All you have to do is ask." Gerardo giggles and falls asleep. For an hour and fifteen minutes the limo is tailed by four girls in a blue Mustang.

10:30 p.m.: Back at the hotel, Gerardo orders room service and reflects on his life some more. His appearances on Dance Fever and Solid Gold led to movie roles, including a bit part in Can't Buy Me Love and a nice, spooky turn as a street gangster in Dennis Hopper's Colors. When the latter led only to offers of more gang roles, Gerardo shelved acting and began rapping. The original "Rico Suave" video, which he financed himself, was the first all-Spanish entry aired on MTV. In a matter of weeks it landed him a producer — Michael Sembello, of Flashdance fame — and a record contract. "I was gonna call it 'The Life and Times of a Spanish Male Ho,' " Gerardo says of the song. "Then I said, 'No, man, that shit don't work. Nobody's gonna go out and buy that.' "

1:00 a.m.: Gerardo and his dancers — Hugo, Coco De La Luz and off-season Raiderettes Rhonda Koch and Kelli Brook — take the stage at Long Island's swinging-single-ish Metro 700 club. They do three numbers. They bomb.

1:30 a.m.: Back in the limo, everybody agrees that the club was full of "cocky-ass New Yorkers." Gerardo pouts.

1:40 a.m.: Trying to lighten the mood, the dancers tell licentious anecdotes about Gerardo. One story concerns his foot fetish — he freely admits to a fondness for sucking toes — and another, too twisted to relate here, concerns a thermos.

1:50 a.m.: Koch says she's afraid the group is giving Rolling Stone the wrong idea. She asks everyone to join hands and leads a brief prayer meeting during which God is thanked for, among other things, Gerardo's happening dance moves.

2:00 a.m.: The limo arrives at the Palladium, in Manhattan. Gerardo signs a few autographs. For the females, he writes something vaguely or explicitly suggestive; for the males, the standard "Yo [fan's name]! Stay 'suave,' Gerardo."

2:10 a.m.: Gerardo and company pace in their dressing room, still reeling from the disappointing Long Island gig and worrying about how their show will go down with the Palladium's tough, urban audience. "As a rap artist, it's very important for me to have respect," says Gerardo, whose funky, likable if lightweight raps include samples of Parliament, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire. "I'm sorry to say this — I don't want to dog him — but I don't want people thinking of me as the next Vanilla Ice, because I really did put a lot of work into this."

2:40 a.m.: Word comes backstage that the opening act, caught in a hail of foreign objects, has been forced to leave the stage. Gerardo, visibly nervous, instructs his crew to walk off the minute it sees something hit him. Everybody nods solemnly. Brook says, "What if something hits us?"

2:45 a.m.: Gerardo does some push-ups.

3:01 a.m.: The Palladium's lights go out. Green spotlights sweep the club; a wall of smoke drifts over the crowd. Gerardo shouts, "Let's do it!" and his DJ, D-Roc, breaks into "We Want the Funk." The crowd roars. Gerardo shimmies forward and bumps and grinds at the front row. As always, his pants are unbuttoned, and the words Calvin Klein are plainly visible below his navel. Women reach up and stroke Gerardo's legs; one of them grabs his crotch. Gerardo laughs and staggers away.

3:05 a.m.: The song ends to fierce applause. The group is elated and relieved. Gerardo walks to the foot of the stage and asks, "How are my ladies tonight?" There is a storm of whistles and cheers. "Yeah?" he says. "You doing all right, ladies? You know, I'm feeling a little under the weather." The crowd isn't sure where this is going, and there's a brief lull. "I'm feeling a little under the weather," Gerardo says, "and I need a little tender loving care." Pandemonium. For a moment, Gerardo has everything he's ever wanted: sex, credibility and sex. He grins. "Who's gonna take care of me tonight?"