You’re forgiven for hearing the word “Gerardo” and only thinking of “Rico Suave,” the ubiquitous 1990 track that propelled Gerardo Mejía from a small-time rapper/actor/dancer to a Top 10 artist. Despite the song’s popularity, future attempts at rekindling the Suave failed to have the same effect. But Mejía removed the hair extensions, put a shirt on and persevered behind the scenes, becoming a successful A&R exec at Interscope and guiding the careers of artists like Enrique Iglesias.
The 49-year-old Christian pastor re-introduces himself to the public in Suave Says, a new reality show on VH1 focusing on the rapper and his family. If you’re mocking him as you read this, he’s probably laughing with you, as the affable, self-effacing musician has long embraced his one-hit wonder past. Rolling Stone hopped on the phone with Gerardo to discuss partying with Prince, buying his own merchandise and foot fetishes.
In the first episode of Suave Says, you tell your daughter, “One day when your dad dies, all the love letters and memorabilia will be worth a lot of money.” What’s the most valuable Gerardo memorabilia in your house right now?
I got the original hair extensions, but I don’t know what those are worth.
Was that your idea or a record executive with terrible style?
Dude, I’m blaming Jimmy Iovine on that right now. I had shot the “Rico Suave” video in Acapulco and did a Spanish version of it. When I got signed and I was going to do an English version, I had just got done doing a TV movie and my hair was short. Jimmy told me, “We’re going to do another video and call it ‘the Spanglish version,’ but we have to do some new footage.” I had cut my hair and he said, “Don’t worry. I’m going to get you extensions.” He sent me to somebody and I came back looking like the Last of the Mohicans. My hair was long and once I had my hair like that, there was no going back, bro.
Did anyone tell you it looked a little corny or were you only dealing with Yes Men?
When you’re up there like that and MTV is playing your video to death, there are no real people around you that will tell you the truth. Everything is like, “Oh my God, yeah. Great idea!”
Is it weird that the Rico Suave doll you show in the episode looks like an attractive woman?
[Laughs] Six years after “Rico Suave,” I was in a Spencer Gifts and ran into the doll and was like, “Oh my God.” I picked it up. It’s funny because I’ll go to eBay as somebody else and search for myself and buy stuff.
Wait, you log in as someone else?
Yeah, man. If they know it’s me, they’re going to charge me a bundle. So I try to cheapen it and make it look like I’m someone else.
If I was an eBay seller and saw that Gerardo was buying one of my Gerardo dolls, I’d probably just give it to you for free for the story.
Naw, bro. It doesn’t work like that. To this day, whether I’m looking for a house or car or whatever, people see Rico Suave and think “Money.”
I milked that song more than anybody had milked their song before.
What’s the most you’ve paid for one of your own products?
Oh they’re not that expensive. [Laughs] The most was $30 for my poster where I was shirtless, but it was overseas so that was mostly shipping costs. I hope this show brings out more memorabilia that I can get because I think it’s hilarious.
What was the weirdest thing you saw with your face on it?
I think the pillows. To me, it’s weird that you get to sleep with my face on your ear.
In your womanizing days, did you ever leave a woman’s apartment the next morning and put a pillow in your place to fool her you were still there?
No. I don’t think I carried my own pillow around with me.
You say on the show, “In this house, I like men to wear their socks.” Is that a suave thing or hygienic thing?
[Long pause, stammers] Okay, you might think I’m freaky, my homie. When I met my wife, the first thing I did was take off her shoes. I have a foot fetish. I love women’s feet. My wife had beautiful feet and I married her. But the thing with the guys is the total opposite. I can’t see a guy’s foot. It drives me up the wall. All my life, I walked around in socks. If you talk to my wife, I have the softest feet you’ll ever find because I’m never barefoot. And in my house, if a guy is walking around barefoot, it’s like, “Ugh.” It’s disrespectful.
Let’s go back to your foot fetish. If I’m a girl in the Nineties and I go home with you, will you stare at my feet the whole time?
Before we went home, I would’ve already looked at them. Before girls met me, my road manager used to put them against a wall and take off their shoes. They had to have a nice pedicure.
How does Gerardo get his own reality show in the first place? Was it someone just saying, “I wonder what he’s been up to”?
It wasn’t my idea. Eighteen months ago, an article in Variety came out that said the numbers for Univision are killing the network shows and it was all about getting into the Latin business. A week later, I started getting all these calls from these production companies. I asked them why they were calling me. They said when this article came out, all these conglomerates had these meetings and the first thing that went through all their heads was, “Where’s Rico Suave?”
So the first thing a media executive thinks when someone brings up the entire Latin population is, “Where’s Gerardo?”
Isn’t that funny? Every company I met with told me, “Yeah, your name was brought up.” It’s not like I had a manager or anything.
If you’re Number One among Latin personalities, who do you think was Number Two and Three?
I would say those two guys who did “Macarena,” but I think they passed away. I guess my song rang in their heads a little bit longer. The other [Latino] guys I know; they were all actually working.
What’s the most surreal experience you had as a result of “Rico Suave” blowing up?
I remember opening up for Prince in Minneapolis for this big Special Olympics event. That day, I was hanging out with Warren Beatty and he said, “Hey, you want to go to Prince’s afterparty?” So Warren and I went to Prince’s house – the players of all players – and as we walk in, Prince was coming down the stairs. Do you remember the “Billie Jean” video where Michael Jackson is walking and the steps are lighting up? Prince was doing that in his house. That’s the type of entrance that Prince was making. He came down and met me and after that, it was. . .well, you know what happens at those types of parties.
I have no idea.
Well. [Sighs] He went off into the studio with some friends and a couple of girls. Me and Warren were hanging out with a couple of girls. This was a private party with the elite of the elite. It wasn’t like 400 people. Bobby Shriver was also there, so I was like, “Why am I hanging out with the Kennedy clan? What the heck am I doing here?” At the end of the day, I was just looking out for the finest girl there. That was my life for a long time.
How did you deal with a woman who wouldn’t let go?
I didn’t have to. My video was out there and I wasn’t shy in interviews. They knew what they were getting at that point.
Half of “Rico Suave” was in Spanish. Did it get a good reception outside the U.S.?
I went and toured the world in every Spanish country. You can say “one-hit wonder,” but man, I got to enjoy myself. After my fame got done here in the U.S., people still wanted to see Rico Suave outside of here for two years. So I survived another two years on that song just on the Latin countries. I milked that song more than anybody had milked their song before.
You played a gang member in Colors. Any good Sean Penn or Dennis Hopper stories?
I used to be a womanizer, but I never drank or did drugs in my life. When I was doing that movie, I didn’t know what it felt like to be high. Dennis was like, “You smoke weed, right?” “Naw, I really haven’t.” He’s like, “Dude, you can’t fake it.” When I had to do that role and you see me kinda tipsy, I am tipsy. He made me smoke for real.
How does the guy who did “Rico Suave” become a pastor?
It wasn’t by choice. Something had to happen in my life for me to change. For the first 10 years, I was not a good husband. I didn’t want to stop being Rico Suave. One day, I wanted to stop. I came to my wife and told her everything and wanted our family to be right and blessed.
From then on, my life started changing. I had a pastor who took me on and was discipling me. He started coming to my house and we opened up our home to a Bible Study for 40 people every Tuesday for a year. After that, he said, “I’m done. It’s your turn. You have to take over.” I didn’t know the Bible, but he led me and we eventually had 80 to 100 kids in the house for study every week. He said, “God is blessing you. You have a gift. I want you to become a lay pastor.” I’ve married people before.
So if I proposed to my girlfriend and I’m in Los Angeles, you could marry us?
That’s right. Whenever you’re ready, dude. [Chanting in Hebrew] Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam. I know this.
What do you think Jesus would think of “Rico Suave”?
Jesus is so cool. He created music, so if I found a way to play “Rico Suave” for you but gave you some lyrics that would get you to open up your eyes and get closer to God, he’d be like, “Go for it.” I really believe that when I go to Heaven, I’m going to hear the best music ever. That’s how we praise him the whole time. I think God would love it.
You’ve described yourself in the past as the Latino Elvis and the Latino Sinatra and one critic called you the Latino Situation. Which of those is the most accurate?
I never called myself Sinatra or Elvis in my life [laughs]. But out of the three, I’d say that I’d be the Latino Sinatra, but with a little twist. Instead of, “I did it my way,” it’s “I did it God’s way.”