Though it’s been anything but smooth sailing, local hip hop artist Hector Rivera—a.k.a. Vietnam a.k.a. Mr. Highlandtown—has won a substantial number of contests in his life.
The latest have been music related. His single “Rock For My City,” off his upcoming album, One Life to Live, won Reverbnation’s “Unite” ESPN Music Search. Sports fans tuning into ESPN’s college highlights during the month of October will hear “Rock For My City.”
It’s an aggressive song, beat-wise, but Rivera’s “clean” hip hop is aggressively positive, not negative.
In addition to putting his music on the air on ESPN, a contest also brought Rivera to Highlandtown in the first place, back in 1983.
“My father hit the lottery and we moved here,” said Rivera, who had spent the first years of his life in a housing project in Brooklyn.
His father, Hector Sr., was in the Merchant Marine, and in his port travels he got to know Baltimore enough to know that he wanted his family rooted here. Although Hector Jr. still loves the place, living in Highlandtown wasn’t always easy for him in his younger days.
“Growing up in the city, you have your ups and downs,” he said, explaining that he has gone through rough patches and gotten in some trouble in the past.
One thing that pushed Rivera to change his life for the better was the birth of his daughter, Bianca.
“After that, I got my stuff together,” he said. Since his daughter, he has had two sons—Hector and Markus—with the wife he has been with since age 17. Bianca is attending Cristo Rey Jesuit High School on a full scholarship.
“Sometimes I get teary-eyed thinking about how my life was one way, and then it did a 360,” said Rivera.
In 2011, Rivera erased negative messaging from his music and embraced the clean hip hop genre. Although he is shifting toward the stage moniker “Mr. Highlandtown,” his current name, “Vietnam,” stands for Victorious In Every Territory Never Assaulting Mankind.
“When it comes to hip hop and rap, there are a lot of guys who get jealous easily,” he said. “I’m able to go anywhere—I can collab with anybody.”
Clean hip hop, Rivera explained, is “music that everybody can listen to. There’s no cursing and no negative messages in the songs.”
He said that earlier hip hop—Das EFX and Digable Planets, for example—was relatively clean, but more hard-core rap came into play in the 1990s.
Rivera said that positivity is crucial to him as he raises his children.
“They come first,” he said. “I feel it’s my responsibility to push them as far as they can go.”
Mr. Highlandtown is pushing himself at the moment, too. Posting another “win,” he will be featured on the back cover of Coast 2 Coast Magazine #31 (www.coast2coastmagazine.com). Hip hop listeners voted him their favorite.
His single “Rock For My City” is available on amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and more—type in Vietnam and Rock For My City to find him.
Mr. Highlandtown will perform on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Dark Horse Saloon in Canton. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more information—and links to his music—visit his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/mrhighlandtown.
by Erik Zygmont