With money and without money. The first time I heard this song, it was being performed by a minor drug boss in the Netflix series El Chapo, I thought these words were the title. They’re actually the refrain in the chorus, “With money and without money I will do what I want.” The title of this ranchera song appears in its very last words. El rey. The king.
I don’t have a throne or a queen.
There is no one who understands me,
but I will keep being the king.
It is fitting that El Chapo remembers this song when he does. He is at a low point in his life. In solitary, in a brutal prison. He flashes back to his start in the drug business working for a local narcotraficante and to the party where this song is being sung.
Ranchera music is the national music of Mexico. Written by Jose Alfredo Jimenez, “El Rey” epitomizes the spirit of ranchera. That’s why it’s become an ear-worm for me. The context of the song in the story of “El Chapo” also captures the way popular music helps downtrodden people escape their woes. El Chapo, however, also exemplifies the unfortunate subtext to these lyrics, the machismo that men use in these situations to abuse vulnerable women.
That “El Rey” does not have to be inherently escapist or macho can be seen in this rock rendition by the group Maná. The women in the audience are singing as fervently as the men in the spirit that we will not be defeated.