One of the most popular and controversial Mexican songwriters of his generation, Mario Quintero rose to fame in the mid-'90s as the leader of the wildly successful norteño band los Tucanes de Tijuana. Quintero's greatest strength was writing the narco-corrido, or drug ballad, a modern-day form that paid tribute to smugglers and drug lords in much the same way that traditional corridos chronicled the generals, bandits, and other rugged frontier heroes who dared to rebel against accepted authority. Narco-corridos had been around for several decades, but Quintero's contained some of the most explicit drug references that had ever been committed to record; his stories recounted the adventures of their characters with unabashed glee, romanticized their codes of honor, and — in their most radical break with tradition — even celebrated the pleasures of the drugs themselves. In spite of the outcry over the moral content of Quintero's songs, and an unofficial airplay ban in Mexico for the more controversial outings, los Tucanes de Tijuana became perhaps the best-selling norteño group of the late '90s.
Quintero was born into a musical family and raised in a rural area of Sinaloa, a western Mexican state known for its prominent role in the international drug trade. In his early teens, he and his cousins moved to Tijuana in search of factory work; they also had musical connections in their uncles, who played in the regionally popular norteño band los Incomparables de Tijuana. By 1987, Quintero and his cousins were playing together as los Tucanes de Tijuana, and in 1992, the 16-year-old Quintero penned their first national hit, "Clave Privada," a song about drug dealers' beepers. Their popularity exploded in 1995 with the release of "Mis Tres Animales," a narco-corrido that cemented their taboo-breaking image. A steady stream of hit albums and singles followed, which made los Tucanes one of the very few norteño groups to rely upon just one composer for its material. However, Quintero wrote more than just drug songs; love ballads and dance songs helped broaden los Tucanes' appeal, particularly the smash dance hits "La Chona" and "El Tucanazo." Controversy dogged the group to an even greater degree following a 1997 magazine article that suggested that they were the favorite performers of the Arellano Felix brothers, Sinaloa's most notorious alleged drug kingpins. Quintero simply took the attacks in stride and kept doing what his audiences loved, and in 1998 he won a Songwriter of the Year award in his home country. Two years later, he shared a BMI award for Latin music's Songwriter of the Year with several other hitmakers. ~ Steve Huey