Celebrate Cinco De Mayo with some classic Mexican narco ballads-think gangster rap with tubas and accordions.

Mexican corridos are a kind of story-song reaching back to the ballads of medieval Spain, which have been reborn as the theme music of the transnational drug trade. In the 1920s, corrido singers sang about brave Mexican bootleggers who defied the gringo border agents, and when Prohibition ended both the singers and their heroes turned to other products.

In the 1970s, Los Tigres del Norte became the biggest stars in the history of norteño music, the accordion-powered style of the Texas border region, thanks to gaudy tales of international smugglers that not only topped the charts but inspired a string of successful action movies, and gave birth to a new genre, the narcocorrido.

In the 1990s corridos caught on with urban youth in Los Angeles thanks to a smuggler and songwriter named Chalino Sánchez, who made national headlines when he got in a gun battle onstage in Southern California, and became a legend after he was assassinated in the drug smuggling center of Culiacan, Sinaloa, in 1992.

Sometimes described as a kind of Mexican Tupac Shakur, Chalino spawned a generation of imitators, many of whom sing over the upbeat brass bands, or bandas, popular on Mexico’s West Coast.

Banned on radio and television throughout most of Mexico, corridos tell true and imagined stories of brave smugglers, brutal drug cartels, and the wave of violence that is engulfing much of the country.

Hailed by some listeners as honest dispatches from the front lines of the drug world, they are despised by others for making heroes out of drug lords and hired killers. This list of songs is partly a “best of” selection and partly a survey of the genre’s evolution from its early days to the latest trends.

Written by Elijah Wald

Elijah Wald is a musician and author of Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. His latest book is The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama.