Monday, December 24, 2007

Hella Hyphy: Making Sense of Filipin@s and Black Expressions

"My Blood Type is an 8-Bar Loop." Music video with rapper Nump dedicated to graf king Mike Dream

First of all, before we get into heavy discussion, I just want to acknowledge deep and profound respect for Mike "Dream" Francisco, a truly gifted and powerful graf king who continues to transform minds and art even after he left us in 2000. His saying "Dream, but don't sleep" speaks volumes to the inspiration he gives to artists, young people, and those who want to make genuine social change. Here is Dream's website:

Mural dedicated in remembrance to Mike Dream.

The music video above, whether you think it's good or not, includes some of Dream's most legendary artwork as well as a collection of veteran graf artists from Oakland, where Dream represented. You may know Nump from the hyphy hit "I Gott Grapes" and "Oooleee" from the Native Guns Straybullets 2 mixtape. Nump's not new to the music biz having worked as a sound engineer for heavy hitters such as E-40, Rick Rock, Mac Dre, Keak da Sneak, and Nate Dogg.

There are a lot of hyphy-haters out there. Many people who don't come from the West Coast may not be familiar with hyphy, which is a musical and cultural "movement" akin to crunk in the South. Some critics say that the movement has been dying out, but its highest points of popularity were probably between 2003-2006 (right? Sorry, I'm not too familiar with it as much as others). Hyphy is sometimes described as an extravagant form of black youth expression in the East Bay Area of California: gold fronts, big glasses, muscle cars , ghost ridin' (dancing outside of your car while it moves slowly without a driver), big dreds, thick slang, bright colors, hypnotizingly fast electronic-sounding music, etc.

And then we have Nump, who is Filipino. Nump Trump, as he calls himself, is gettin' his, gettin' paid, and havin' fun: all this in hella hyphy fashion! You don't have to hate hyphy to understand the tension here. Nump (and many other Filipinos hyphied-out) are sometimes called out because they are "trying to act black." This is interesting, because some will say that hyphy is as much a Bay Area thing as it is a black thing. So, being that Filipinos are sort of integral in Bay Area demographics--and definitely in Bay Area hip hop culture, which is celebrated by many blacks in the area (Mike Dream is legendary cross-racially)--what does it mean when Filipinos make videos like the one above? How far is too far when Filipinos indulge in black expression?

Here are a few examples of some comments about the Nump/Mike Dream video left by viewers on YouTube:

"Wow another stupid asian trying to rap! Vomits!!!!"

"As I was saying,
ATL AND SOUTH GEORGIA, WHERE THERE ARE ACTUALLY BLACK FOLKS, will destroy these retarded Asians and Hyphy fags."

"one more thing...
Atlanta and South Georgia, where there are actually black folks and not retarded Asian Motherfuckas, would kill this fairy."

"fuck asian american we flips dnt consider ourselves to be asian you fucker!"

"Hey whos that gurl wt the squinted eye? she not pinay.> they should remove her race in this video. Whose the director?!!!"

"fucc all u flip flops.. mix breed bitches!!!!!!! ya can never be like us!!"

"Flilpinos are the beaners of asia is true. 3/4 familes own a "bun muis" hahahahahahaa"

"Yeah,they do a lot of menial work. What's a bun muis?" [Editors note: Bun muis means Filipino maid in Hong Kong]

"good cause asians dont get walked over. dirty pacific islanders do though. look at ur raped country dripping cum from every fucking post-empire. choke on a lumpia"

(Sigh) Do you sense some tension here? I don't even know where to start. Although, most likely, these posts are from 15 year old kids with too much free time, I think they bring up some very serious debates. Here are a few points to discuss (aside from the Bay Area/South claim to the crunk/hyphy sound):

1. The black conflict with Asian representation in hip hop culture.
2. The emasculation/feminization of Asian men in this scene.
3. The debate on racial ownership of hip hop culture.
4. The tenuous placement of Filipinos in the Asian racial category, both internally by Filipinos themselves, and externally by other Asians and non-Asians.
5. The rejection of Pacific Islanders of Filipinos within the PI category (the other choice category by Filipinos aside from Asian)

So where do these points take us? Can there ever be a successful cultural collaboration among diverse racial and ethnic communities? And where do Filipino/as belong if some people from both black and Asian communities reject Filipino/a participation?

Whatever the case, even though it may not be the "best" video in terms of lyricism, I'm glad this video was made because more people outside of the Bay Area need to know about King Dream and his enduring impact culturally. R.I.P. King Dream and to all other cultural creators in the Bay who continue the legacy! Yeeee!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Those Genes?

Charice Pempengco: Asian Face Don't Match?

At the risk of sounding essentialist, "it's in the genes!"

Of course, I'm being sarcastic, but how many times do we hear this statement? It's even in the comments section of the above clip. Anyways, I would really like to know: What's the deal with Filipino talent? We all probably heard of the stereotype of Asians not having rhythm, soul, voice, etc. because of some stoic, passive, serene cultural attribute. But for some reason that never really made sense to me. In fact, I remember at a New Years Party/poker game with mostly Filipino/as, when people started groovin to the music, a homey who was white said he didn't know how to dance because he "wasn't Asian." I'm very confused.

What is more confusing to people is seeing Asian faces that don't "match" the performance. I am convinced that Filipinos are out there to baffle Joe Averageman. Sadly, I think that the legacy and tradition of Filipino dance/song/music performance has been very underappreciated, especially in the U.S.; it is underappreciated on both sides: from those who just dismiss Filipinos as a curious aberration that don't really contribute to the development of creative culture (how many times have we gotten "oh you're just another Pinoy breakdancer/DJ?") AND from Filipinos themselves who might blow some pipes or bust dope moves but don't realize they are part of a greater history and community of Filipino performance tradition. For the former, I think the notion of Filipino "invisibility" and "misrecognition" as Elizabeth Pisares writes about has much to do with the downplay of Filipino creativity; we simply don't fit nicely into a racial/ethnic category for people to easily understand or consume. And for the latter, I think Filipinos should dig deeper in their creative roots and understand the historical and community context in which their talent emerges. "We're very talented people" shouldn't be a saying that we giggle about; we need to take it seriously and not downplay a very proud tradition.

And to touch on the "genes" theory, I have a hunch Miss Charice Pempengco is Chinese-Filipina (peep her accent when she talks to Ellen? And "engco" on Filipinos' last names are "Filipinized" Chinese names, right? I need your thoughts). If that's the case, then we can be sure that creativity and skills (and rhythm) are reproduced through culture (as I have been emphasizing throughout this blog) and not through blood (I mean, not to say that those who are Chinese don't have the above attributes, as I know that's definitely not true!). Even though Filipino culture has strong precolonial performance roots, as we know, the Philippines, as a U.S. colony, has been going through a thorough "Americanization" which includes a "African Americanization" for more than a century (hence the dope yet little known soul, jazz, and funk bands in the Philippines and States in the 70s, Filipino American R&B and hip hop today, and Filipino hip hop(ish) dance troupes worldwide). So the colonized speaks! And "speaks so well"...

Keep on keepin' on, good people. Keep it loud and keep it hot!

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