Friday, March 14, 2008

West Coast vs. East Coast: Comparing Fil Am Hip Hop Scenes

Thanks to Ninoy Brown’s interview with The Roots and Snoop Dogg music video director Rik Cordero, I thought it would be neat to compare the Fil Am hip hop scenes on the West and East coasts. Here is a little snippet from the interview illustrating Rik’s experiences as a Fil Am immersed in hip hop in New York:

“I don’t really gotta ask, but you’re Filipino, right? Has this part of your identity influenced any part of your career?

Yep, I’m Filipino, first generation Fil-Am. I think my identity has influenced me a great deal. Like most Fil-Ams growing up, we have no clue where the hell we fit in, but what’s cool is that for me, I just turned it into a way to observe. There’s no box for me so I’m just roaming around. I was also heavily influenced by the Filipino music scene on the East Coast, so some of my early influences were 5th Platoon, ISP and the whole DJ movement. I DJ’ed too, under the name Rik Guyver and our crew was called Kuya Tribe Productions. We did the FIND (Filipino Intercollegiate Network Dialogue) conferences and all that.

I also really look up to all of the Filipinos who seem to navigate through the entertainment terrain. Almost all of them are exceptionally talented and really down to earth individuals. I met Pharrel Williams recently, but Chad Hugo couldn’t make it ’cause he was sick, and I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to meet him so bad.”

As with Samahang Pilipino, Pilipino American Coalition, Kababayan, Southern California Pilipino American Student Association, Friendship Games, and other West Coast Fil Am college student community spaces, FIND is definitely an important center for East Coast Fil Am youth congregation. I miss my FIND folks! I hope my Florida people still roll deep at the FIND conferences. So big ups to FIND for providing an important space for Pin@y community building, artist networking, choreographed dance gluttony, and um, “partying opportunities.” FIND and other Fil Am student college spaces provide creative forums for Pin@y hip hop artists/performers (a good example is Kaba Modern. Another is the seminal Unity Fest (?) party that Samahang Pilipino at UCLA provided embattled youth during the early 1990s). These community-building resources are something both the West and East Coasts share in terms of hip hop cultural formation among fellow Pin@ys.

As Rik demonstrates, 5th Platoon is a big influence for Fil Am hip hoppers on the East Coast. I constantly hear this from Pin@y DJs on the East Coast, but as 5th Platoon member Kuttin’ Kandi and many others will testify, there was a whole lineage of East Coast Fil Am DJs that set it off before 5th Platoon stepped on the scene. This prompts the need for more research on Fil Am hip hop artists/performers on the East Coast, much like Oliver Wang, Dawn Mabalon, Lakandiwa De Leon, Antonio Tiongson, Elizabeth Pisares, and others have done for Pin@y hip hop artists/performers on the West Coast. We KNOW there was a huge Fil Am hip hop scene in NY/NJ for a long time, so dare I ask, did the Fil Am hip hop scene (DJs or dancers) in NY/NJ PRECEDE the West Coast scene (which is often marked by Fil Am mobile DJs appearing in the Bay and LA around 1978)?

5th Platoon crew circa 1998

5th Platoon 10 year anniversary documentary

Even though it is given that the West Coast (especially the LA Area, SF Bay Area, Seattle, and San Diego) and the East Coast (especially New Jersey and New York) are home to historic hip hop scenes in which Pin@ys have been creative and critical artistic agents, I realize it is important to expand the discourse from a traditional West Coast/East Coast (heavily West Coast) dichotomy that assumes these are the only regions that contain vibrant Fil Am communities. This expansion is important to me because I grew up most of my life in the dirty-dirty South, where Uncle Luke, 69 Boys, Miami Bass, and Latin Freestyle dominated the airwaves in the 90s, and where Mystikal, the Hot Boys, and No Limit exploded in our region before Dirty South music took over the entire nation. Therefore, let’s get some words from those from the South (does this include Virginia and Maryland?), Midwest, Hawaii, Alaska, and overseas.

As a side note, it is my firm belief that Fil Am hip hop cultural formation developed out of the migration of Fil Am youth between different military towns where concentrations of Filipinos reside (including those in Hawaii, Japan, GUAM, and Puerto Rico). Virtually all of my interviewees for "Hip Hop Mestizaje" coincidentally had fathers in the U.S. military (Navy or Air Force). In One Tribe, M. Evelina Galang writes a neat (fictional) story about Fil Am youth culture in Virginia Beach, VA (a huge military town home to the world famous Happy Slip, and also Chad Hugo, Pharrel, Timbaland, and Missy Elliot).

So what are the differences between West Coast hip hop scenes and the scene on the East Coast and other regions? Focus on footwork flavor versus perfection in power moves? Funk style versus wild style graffiti?

Enlighten us.

(Make sure to subscribe to Ninoy Brown's blog "FOBBDEEP." Don't sleep!)

UPDATE: 3/20/08

Maybe the reason why many of us are so mute about this topic, is because we really haven't thought about Filipino communities east of California? We really need to begin documenting this history. Styles over power moves, boyeee!


Unknown said...

Some random thoughts throughout my dancing travels down from Florida up to East Coast:

Florida: Club style: I say we definitely had more distinctive, collective BOOTY SHAKIN Dances, I ain't never seen SCRUB THE GROUND routines or people chantin to our WOOooOP dancin, we definitely share a lot more group-orientated dancin in the parties, I think these dances are in the same tradition of "Crank dat soulja boi"

So I say Miami Bass/Electro is the tempo foundation of a lot of our dances. I argue the JAX bboy scene was more influenced by the Bay wit Freestyle music than NYC and even moreso when raves & trance, drum & bass hit hard.

On the breakin tip, we always had a great mix of powermoves and footwork style, up until 2000s, I think lots of Fil Ams, thanks to Cloud and SKMZ, put lot of the Latin swing in the uprock and capoiera transitions. So we half nyc/half cali on that one.

with all that being said,

NYC/DC: Y'all can dance. I think there's a distinctive House tempo in most of the parties and more boom-bap hiphop represented. With the absence of bootyshakin I see more gender neutral dance floors and a more comfortable space to just dance. I feel that.

Bboy style: NYC: I got the overall feelin "if you don't have the basics, you shouldn't be breakin!" I never ever been to a scene that has so much finesse (across all dancers) and attention to detail with a COMPLETE SIX STEP and attention to musicality in ending your sets. Y'all are the TECHNICRATS of breakin! But for good reason, it's beautiful in its tradition,

for example...from CC's, get-downs, to the way homegirl puts her hand to her hip when she rocks footwork, and freezing on beat...i caught all those beautiful details while in NYC.

Unknown said...

One more thing,

I LOOOVED the B-MORE House influenced routine I saw when I was at FIND from our Maryland brothers and sisters..

can someone enlighten me on Pilipinos and the Baltimore/House scene?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the plug.

I've never really had the opportunity to build as much as I would want to with our sisters and brothers on the opposite coast, but it would definitely be interesting to do a comparison to learn about how much our experiences paralleled. Being out in Cali, its really easy to keep oneself enclosed in the bubble of the West Coast Fil-Am experience that we don't give much attention to the differing experiences of folks out in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Alaska, etc.

Anonymous said...

it's all about New Jeru (that's jersey for those that don't kno) for the east coast fil-am hip hop scene. notable dj crews include Audio Spin Tribe (AST) and IRT (dont know what it stands for), breakin crews Rock Wit Finesse, EDK, and ETC, emcee crews such as ORganic Thoughts, street dance choreo crews Rhythmology, Fr3sh, and Moshun, and industry producers like IllMind (of g-unit, strange fruit project, erykah, etc).

what's interesting i think about jersey is that we're spread apart. even though we think there are mad pin@ys in certain areas, it's nothing compared to the massive enclaves on the west coast. so what i think is unique to our communities east of cali is that we drive all over the friggin state to connect with other fil-am youth, especially for the parties. otherwise, it'll just be the 5 other kids in your town sitting in someone's basement.

another intersting point is that during the 90's every pinoy in my area was either a bboy or party dj or both at some point during high school. and speaking of parties, aside from the basement/garage parties, dj crews used to rent out VFW's, rec centers, church spaces, knights of columbs halls, etc to throw parties where pin@ys from all over came to get down.

Anonymous said...

i remember all the mobile crews in the bay area during the late 80's retrospect, the mobile scene was also big here in the philippines during that time...we even used to get our vinyl from"kamag-anak" dj's back in the states..
filipino hiphop