Monday, December 29, 2008

Go Numb? Understanding Palestine, Israel, and Slingshots

It is the holiday season, and big baby Jesus is on our collective minds. What is also on our minds (and in the news) is the war currently happening in Israel and Gaza (Palestine). The peace associated with the season and the simultaneous violence happening in the birthplace of Jesus could not be more ironic.

I just downloaded a great album called "Free the P" by the LA-based hip hop group The Philistines (Palestinian and Filipino rap duo). You can download it for free here. The homey Cookie Jar, the Filipino emcee, is a down brutha who is also an extremely talented instrumentalist and singer. He volunteered for an interview a few years back (maybe I'll dig it up and post it). Cookie Jar and Ragtop connect the plight of folks in Palestine and the Philippines--which can basically be seen through the framework of European imperialism/land grab.

On the rills, the message of The Philistines could not be more appropriate right now. Their album came out in order to raise funds for a documentary on hip hop culture in Palestine. Did you know that there was hip hop in Palestine? Well, now you do. Where there is oppression, there is hip hop, I guess. Peep the trailer to "Slingshot Hip Hop" below:

Watching the news, it may be very hard to digest what is going on in Israel and Gaza, so much that we may feel numb to the story. Like you, I'm learning a lot myself. Let's try to break down the most fundamental aspects of the story by "placing into context" the violence occurring right now so that perhaps we can think more critically instead of "going numb" and detaching ourselves from this global crisis.

Context #1: Nation-building
It is important to understand that the nation of Israel is NOT an ancient country that has been existing for centuries. I mean, all nations are essentially "created" and "imagined," but what makes Israel so compelling here is that it is new, born in 1948 (here and here) after violent aggression by Israel nationalists against the existing people of Palestine (and British colonizers, which is another part of the bigger story of European imperialism). When Jewish settlers (anyone in the world claiming Jewish heritage can become a citizen of Israel) started to occupy Palestine, it resulted in at least three occurrences: 1) mass exodus of Palestinians, 2) the killing of Palestinians, 3) the segregation/apartheid of Palestinians into small portions of the newly created Israeli state.

The situation can be compared to the segregated American South after Reconstruction--the lawful separation of people, the state-sponsored terrorism (lynching) in order to keep people in their place, and programs of "attrition" inflicted on Blacks through the allocation of inferior resources.

Better yet, the genocide of Native people in the U.S. is a more cogent example: separation (Indian reservations), killing (Trail of Tears, etc.), and programs of "attrition" (reservations, alcohol, inferior schools, healthcare).

Context #2: Violence begets Violence
To be fair, it is up to you to research the issue and understand the other side of the story-- that of the Zionists. True, Jewish people have been persecuted throughout history, thus one of the main arguments for settling in Palestine is a space for Jewish freedom and fulfilling a narrative of "returning to Zion" as written in the Jewish holy book. So read up on that. But what can't be ignored is the wholesale, uneven violence against Palestinian people. Its truly David vs. Goliath--a nuclear-armed nation against slingshots and rockets (although in the hands of the elite few). Like Talib Kweli says, "Palestinians got rocks, Israelis got tanks." Israel's failed attempt to "tame" Lebanese Hezbollah in 2006 is an example of the extreme force Israel can wield. Today's war is seen as round 2. Remember, the war that Israel wages against Palestine is not only a war against Palestinian militants (who are not without blood on their hands), but also a war against women and children. This is the greatest tragedy...and Kiwi puts it best (in an early song on the "Stray Bullets" mixtape):

"I place my words on an altar and offer it to my ancestors
To all my family, every brother and sister
To every inch of the land, to every drop of the sea
To every ounce of oxygen that we breathe

Cause I feel the impact of them bombing the earth
Cause every bomb that they drop leaves a scar in the dirt
From the woman that it hit as she was walking to work
And a couple oil barrels was all it was worth..."

read more or Kiwi's ("For Palestine" post)

Context #3: Collective Punishment
I think one of the scariest part of the violence in Israel and Gaza is the "collateral damage" of war, in other words, the non-combatant residents such as the women and the children. Like any nation, Palestine is controlled politically by one elite party--Hamas. Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, but Israel's attack on Hamas has been deployed as an attack on the whole of Palestine. Jack Stephens (worth clicking to learn more) puts it best here:

"This line of attack is no different then the line of attack the apartheid South African government used against the ANC, no different than the southern states speaking of reacting against radical Blacks within the NAACP and the SCLC, and no different then dictator Marcos justifying his suspension of democracy and imposition of martial law because of the First Quarter Storm.

As mentioned above, the attack on Gaza by the Israeli army is likened to southern Whites punishing ALL southern Blacks because of the actions of the NAACP. How can an army collectively punish a people, when a small group is the one firing the rockets on Southern Israel? In this war, both sides are losing: the non-combatant residents in Gaza and in Israel. Not a safe place to be. No wonder there are so many Palestinian refugees. (But ironically, Jewish settlement still continues). To add to that, it can be argued that continued violence helps the power agenda of both leading groups in Palestine and Israel, meaning that violence might be welcomed in order to consolidate power/incite hatred on either side.

The next time you watch "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," understand that Zohan is not just some random soldier. His character comes out of a very specific moment in history: a super soldier built to fight Palestinian/Arab resistance against Zionist occupation. Zohan is the protector of an Israeli occupation. Israel, the "only Democracy in the Middle East" surely has a lot to protect...Can Democracy exist on the prerequisite of violence? Sure, ask the United States.

Read up! Understand the issues, make informed decisions, and get a sense of your position(s). Will the new U.S. administration hold the same politics as the old? Or will our policies on the Middle East remain the same? Will the policies intensify the situation?

At the risk of "going numb," we must always be aware of the world around us. Like The Philistines say in "Free the P":

"We race for truth
Now we spit it face to face
From Palestine, Syria, Philippines, to America
Culturally open minds
Keep the strength in character..."


Note: I write this not to insult yall's knowledge, but to help others become familiar with the issue. I've been having too many conversations about it with my folks, that I'm saddened that not many people are informed about it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Welcome to the new URL address/ VA Beach love/ BakitWhy

Whats up readers old and new! Welcome to the new Hip Hop Lives url address. I hope you update your google reader feeds, etc. The old one was long (, and I didn't know you can customize your own url address until last week (it's now

Check out my homegirl Jian's new blog on all things fresh and hip in Virginia Beach, VA:
VB2DC (or Virginia Beach to DC--she resides in DC but reps VB).
Get updated on the scene in VB, from fashion, to events, to artists. This is the home of Chad Hugo and N.E.R.D. and a historic Fil Am hip hop community. Whats up Salem High? Ha!

Yes that is Glory's famous pizza bread. What you know!

If you want to read a VERY fictional account of the VB Filipino community, you should pick up my friend Ate Evelina Galang's novel One Tribe. (I think that's me holding the book in that picture at the top). It has some interesting narrative on the tensions involved in community-building, a perpetual challenge considering the diversity of Fil Am communities. VB is a navy community, so that adds more dimensions to the context (just like Jacksonville, FL or San Diego). What's notable in the book is the gang culture among the young people, a very real part of our history that is rarely written about, so this book is a good start to hopefully more explorations about Fil Ams and gang culture (both violent and "crew" gang culture).

And the other reason why VA Beach is on my mind is my childhood homey just got married this weekend. He grew up in VA Beach, and many family members from VA Beach came down to Jacksonville for the wedding. The VB hip hop scene is well-known to be hot, the groom even imported a DJ from VA Beach, Philip Andrada, with all his equipment, just to rock the reception. Oh, and we did rock. Can you imagine all the groomsman lookin fresh in tuxedos and sneakers? After all these years, my homeys still bustin mills and 90s. This is the most hip hop wedding I've been to! Congrats Jo and Cheryl!

Speaking of VB and navy towns, if you don't already know, I am a content producer for a very neat Pilipino website called This site is the biggest, most comprehensive, most "national" website that consolidates a young Pinoy/ay community. Anyways, I wrote something relating to the navy experience in our community; here's a little piece on my hometown. Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Beatrock Store Becoming LA Cultural Haven

Fighting Cocks start off the night with their mellow, soulful style. Photo courtesy of Mike Nailat. Find more pictures at Mike's Flickr here.

On Saturday, December 13th, the Beatrock store in Long Beach and Sights and Sounds presented an art and music mash-up featuring paintings by LA favorites Stuter, Alfie Numeric, Pancho, and many others. Music was provided by Bambu, The Committee, Flowethics and J-One, Fighting Cocks, K9, and Mass Movement.

This was the first time I've been to the Beatrock store, and it was a great experience seeing all the art and performers congregate at a dope space not far from the city of LA. You can also cop a bunch of gear. Not too late if you're still shopping for gifts for the holidays. They not only sell the coveted Beatrock brands, but also other clothing, such as a funny new brand called Chicharron Adventures.

This store is quickly becoming a notable cultural space "outside" of the traffic-ridden LA-proper area. So for folks who live in Carson, Cerritos, Long Beach, Torrance, even Orange County, this spot will be a little bit closer if you usually hit up cultural events. It's a colorful, beautiful joint, so you should stop by even if there is no performance occurring.

Here is the address:
Beatrock Flagship Store
4158 Norse Way

Long Beach, CA

As always, Bambu wreck-shopped. The Committee ended their set with a hot 90's hip hop tribute--anthems such as Mtume (Biggie Smalls "Juicy" more specifically), Mary J. Blige, Talib Kweli (more 2003ish), all with live instrumentation! Hire them, Jimmy Fallen, instead of The Roots! Also, K9 represented the "5th" element of hip hop with a beatboxing exhibition. Aaliyah "One in a Million" all through voice, what? (Bambu controls the crowd. Photo courtesy of Mike Nailat)

The man behind Beatrock, David Araquel, is doing a great job with the store. Starting off as the kid in high school who people always turned to to draw sketches or paint murals, David has turned his passion into a successful cultural and business venture. From a simple idea years ago of building a store to a growing and thriving store/cultural space, this Beatrock thing is really taking off!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pnoy Apparel San Diego Jam Packs the House

Check out an article I wrote and "commercial" I filmed/edited for BakitWhy:

Many came, and many got turned away. The Pnoy Apparel/Alpha Psi Rho event "A Sammy Thing" (in reference to the cartoon character Sammy the Sun) at San Diego State University on December the 9th was so popular security rolled deep (police car and all) in an effort to "control" the crowd. So apologies to the many people who could not get in and missed an all-star jam featuring the hottest Fil Am talent.

Continue reading...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On growing up Fil Am today: from "fobby" to fly

Yesterday was a good day. After a great line-up of NCAA football games, the night ushered in a new era of boxing with the victory of Manny Pacquiao, and the end of a legendary era with the womping of Oscar De La Hoya.

Sitting there at a homey's pad in Historic Filipino in LA (click here for a glimpse of us celebrating the TKO) with a gang of barking Brown folks, BBQ and boxing, I reflected on how growing up Fil Am today is so different than back in the 90s. Granted that I grew up in the South (in a very red county) and there weren't as many Filipinos as there are in the West Coast, I think in general, young Fil Ams have so much more opportunities to demonstrate their pride. I mean, under one house there was the Pacman (on the TV), Kiwi, Bam, Krish, and a whole host of Fil Am community artists and activists. LA may be an anomaly in comparison to the entirety of the U.S. because of its large and historic Fil Am community, but these folks, especially the artists, have an unprecedented reach to inspire young folks nationally. And with outlets like Heavy Rotation, I suppose a reach to inspire internationally.

Maybe its an internets-age thing. But I just have a sense that if it were even just 6 years ago, young Fil Ams wouldn't so much be rockin the Philippine flag sweaters, Bonifacio T's, and tri-star/sun caps. Nor would they be rappin in Tagalog. It must be noted, the growth in this Pin@y "pride" has to be linked with the explosion of the fashion designers (i.e. Beatrock), which by the way these Filipino-themed T's are not a new thing--think Tsinilas (based in Florida), Tribal Pinoy, or Downright Pinoy.

(Sports + hip hop + fashion + internet = growth in the reach of Pin@y "pride"?)

Maybe I'm wrong, and this is really a West Coast thing that has been happening strong before I moved here. Thoughts?* My point is that it is a special time to be a young Fil Am today (and maybe more specifically Fil Am masculinity). Where as in the 90s, we had a very Afro-centric hip hop, not the "Filipino-conscious" (which is not wholly separate from Afro-centric tradition, just as a note) hip hop --both men and women artists--we enjoy today. We didn't have a Manny Pacquiao. We didn't have a whole army of Pin@ys on reality TV (check out Bam's posting on "Reality and Rice"). And the fashion? Sure, there was the few Filipino t-shirt brands I would rock, but I would get clowned for being "fobby," a denigrating term people used to describe being "too Filipino." Not so much today. Today its a badge of pride and not shame to have Manny emblazoned on your shirt.** How many Pac Man shirts were there at the Bridge's show after the fight? Dang. A sista was even rockin a Philippine flag on her necklace.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the South is just a different animal. Maybe because the South and the East Coast in total doesn't have a "Pilipino Culture Night" (here and here) tradition. Maybe cuz there's no FPAC or Pistahan there. There are varying opportunities and spaces to learn and express "Filipinoness." Today, it seems like those opportunities and spaces have reached beyond expectation.

I mean, in the Souf, we did have Santo Nino and Gang Starr, but that didn't seem to be enough mayn.

From "fobby" to "fly".
I hope it lasts long.

Let me have it...

*I get a sense that young Pin@ys in the 90s were also more immersed in gang culture. Pride for sure, but qualitatively different, in ways I can't articulate yet.
**I think that the Filipino-themed fashion today is more likely linked to politically-conscious movements, and not only a desire to look cute in a Pin@y tee.