Friday, January 9, 2009

Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance: A decade later


Before I get to "Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance," I'd first like to address the relationships between culture and politics. In the shadow of a historical transition to power with Barack Obama's presidency (what could be going through Jesse Jackson's mind right now?), there lingers many violent and disturbing acts of injustices. From the killing of Oscar Grant and shooting of Robert Tolan to Israel's grossly disproportionate military aggresion toward Palestinian people (and here), these examples are just a few of the innumerable power struggles that poor, disenfranchised, hungry, and marginalized women, men, and children live through everyday.

Obama, Grant, and Tolan

We will not go through a laundry list of oppression here. But as hip hop "heads" we know well the role culture plays in spaces of oppression and inequality. Where there is injustice there seems to always be a cultural response/expression that challenges injustice: music, dance, storytelling, language, paintings, etc. Hip hop is one mode of expression here in the States and is arguably employed with more political intensity among heads in Cuba, Germany, the Philippines, Kenya, etc.

However, the homey M.dot argues in the "Model Minority" blog: "Hip Hop isn't political. A Hip Hop show isn't political. An album isn't political." Please read her entry.

How important does cultural production (art, language, music, poetry, theater, etc.) play in radical/progressive political mobilization?



It's been more than a decade since the making of the documentary film "Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance: Pilipinos and Hip Hop in Los Angeles," which features some influential Fil Am hip hop artists (in their "younger" years!) such as Kiwi, Babu, Faith Santilla, DJ Symphany, and Icy Ice, and many others. It highlights the "cultural liberation" (as Faith Santilla says in the film) that hip hop brings to Fil Ams...the radical expressions that hip hop cultivates. "Hip hop," as DJ Dwenz says in the film, "is the voice of inner city youth." In this sense, hip hop is seen as a motivating "force" in political struggle...hip hop is political.

"Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance" is probably the first work that seriously tackles the topic of Filipinos in hip hop.
Lakandiwa de Leon's "Filipinotown and the DJ Scene" (here) resonates with the film (as Lakan is a co-director) and goes into more depth with gang culture and colonization. For those who have watched "Hip Hop Mestizaje," you can see how much the film influences my own work. It has paved the way for many young folks who are seriously interrogating this subject.

But, how relevant is this film today?
Given the state of hip hop in 2009, is the film's focus on hip hop's political role still applicable?

Or is M.dot right, hip hop is really less political than people may think?

Peep the film here (thanks to Lakandiwa de Leon):
video

For Palestine, for the family of Oscar Grant, for all people looking for justice, in whatever mode we strive for a better society (whether it be hip hop culture or not), may we always move forward to love and justice.

4 comments:

Milin Ratanasen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo said...

i need to give props to Lakandiwa de Leon these folk.

this the first time I checked out her documentary and it's straight up beautiful: capturing such a feeling i remember '97-era of what hiphop sounded like--from the samples to the styles, now to the substance:

what the documentary resonates to me is two things: 1. culture and identity - we are informed of who we are by our cultural practice, this case--hiphop was our cultural avenue to explain realities of being filipino american; and

2. understanding critiques of hiphop culture - gender critique of pinay women being overlooked at as equal participants, and fil-am hiphop artist solidifying their stake and participation in this American artform

that being said, is Hiphop political?

i can see MDot's point, all this hiphop is not leading to political clout, a clear agenda, a campaign, measured social change, my push-back is social change for who? and who's base?

as a hiphop fan and activist, its easy to become frustrated at the social critiques that hiphop can have and the social action that follows

hiphop CAN be political just as much as hiphop CAN be fatalistic, objectifying women etc, but it CAN be consciousness raising, reflective and a source for action...but u cannot however organize or brand a whole Hiphop Movement bc its PRACTICE are done by too broad of a base, its the CEOs of record labels to the white suburban kids to black folk to immmigrant communities, to me it's like 60s revolutionary folk trying to co-opt John Lennon n Rock N ROll

i'm not arguing that the Hiphop Generation doesn't have its common issues, but we just run into too much a vague identity and constituency...

Granted, there's lot of national organizing work being done via Hiphop Caucus, and work to come to a clear agenda setting advocacy etc, but i think Hiphop power lies in local artists reflecting a community, and ultimately it is an avenue to voice/create a community's existing campaigns/issues (im sure there's lots of local examples)

on a transnational example, Blue Scholars, Kiwi, Bambu did the "Stop the Killings" tour hooking up with an organization, Bayan, that does advocacy in the Philippines---now did folk vote out US officials supporting the current Philippine administration?

probably not, but was it an avenue for existing activist, community members, unaware hiphop fans to discuss how US militarism affects our homeland n ways to get involved? sure.

we cannot downplay the importance of culture in organizing movements just like how Vietnamese folk learned about ways to get involved in helping Katrina families through their own ethnic newspapers and church-networks

so is Hiphop political? it can be the front-end of activism. but i think it should be our own local community leadership leading a political/social/economic agenda using Hiphop as a conversation, not the ends of a political action.

Leo said...

btw---my last comment is in no way trying to "multiculturalize" hiphop or erase the roots of the Black-experience/agenda. i see Hiphop as an avenue of an extension of the Black experience and solidarity of that struggle.

Peace & Justice.

Arnell Benitez said...

Yo... biggup for posting this video! I remember watchin this video courtesy of Wendell Pascual & Jerel Salviejo when the project was completed. Keep holdin it down and pushin forward! peace.