Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Tondo rappers keep it street

Hip hop in the Philippines has a diverse set of environments. You won't only find it in the plush nightclubs in Makati or on the Ortigas-based radio airwaves. You'll be surprised (or not) to find it thriving in the grimiest and most disavowed settings. The magic of hip hop culture globally is that it has given voice to the most marginalized as well as those with a little bit more capital.

Isn't that why we are drawn to it? Hip hop gives "texture" to the street, so that the hoods, slums, and ghettos "talk back" against the encroaching of privilege and power? Isn't this the "texture" we prioritize in hip hop?

As the video above shows, Tondo, an area with one of the most notorious slums in Metro Manila, is home to a rich rap culture.

It's not exactly the same, but it does recall a 1960s Bronx vibe.

(Thanks to Sharon for kickin this)


Friday, May 28, 2010

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Manila Ryce on Paper Cuts cover

Had a chance to catch up with Manila Ryce, the visual artist who designed the cover of Bambu's new EP, Paper Cuts. Manila gives us some insight on the inspiration of the cover and its meanings:

"The artwork for "...paper cuts..." utilizes the cover of a school textbook to visually explore the themes of cultural genocide and mental occupation present in the cd. To understand what the razor blade symbolizes it's important to understand what the book symbolizes. Independent thought is punished in our educational system throughout the development of a child. We are expected to obey, repeat, and follow orders. However, the owner of this textbook has actually cut into this manual of repression with a razor blade to reveal the free-thinkers and revolutionaries our educational system fails to mention. This tool, placed between Bambu's teeth, symbolizes the sharpened words of a rebel. Bambu is revealed as the true teacher in this scenario who has encouraged not just thoughts which challenge this symbol of the system, but a revolutionary action which has in fact destroyed it.

Bam works with people he trusts enough to give
artistic freedom to. I pitched him a few ideas and thumbnails to choose from, but other than that initial framework there was never much oversight. I decided on having historical figures share the cover with his mug and he supported it. Bam respects the artists he works with as creative individuals and not just as a means to an end. Because of that mutual respect, this cover really was a labor of love.

As for the choice of figures, Bam and I belong to a Filipino youth organization called
KmB (Pro-People Youth), which relates the struggle of the Philippines to that of FilAm youth. The stories of Gabriela, the Katipuneros, and Lapu-Lapu are often part of our educational workshops, so it seemed natural that they would also supply that connection for this album with Bam's largely Filipino base. Most of the other figures are people Bambu has mentioned previously in his songs, such as Malcolm, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Mao, Marx, and Zapata. Overall, I made a conscious decision to have a wide representation of people from varying cultures to emphasize that the struggle of the proletariat is the same around the globe, whether we're talking about Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, or even Watts. Even dating all the way back to Lapu-Lapu, the enemy remains the same. It's important to recognize that you are part of a strong tradition of resistance and that your struggle is shared globally."

Talk about critical pedagogy! That's why it's so important to buy the physical CD (used to be vinyl) because an MP3 can only say so much.

As for the actual music, its raw. Within 8 tracks, Bam smashes a thick recipe of themes ranging from the violence of gentrification to being old (he's not).

One verse stands out, from the first track "Paper Thin" (featuring the god Chace Infinite):

"Tell the story of our people that they failed to mention
in classroom setting these lessons that rarely stuck
but in detention the sessions with st. ides in my cup
in conversations about the hustle kept our kids engaged
not afraid of jail
we're supposed to have been passed away
and now we geeked that the president got skin like ours
so we stick up little stickers screaming 'hope' on cars
but police'll still barge into your spot fully armed
last week one of my homeboys got his head split apart
feels like the hood's still the same
while we scream about change
and the solution's build a franchise
move our people away?"

(thanks Bam)

Cop that EP if you haven't already. Learn more about the dope artwork of Manila Ryce and show your support for our talented cultural workers.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Hopie in yo trunk

Hopie Spitshard - Trunk (The Remixes) from Aris Jerome on Vimeo.

"Sunday Ciphers" will feature relevant videos for your enjoyment. Suggestions welcomed.

A beautifully done video by Aris Jerome. Hopie Spitshard's remix is harrrrd. You don't wanna be in the middle of a circle of these cats.

And that Spork restaurant in the Mission has good beer.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Hip Hop Showcase: Self-Revolution and a new generation continues...

Congrats go out to Kababayan at UC Irvine for another successful annual Hip Hop Showcase. Thank you for letting me be your opening act. I feel honored to be among the next generation of hip hop geniuses.

Bambu (and here) and Rocky Rivera performed masterfully, as always. But this time with their little one, Khalil, stealing moments of the limelight. Cop that Paper Cuts EP and Rocky Rivera album yall!

Tonight's show seemed to solidify for us here at Hip Hop Lives that hip hop is indeed living on. The next generation of Fil Ams is taking hip hop to a new level. And it looks promising. With extraordinary young acts like Ruby Ibarra, the funk frontier expands...

Don't sleep yall!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Filipinos and Puerto Ricans in the South

Did you know that that Filipinos and Puerto Ricans make up the largest non-black ethnic minority group in the city of Jacksonville, Florida (according to the 2000 Census)?

This is interesting for at least three reasons:

1) Filipinos make up an overwhelming majority of the Asian demographic, where Chinese are usually the dominant group (real or imagined) in major cities. Filipinos are 7 times the population of Chinese in J-Ville.

2) Puerto Ricans outnumber Cubans by almost 4 fold. Cubans (not Mexicans as in the California) are seen as the dominant "Hispanic" demographic in Florida. Here, Puerto Ricans make Jacksonville the destination of choice.

3) Even with their immersion and contribution in hip hop culture, Filipino Americans and Puerto Ricans rarely occupy the same geographic space: Fil Ams are more West Coast, Puerto Ricans are East Coast. In Jacksonville, these disparate groups come together: a true aberration. Chicago is probably another city where they live in the same city in (somewhat) high concentrations. What would happen if more Filipino Americans and Puerto Ricans lived together in the same space? What kind of Rock Steady Crew would that look like (Fil Ams have a notable presence in RSC in the West, and for sure, Puerto Ricans have dominated RSC in the East)?

Perhaps the Navy is the largest indicator of Filipino and Puerto Rican dominance in this city in the South. And yes, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans were/are pretty involved in hip hop in Jacksonville (probably Fil Ams more than PRs). And there are numerous incidences of Filipino and Puerto Rican romantic unions... I've had many friends who are biracial.

For some reason, this topic seems bigger than Dayanara Torres or Gary Valenciano...


Friday, May 14, 2010

Mark Pulido on Lyrical Empire and Phil X Fil Am connex

Mark Pulido and Jerome B. Smooth connect. Bridging Fil Ams and the Philippines.

At the premiere, I also had a chance to catch up with Mark Pulido, who has been down with the hip hop scene since the early 1980s as a popper and a DJ. Not as immersed in the hip hop scene anymore, Mark is currently in the political and policy scene, working hard for the Cerritos/Artesia community (Los Angeles County). In the early 1990s, he was central in advocating a Bambaataa-like (in my opinion) union of hip hop culture and gangs (during this time Filipino American gangs were becoming more notorious) in order to facilitate peace and promote cultural expression.

Here are some of his reflections on Lyrical Empire and the potential for greater Fil Am and Philippine concord:

Did the film Lyrical Empire change any of your impressions of the hip hop scene in the Philippines? What new things did you learn?

The film confirmed my view that Hip Hop is truly global in scope and that Filipinos in the Philippines, like Filipino Americans, are skilled, creative practitioners of the art, music and culture of Hip Hop. The film exceeded my expectations by the speed and dexterity demonstrated on the mic by the MCs who effortlessly went back and forth between English and Tagalog.

Why do you think it is important for Filipino Americans to know about the hip hop scene in the Philippines?

I believe Filipinos in America, in the Philippines, and around the globe are inextricably linked by common cultural values and a powerful heritage of struggle, resistance and survival. I think Filipinos in Hip Hop who realize and come to fully understand this just might open themselves up to a world of opportunity to explore the interconnectedness between their sisters and brothers around the world. I suspect this journey of discovery could yield phenomenal results - both artistically and politically.

Do you think it is important for Fil Ams and Filipinos in the Philippines to connect when it comes to creating hip hop music? How would this be possible?

I believe it is important for Filipinos to try to connect and create, regardless of their geography, sector, or industry. Personally, I'd love to see a "Filipino Hip Hop Summit" to bring together artists from the Philippines, across America and around the globe to showcase their talent and build a network. I think this may spark creative energies and facilitate collaborative projects that could grow a global audience. Ideally, a summit like this would go back-and-forth from the Philippines and the United States. At some point, I would love to bring it to Cerritos, California - hometown to countless Fil Am DJs, b-boys, and graffiti artists over the past 30 years.

What challenges are preventing Fil Ams and Filipinos from connecting?

I'm speculating, but I imagine many factors make it challenging to connect Fil Ams and Filipinos in Hip Hop, such as: distance and lack of finance; or perhaps even colonial mentality and self-hate. I hope it is more so the former, than the latter.

Any thoughts about the Filipino American hip hop scene, especially from your experience in Cerritos? How would this experience relate to the challenges/opportunities Filipinos face in the Philippines?

I have good memories of the early Fil Am mobile DJ crews who ruled the SoCal scene in the late 1970s/early 1980s (spinning Funk, R&B and Disco). They inspired Fil Am youth to embrace immediately Hip Hop culture as it hit the West Coast. Like back then, I suspect today's Fil Am DJs can help introduce Hip Hop artists from the Philippines to Fil Ams. They still have access to Fil Ams- less now in the garages, gyms and hotels; more so in the clubs, over the radiowaves and online.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Jerome Smooth on Lyrical Empire and Phil X Fil Am connex

Jerome B. Smooth and Ria enjoy fancy burrito at Tribal Cafe in Historic Filipinotown

Thanks for everyone who supported Lyrical Empire: Hip Hop in Metro Manila world premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival last Sunday! Ya'll showed love, and I want to show love back. I hope everyone enjoyed the series of amazing films.

The Lyrical Empire tour has just begun. San Diego, Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco...keep a look out...

I had a chance to interview Jerome B. Smooth, who appeared at the festival. Jerome is a DJ personality at Manila's Wave 89.1 and a producer for some of the Philippines' most important hip hop performers. Jerome had a chance to build with Mark Pulido, whose brain is a deep well of knowledge about Filipino American participation in hip hop since the 1970s. Hopefully the connection between Philippine hip hop performers and Fil Ams grows stronger. Let em have it Jerome!

1. What are your thoughts on Lyrical Empire?
The movie serves as an eye-opener as to the struggle of Filipinos involved in Hip Hop in the Philippines. A must see movie which can hopefully be followed up with more in-depth coverage of artists to show how positive Philippine Hip Hop can be.

2. Why do you think it is important for Filipino Americans to know about the hip hop scene in the Philippines?
Filipino Americans should know about the hip hop scene in the Philippines because it can still instill a sense of pride and enlightenment. Our music created by Filipino artists in the motherland is of international quality and it is time for us to be recognized for our skills and talent.

3. Do you think it is important for Fil Ams and Filipinos in the Philippines to connect when it comes to creating hip hop music? How would this be possible?
Connecting Fil Ams and Filipinos in the Philippines should be a priority in creating Hip Hop music as it would give more relevance and importance to both sides of the equation. For example, when a Filipino in the Philippines collaborates with a Fil-Am it gives that Filipino increased stature in the Philippines because of the global connection. When a Fil Am collaborates with a Filipino in the Philippines it helps the Fil Am connect to his or her roots on a deeper level. The easiest and most-cost effective way to do this would be through collaborations via the internet. Just the same as an LA artist might send an instrumental to a NY artist to create a rap verse and the NY artist sends it back, a Fil Am artist can send a beat to a Filipino rapper in the Philippines and then receive the file back to complete the track.

4. What challenges are preventing Fil Ams and Filipinos from connecting?
One challenge preventing this connection is access. Most Fil Am artists don't know of Filipino artists in the Philippines and vice versa. It's almost as if these two artists live in different worlds and the dialogue and knowledge of what the other is doing is relatively non-existent. Networking should take place so that Fil Ams and Filipinos in the Philippines can become aware of each other's work. Another challenge is that there is no face to face connection, which would be the best way to collaborate. Unfortunately, a Filipino in the Philippines may have difficulty in going to the States because of Visa and perhaps monetary issues. It may be more plausible for a Fil Am to go back to the motherland to initiate a collaboration because Visa problems are not really an issue and if Fil Ams can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to go to Europe, Hawaii, Vegas or other vacation destinations hopefully they can reconsider and choose to go the Philippines instead.