Wednesday, May 27, 2009

U.S. Supreme Colonial Justice: "Island Ironies" or "Reggaeton (un)Ruliness"

Dear Mr. Obama,

I swear I saw you dancing perreo to "Gasolina" during your inauguration ball, despite Daddy Yankee supporting McCain for president. Does that mean you support energy independence through off-shore drilling?

On another note, thank you for nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. We all hope she gets confirmed by the Senate, even while we all know Republicans will try to do everything to block her confirmation--from criticizing her judicial opinions regarding the sanctity of life to scrutinizing her American citizenship.

Wait, what is that? Judge Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent? Does that mean she is assumed U.S. citizenship, even though she is subsumed under the homogeneous legion of Latin hoards crossing the boarders to invade America?

Nice one, B-HO, a Brown woman who is quintessentially Americana. What is that? Critics are still going to scrutinize her because she is Latina, and not "one of us"? But hasn't Puerto Rico (along with the Philippines) been a part of the United States longer than Hawai'i, your own home state, and Alaska, the home state of America's beauty queen Sarah Palin? So what is it! Is Judge Sotomayor going to be accepted as a loyal American, or not?! Is she "Sonia from the block" or "Sonia extranjera"?

The Hispanic causing panic is a default U.S. citizen due to Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. colony. This can't get any more interesting. Cruz Bustamante must be squirming with angst and Lou Dobbs must be scratching his nasty little head.

You must have been spending your free time watching re-runs of America's Best Dance Crew, especially watching these guys:

I know the G.O.P. moniker makes you flinch, but these San Juan, Puerto Rico bad boys really made an impression for ABDC fans, especially since they battled foos from Alabama, Brooklyn, and other unmistakably "American" locales. When you finished watching this episode, did you immediately whisper, "Sotomayor..." and the rest is Supreme Court history? Will the public vote her as America's Best Justice?

Your nomination reminds me of a book I am reading called Reggaeton. El hip hop has made a lasting impression globally, as you know, and this book gives a glimpse into its form, pleasures, racial/gender politics, and multiple/contested origins. Hate it or love it, reggaeton, I am reading, is going global and experiencing the same backlash as hip hop because of racial, sexual, and class issues. But one thing is distinct with reggaeton: it uses Spanish.

Now we haven't heard Judge Sotomayor bust out in Boricua vernacular, but I know que l@s herman@s de la isla are just waiting for her to curse uno gringo out in Spanish. Are you waiting for that too, B-HO?

So maybe we are getting closer not to the reality of "energy independence," but independence from a hegemonic, homogenizing discourse that constantly defines who is "American" (read: White) and the language an American speaks (read: English-only). Puerto Rican people are usually quite Brown and often Black, and, like Reggaeton, usually signify in Spanish. Your Sotomayor nomination (along with Ricky Martin...SIKE!) could be part of a series of changes to the U.S. public imaginary on debates surrounding citizenship and membership. Maybe the U.S. can one day be a nation that recognizes its coerced colonial acquisitions, whether from the Caribbean, Pacific, or continent?

Or maybe not. And isn't that the Great American Irony?


Brown, Colonized, and Signifying



"Sotomayor: Champion of the Oppressed, Outcasts, and Nerds" from

"...The observations were not strictly autobiographical and they sometimes reflect her worldview. In a 2002 speech titled "A Latina Judge's Voice," she argued that "America has a deeply confused image of itself that is in perpetual tension."

"We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity," she said, "recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence. Yet, we simultaneously insist that we can and must function and live in a race and color-blind way that ignore these very differences that in other contexts we laud..."" CONTINUE READING


Even more interesting:

(blend the foreign threat narratives!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: "Rap's Manny Pac": Son of Ran hits you with an Incoming Message

I called it: At the rate he's moving, Son of Ran will be a formidable power player in the big world of independent the hip hop. With the mighty Messengers, Son of Ran scores a huge win with his latest album Incoming Message. The album--reflective of Ran's lyrics--is spacey and psychedelic, but clever and sharp. The way Ran delivers his rhymes is really incomparable. Ghostface? Maybe. It doesn't really matter, because he is bravely carving a fresh new imagery and sound that serves as an asset to the quality of his flow. This isn't your typical rap, this is straight up lyricism.

Son of Ran photo for PNOY apparel

The San Diego to East Bay migrant lays some serious tracks down in this sequel to his first album: the funky, raw, and biographical (and free via download) Tribute to Sky City (2006). Incoming Message takes Ran's knack for vividness to the next level. With lyrics like "caterpillars cocoon and moon gutters" on top of a godzilla-like sample track, man, can't get any more weirder than that. But that's why its powerfully poetic.

The "Intro" track to the album tells Ran's quick bio and narrates some pretty inspirational themes. Check it:

"Son of Ran,
Born in the year of the gorilla
Is a world-renowned MC
And one of the brightest stars on the horizon.
Notorious for a phenomenal display of style
And perhaps one of the sharpest
Pin-point deliveries the game has ever seen to this day.

See, over the years
He has developed a fine-tuned balance
Of street science, intelligent soul, and spiritual and socio progression
In his approach to hip hop music.
And while the mass of MC artists proceed to swim
With the current trends of radio rap,
He has always exhibited the highest form of discipline
By staying true to himself.
Oftentimes referring to God, family, common life experiences
And his own personal reflection.
He aims to place emphasis on pure skill and creativity.

Despite his increasing popularity
Forever healthy buzz in indie hip hop,
Son of Ran has somehow remained purely undetected by
Mainstream radars.
In 2006, we witnessed the flashflood release of the Sky City classic,
An album that would elevate Son of Ran
To the upper ranks of his bracket.

Thus, a legend was born
And subsequentially, the universe would switch up to righteous
And the galaxy would never be the same.
In the beginning of two-double-O-seven,
Ran shook away from the music scene to return to his passion of teaching,
And most importantly, he met his soul mate
And immediately made plans to marry the love of his life,
His future wife.

Still, feeling as if his music mission was incomplete,
Son of Ran would scour the landscape
And redesign his whole mode of operation,
This time searching for new producers,
And more specifically, a challenge to himself
To become the illest on the bricks.
Now, combined with the genius mastery of the
Mighty Messengers crew, Treeson, Pablito,
Along with Strongwill, and DJ Virus,
We are pleased to introduce to the world
The very first wax that a match cannot burn.
The next street classic:
The Incoming Message."

Also, VIMBY interviewed Son of Ran in Pasadena at the Terrace. Good stuff, peep it (with Bambu cameo):

Finally, here is the music video for one of my favorite songs on Incoming Message, "Street Runners". Peep the cameo of Kevo from the Main Ingredients at 2:04, with the Jacksonville Main Street bridge in the background. Kinda funny.

Don't get the message twisted, Incoming Message is a must have in your collection. Show love.

Friday, May 15, 2009

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: What CeeJay say about East Coast hip hop

School's in: CeeJay teaches you lessons (Photo Credit: Skilled Concepts)

Back in March, I wrote about the group Deep Foundation and their music video "Children of the Son: Remix." As many of you know, the New York/New Jersey crew is making noise, and with their new album, "The First Draft," they are looking to build a national following. Go support and order the album! It is Hip Hop Lives approved! Like CeeJay says below, it delivers dope rhymes, quality beats... it's official.

For now, come kick it with CeeJay from DF as he gives us a glimpse of the East Coast hip hop world, raps about "The First Draft," and reminds us why pinakbet is delicious.

Yo CJ! Where you from?
I lived in New York (Yonkers and the Bronx) until I was about 8, but I've lived in New Jersey since then. My hometown is a suburban town in Central New Jersey called Old Bridge. It's a 45 minute bus ride from Manhattan. Like I hope most people do, I love my hometown. In the late 80s and early 90s, I kind of felt out of place. It was nowhere nearly as diverse as the places I lived in NY. Around the early to mid 90s, I started seeing more people of color. It's probably like a lot of other suburban towns around America. Houses, lawns, some with backyards, some without, a couple strip malls. We played a lot of basketball growing up. A lot of my friends were into hip-hop. We had a few heads into DJing and breakdancing.

What are the origins of Deep Foundation? How did you get involved?
Deep Foundation started as a group of friends who shared the common love for hip hop. In the late 90s, we were spread throughout the New York metropolitan area, but all immersed in hip-hop culture individually. In New Jersey, Proseed and Verbaltek attended the same high school and both experimented with writing rhymes. They eventually started writing and recording songs together. They met WordsArize who lived in a neighboring town through mutual friends, discovered he was writing as well, and later added him to the mix. Around the same time, Proseed met ILL Poetik from Queens who shared the same interest in rhyming, especially freestyling, and his brother Sawnd G during a family trip. Their mothers actually went to the same college in the Philippines.

I was also a huge fan of the music and the culture, had been DJing for a few years, and recently discovered freestyling. I knew Verbaltek, Proseed and WordsArize through friends and we would all talk about hip-hop whenever we saw each other at parties. In the fall of 2000, someone brought up the idea to me about performing at an upcoming show at my school, so I invited the guys to take the stage with me. It was at the rehearsals and meetings preparing for the performance where we all got closer (pause) and started to look forward to doing more shows together. Soon after, we invited ILL Poetik to join us for the next performance.

In the summer of 2001, the New York and New Jersey contingents ended up attending the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in New York City. To no surprise, we all decided to freestyle. A few guys taking turns freestyling turned into a full-fledged cipher with the Deep Foundation emcees, ILL Poetik and his friend Mugshot who was also from Queens. One by one, a crowd formed to watch us exchange verses until, eventually, NYPD felt it was necessary to disperse the crowd (WACK!). Mutual respect was gained and ILL Poetik and Mugshot officially joined the group soon after. In the fall, we had our first performance together with all the current members at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

How did you first get involved with DJing and emceeing?
I got into DJing during my freshman year of high school. In middle school, I had gone to parties where I could actually see a DJ mixing records. I thought blending two records was really cool. I actually saw a few DJs scratch and was like "this is how they do the scratching I hear on the radio?" Shout out to Chris Tamayo who was one of the first DJs I saw spin live as a kid. A good amount of people were into DJing in my hometown. I would see them spin at parties and it just looked like a lot of fun. Shout out to John Vito, Kid Fury and DJ Ollie. After seeing them, I appreciated the art of DJing more. I would listen to Funkmaster Flex on the radio and be amazed. Freshman year, it was like everyone was into DJing. I guess it's similar to how it is with hip-hop dance and dance crews now. Back then, everyone wanted to be a DJ. We used to watch those DMC battle videos. My two best friends and I decided one day that we wanted to take DJing up as a hobby, so we all saved our money for months and bought equipment. We would just chill for hours practicing.

As for emceeing, one day, we were chilling for my boy Jaydee's birthday at his house and we had the equipment on, taking turns spinning. Our boy Mike Intellect, who is now Deep Foundation's official DJ, was there and he suggested that we freestyle. We didn't know what he meant. He told us, you just had to rap, but you had to make up the words on the spot. I had never tried to rap before that. So he went first, Jay gave it a try. Then, I tried. It was cool. I actually came up with a decent line. It was kind of fun. The guys thought I was decent and encouraged me to keep at it. In the months that followed, we'd try it more when we were hanging out. I got a little better at it and ended up freestyling a lot with a few friends. I was pretty much addicted and it became my main hobby while DJing kind of faded away for me. I eventually started trying to write. My first experience with recording was actually my voicemail greeting haha. Remember those free voicemails around 2000?

What are some of the differences you see with hip hop (with Filipinos and in general) on the East Coast with that of the West Coast?
In terms of hip-hop, I would say both coasts are pretty comparable because they're so diverse within themselves. On both sides, you have battle emcees, mainstream... political... underground... street... religious? Each region has its own flavor, but you can even have people doing different styles or subgenres within one city. But if I had to point out specific differences, the obvious ones would have to be accents and lingo. Just thinking of examples, the Bay has hyphy which we don't have over here. On the other hand, we have groups like CNN and MOP over here whose style I'm not sure you can find out west. Oh, and another thing. When you're in NYC, you see cats in the street trying to sell you their CDs, a lot of them basically harassing you. During my short visits to the west (The Bay, LA, SD), I didn't see that. Thank God! I mean, hustling to get your music out there is one thing, but straight up harassing people is another.

As far as East Coast versus West Coast Filipinos, it's tough to speak on a whole coast. The first thing is numbers. On a daily basis pretty much anywhere in NJ or NY, you're bound to see a few Filipinos every day. In the areas with higher concentrations of Filipinos like Jersey City and Woodside, of course you'll see more. But out west, it just seems like they're everywhere...or WE're everywhere I should say. Speaking on the actual people, in the NY/NJ area, people are kinda more reserved about showing love at a show for example, especially to acts that are new to them. The first time DF went out to Cali to perform, I remember getting mad love (or should I say hella?) from folks we've never met and who probably have never heard our music. Shout out to Maganda @ UC Berkeley!

Describe the process of making your new album, "The First Draft."
It started with the search for beats. We were talking to almost everyone we knew who produced, and for a while, we struggled to find tracks that fit our style. It's not that the tracks weren't good, (well, some of them actually weren't haha.) It's that a lot of the beats just didn't go with our sound. To be honest, it got pretty frustrating. Luckily, our boy Hydroponikz put us onto a friend of his, Jay Chen aka Smooth Criminal. We checked out his beats and copped our first batch from him. We continued looking for beats and didn't get too far. Again, Hydro came through for us and linked us up with another friend of his, Incise from Toronto. Incise ended up making most of the beats for "The First Draft". At the time, Hydroponikz was really getting into the zone in terms of his production, so we were fortunate enough to have beats from him on the album too. We have two tracks produced by Illmind as well. We met him back around 2001 and have been cool ever since. We hadn't worked together until this project, so it was awesome that we could finally collaborate. He's really one of the top producers in the game right now, so it's an honor to have him on our album.

Back to the process... As we got beats, we took time to listen to them individually. Then, when we saw each other or through email would trade ideas about how we would approach the song. Guys would also just start writing and present what they came up with to the group for feedback. If we agreed one of the guys came up with a cool concept, we'd run with it and write with that theme in mind. We'd send out our verses to the group for feedback or try them out live. We'd give each other constructive criticism on the verses or suggestions for changing or improving the verse. Once we were done writing, we'd record at ILL Poetik's home studio. We sent everything to DJ Phillee Blunt for mixing, we'd review the mixes and go back and forth with Phil until they had the sound we were looking for. Shout out to DJ Phillee Blunt, not only an ill DJ, but a dope engineer. Our album wouldn't be what it is without the quality mixing and mastering he did. I could go into detail about how each song was born, but that's pretty much what the process was for "The First Draft".

What do you want people to take away after listening to "The First Draft"?
I want people to take away that it's a dope hip-hop album. Quality beats. Dope rhymes. Here's a crew that took their time to craft the best album they could. Not just throw something together, rushing to get it done. We took the time to carefully choose the best beats, pick songs that would mesh well when put together as an album, come up with a concept, and produce creative album art that reflects the theme of the CD and represents the work we put into it. Shout out to Choz Belen for doing the album art. We put a lot into this whole process. I hope people take the time to check it out. If you like it, please cop it! Every sale counts and enables us to keep doing what we do. You can order the physical CD at our MySpace,, or on CD Baby. You can also purchase the mp3s on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and CD Baby.

What's the best Filipino meal you've ever had?
I love Filipino food. I have a long list of favorites. I love pinakbet. Might it be cuz I'm Ilocano? I can't think of the best Filipino meal I've ever had, but if I could describe one, it might go something like this. I'll start with some Lumpiang Shanghai dipped in the ill vinegar with the hot peppers in it. Then, I'd have some really crunchy lechon kawali with Mang Tomas sauce of course. I just got into Bicol Express recently, so definitely some of that. I'll take some pinakbet for the veggies. And I would be in Boracay, so I could get a cold fresh mango shake right after. There are so many awesome Filipino dishes out there that this scenario could play out another way, but I'd be the happiest man on earth with this meal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Kuttin Kandi picks up the mic and drops the science

Kandi and the Heart (Photo credits: Ernie Pena)

DJ Kuttin Kandi of the mighty 5th Platoon Crew and the Anomolies dropped science Friday as she performed with her new band The Heart at Kababayan's "Hip Hop Showcase."

As a champion turntablist (1998 NY Source DJ winner, placed in 1998 DMC solo Finals), activist (founder of R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop, which famously battled against HOT 97 in their post-tsunami fascism, president-elect of the women's movement organization GABNet, etc.), and educator (teacher in NY and student events coordinator in San Diego), the Queens, NY native serves as a model for young Filipinos who are passionate about social justice, art, and education. Her resume is too long to list here, but BakitWhy provides a good summary of her achievements and creativity, complete with a video interview: BakitWhy- Artist Spotlight: DJ Kuttin Kandi.

When you think Kandi's goals were nearing a peak, she just keeps pushing the limit higher and higher. With her band The Heart, Kandi is adding lyricism and live band music to her repertoire. With her bold New York vernacular wedded together with a warm (if not hot) appeal for social justice, she'll make you pay close attention and decolonize your mind at the same time.

"I'm callin out all you wack, crass emcees!" (Photo credit: Ernie Pena)

Here are two poems, the first is entitled "A Love More Than Just Hip Hop," which she recited at the Kababayan Conference in February of this year. It gets at the soul of one of her main messages as a poet and educator: what we do is bigger than hip hop. The second poem, "The MisEducated," is a personal biography of Kandi and her constant retransformation, complete with references of Philippine history, Desperate Housewives, and A Tribe Called Quest!

By DJ Kuttin Kandi

i do this
for the love of Hip-Hop
i do this whether
i make it or flop
i do this so i can one day
open a record shop
i do this to afford a new pair
of addidas shell-tops

knod my head
to a funky be-bop
hands in the air


can’t ever make me stop
playin a good beat drop
can’t break me up
cause i can’t seem to get enough
of a love more than just hip-hop...

By Kuttin Kandi

...gained my own Ph.D
through the 4 elements

of Hip Hop

through Hip Hop

Saul Williams
Public Enemy
Queen Latifah
Lauryn Hill
Dead Prez
soothed me
loved me
and saved me…..

and now it’s funny….

i’ll run into
some academic
at some panel discussion

usually a male white

who wants to belittle me
with their academic language

but what they don’t realize

even though
it might take me longer
I can speak
your language too

i can make it
just as
make it
Special shout out to Jaela, my partner in poetry inspiration and 2004 "slam" collaborator. You can order her poetry chapbook here. She writes about Kandi's lyrics above in a new blog entry:

"i think it’s expected that a poet, in general, an artist, have a piece that explains their story, their name, their history..." CONTINUE READING...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rappin' with 10,000 memories in our hearts

Al Robles droppin knowledge

A beloved steward of truth, justice, and art died yesterday. Al Robles, the Filipino activist and poet, will be missed by all. The announcement came to a scattering of audience members last night by text message while they watched the Los Angeles premiere of Curtis Choy's new film about Robles entitled Manilatown is in the Heart. (View trailer here) In a tragic and kind of awkwardly-timed manner, the moderators and the filmmaker had to announce the sad news to the audience before the question and answer, right after they screened Choy's homage to the poet; a tear-laden moment of silence was dedicated to him.

I chatted with Mr. Robles about three years ago in front of the I-Hotel in San Francisco. I wasn't too familiar with him at the time, only that he wrote his colorful book of poetry entitled "Rappin' with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark" and he was a brilliant community and arts organizer most notably during the Asian American movement, which came to force during the early 1970s. As the buses went by in front of us, he came up to me and started talking--about the rough yet vibrant life of Filipino farmworkers who resided on Kearney Street, where the I-Hotel is located. He is a child of jazz music, but Al also speaks like jazz is played--free, rule-breaking, and spirited. Al is a genuine representative of Filipino creativity and passion.

I am not one to speak about Mr. Robles because I did not know him and am still learning more about him and the people/community around him.

Please read more about him here:

From Hyphen Magazine:
"I just got the news via email. Manong Al died today. I didn't even know he was sick..." CONTINUE READING (see comments)

From Poor Magazine (written by his nephew, the author Tony Robles):
"But there was love and beauty in the struggle. His poems talk about the taxi hall dances, where Filipinos paid their meager earnings to dance with a blondie, a dance that would end as quickly as it began..." CONTINUE READING (great stuff)

From Prometheus Brown:
"News that Manong Al had passed away reached me last night as we sat in anticipation for the Pacquiao/Hatton fight to begin. Suddenly, I had realized that, in all my trips to San Francisco, even performing once at Kearny Street Workshop where he was a resident poet, I never got a chance to meet Manong Al, which made the subsequent celebration bittersweet. But as I looked around a room full of cheering Filipinos, I thought of his poetry in his book Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabao in the Dark, where he described nights of kickin it, drinkin, celebrating with the Manongs..." CONTINUE READING

From Bambu Rants:
"on the morning of may 2nd, i spent my first waking hours doing the usual morning routine -- brushing my teeth, preparing my clothes for the day and reciting the lyrics... " robles to the i-hotel, i don't budge..." that line was on repeat for no reason that entire morning..." CONTINUE READING

From Beyondasiaphilia:
"...Last year I took one of my classes to the MHF and there was Al, big as life, chatting with the art gallery staff. I immediately recognized his bushy ponytail and beard, but it was his distinctive voice that confirmed to me his identity. My students and I were a bit starstruck..." CONTINUE READING