Friday, July 31, 2009

Heart for a Movement: R.I.P. Corazon Aquino

Corazon Aquino, January 25, 1933 – August 1, 2009

References: "Aquino restored press freedom" "Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino (1933-2009) Has Died" "What a great gift we've lost"

While I was in the Philippines this July, I read in the newspapers that former Philippine president Corazon Aquino was in the hospital for colon cancer. That was a pretty big deal, a big enough deal to be side-by-side with news about current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's breast implants (it's true!).

On Saturday early morning, Philippines-time, Cory Aquino passed away. In terms of Philippine and Filipino American history, Aquino's passing marks a significant period, especially since a whole generation of Filipinos and Fil Ams are now in their 20s, born after the historic People Power Revolution in 1986 in which Aquino, through the massive and peaceful protests of the Filipino people, became president of the Philippines after over a decade of U.S.-funded Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos.

A comment made by my homey Boogaleo resonated with me. Mentioning a very young generation who don't remember People Power or even Boyz II Men (facetious, but true), he raised questions about the identification this generation has with someone like Corazon Aquino. I think this deals with questions I ask in a prior post, "The Rhythm and the Rebels: Rap's Changing Political Engagement over the Generations." Basically, in the post, I ask questions about the political commitments of the hip hop generation of the 2000s, where in the 1980s the Vietnam War was still a lingering topic, and in the 1990s, the LA Riots was significant for a whole generation.

I ask here: Aquino still significant for those who are 23 and under? For those who keep up with Philippine history and understand the magnitude of particular events, we can answer a definitive "yes." But what about those who did not live through that time, and perhaps those whose parents did not live through the mid 1980s (yes, the 80s and 90s generation are now parents!)? Does Aquino form a narrative in their political consciousness?

Let me take stab at addressing those questions. This moment is probably most relevant cross-generationally because many of our parents and grandparents migrated to the U.S. because of the unrest occurring in the Philippines under the Marcos regime during the 1970s and 80s. Therefore, our very identities as Fil Ams--especially our migration patterns--is shaped by the happenings in the archipelago even before a time we can remember. Cory's death therefore marks the emergence of a new generation of political identification, but again, this assertion simply raises questions of "what?" and "who?" of this younger generation.

Globally, the "what" and "who" of today is not hard to find when we examine the recent rallies in Iran, where popular street protests, repressive state violence, and accusations of voter fraud are reflective of the Philippines circa 1983-1986. What can Iranians learn from People Power in the Philippines? One thing is for sure, that is the need to pursue a strategy which takes into consideration a structural (meaning economic and infrastructural) reworking where existing relations of power are modified so as to increase a more democratic and popular engagement with national decision-making and wealth allocation. Hella Marxist-sounding, I know, but what has changed post-People Power? Sure, many things, but also many things are the same.

At least step one in People Power was achieved, which delegitimized the ruling imperialist regime. Now for Iran, the step of overthrowing the ruling president is not yet achieved, and that is a model perhaps People Power can provide. But, given the very different relations with colonialism and electorally democratic-engagement, maybe not... In both cases, however, a productive broad civic culture of progressive democratice action is being cultivated, where people can get informed and become critical about the status quo, and organize themselves.

Cultural warriors. Working a labor of love. That's heart.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

100 posts and runnin: Top/favorite topics?

Whether you pronounce it Hip Hop "Livz," Hip Hop "L-eye-vz," or simply FilAm Funk, I am happy to present the 100th Hip Hop Lives post! It's been nearly two years, and we've really made it this far?? From a silly little idea to post up pictures from concerts, to an article-type medium which college students critically analyze (shout to Prof. Cheryl Hitosis in Chicago!) and a cultural learning tool that travels around the world to fellow Filipino artists, this humble little blog has expanded bigger than I ever imagined.

Where will it go next?

I often meet readers who approach me at conferences and community events and give me daps for the blog. I'm always surprised to find out who reads it. I have nothing but love for yall.

For new folks who just started reading, here are the top 5 topics, based on those receiving the most comments:

5. ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: A Tribe in the East with DJ Mike Rizzy
4. Fil Am Famous: Is dance how we'll "get noticed"?
3. Asian Pride on MTV! But, Where Did the Filipino Go? (with more accurate and up-to-date info thanks to commenters)
2. Stuff Fil Am People Like
1. Fil Am "Invasion"?

Finally, out of curiosity and to gather the pulse of YOU ALL--the readers who give life to Hip Hop Lives--please click on one topic in the survey below:
What topic interests you most on Hip Hop Lives?
Artist, Scholar Spotlights
Race, Identity, Language
East, South vs West Coast
Dance crew stuff
Notable events, moments free polls

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Artists breaking boundaries "Beyond, Beyond"

Beyond, Beyond written & directed by Dominic Nuesa

As many of you know, this post is the latest installment on a series of entries exploring the hip hop scene in Metro Manila. I've been attempting to paint a picture of the loyalty, dedication, and quality that these artists are putting into hip hop, especially for Fil Ams who are more familiar with U.S.-based hip hop and are not fluent in any Filipino language.

And, oh boy, the homeys at southern Metro Manila-based Turbulence Productions really outdone themselves now. When I thought I absorbed all the energy these artists are constantly projecting, they go "Beyond, Beyond" all expectations.

For any artist trying to make a legit hustle out of your craft, you know how frustrating it is to balance your love of the art and the business of maintaining success. The poem/video above, "Beyond, Beyond" written and directed by Dominic Nuesa is an inspiring ode to the "noble struggle" of trying to ascend as a hip hop performer in the Philippines, and the beauty, heart, and love pumped into the soul of the movement. In a nation that doesn't understand and appreciate hip hop as much as the States or many other nations, that marginalization in the Philippines feeds these Filipino artists' creativity, as Turbulence founder and producer B-Roc notes. As you will find out, the output is always a quality product that won't disappoint.

Perhaps veteran performers will testify to the complacency produced by a certain amount of success, and the inspiration otherwise felt from pure hunger and determination.

What also is apparent in "Beyond, Beyond" is intergenerational interweaving between the more "seasoned" heads and the younger generation of hip hop performers. Don't get it twisted, hip hop is not new in the Philippines. Francis M, Andrew E, Mastaplann, Sly Kane, Mista Blaze, Sun Valley Crew, Dash, the list goes on...many of these rappers have been in the game since the 1980s. Ill J, who started making music in the early 1990s with the Sun Valley Crew, makes a cameo in "Beyond, Beyond" (emerging from the soundbooth at the "Chop Shop" to the applause of his wife and boy) and illustrates the critical intergenerational dialogue that molds the independent hip hop community in the Philippines.

In closing, peep the words of Chrizo, respected producer of Turbulence, who describes to B-Roc in SoulFiesta the significance of the poem "Beyond, Beyond":

"What struck me the most about the piece is that you can literally close your eyes and grasp what resides in the souls of hiphop enthusiasts and patrons just by listening to the words. The metaphors, and well placed analogies will show the world that what we are doing in this business is noble and well worth the every day fight. This piece should inspire the fighting spirit in you each time you hear it or each time you falter and remind you to truly reach beyond your wildest day dreams." Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


B-Roc formulating science in his lab

B-Roc, "Booked Me a Flight"

We're grateful and fortunate to build with B-Roc of Metro Manila's Turbulence Productions. Although he is humble about his leadership role in the Metro Manila independent hip hop scene, B-Roc is a major figure and a key player in the rise of hip hop in the Philippines and Asia. He's not only a monster beatmaker who is proud to exploit a bass-heavy thump, nor is he merely a gifted and passionate rapper... as a visionary for Turbulence and organizer for major hip hop events (like the infamous The Community gathering), B-Roc is shot-caller in this game.

The Community flyer for '08

During my trip to Metro Manila a few weeks back, I did not have a chance to meet with B-Roc, but met and interviewed many of his crew. What I have learned from these kasamas is that hip hop artists in the Philippines have a deep, almost obsessive hunger to perfect and progress their craft. This is not your corny OPM (Original Pinoy Music) cover songs we may be familiar with made for commercial pleasure--safe, candy-sweet, and friendly for the Wowowee-consuming crowd. This is that boom-bap hip hop shit. It took a few weeks to find them, but as I met these brothas and sistas, I understood that the love for hip hop in the Philippines is strong, and B-Roc is one figure putting in mad work to progress the culture and sound.

You can catch an earlier (and a whole lot meatier) interview with B-Roc on the SoulSonic blog here.
And now, words from B-Roc hisself:

I am a producer, and the founder of Turbulence Productions. I was born and raised in the Philippines with my roots in Ilocos Norte. I basically handle the affairs of the label. I manage the direction of the label with the help of my team. I've been around man, traveled around for the music, toured Taiwan with international acts and welcomed international acts into the Philippines as well. I am an entrepreneur, a visionary, a pillar of the To The Billboard movement and Philippine hiphop.

To The Billboard is more than literally making it to a billboard. You know how in the Phils people equate being successful to being on a billboard, and its a symbolism of courage amidst all the detractors you have. Like at any point, all your haters will pass by EDSA (a major highway in Metro Manila) and if you do have a billboard there, it would seem they looking up to you and you looking at them. It’s a symbol of hope for anyone and everyone. It’s a movie, a book, and a movement. It’s amazing how people from around the world submit songs about To The Billboard and shout it out for themselves as well.

The independent hiphop scene in the Philippines is really fun, although at this point after doing it for quite sometime and having the success that we've had with it achievement-wise, we feel as though we need a bigger playground. The scene is very hot in talent -- hiphop as a music genre in the Philippines has been oppressed so much the past few years, which of course results to sheer creativeness on our end. I am a firm believer that oppression makes us all the more creative and substance-oriented. Like Rizal's best books was written at a time when his freedom was suppressed.

The independent scene’s major challenge now is relevance. With the technology now, making it easy for us to make music, record songs, the challenge now is keeping yourself relevant to actually make those songs mean anything to your listeners. Technology makes us not have an excuse for wack music. Technology helps us promote ourselves. Internet networking sites -- these are all pluses if we know how to secure our relevance first. Technology makes people think what we do is easy, people buy they little machines and post pictures of them and their equipment and say they are independent. I've said this more than a couple of times, independent for me, means being cutting edge in everything you do -- you're album design, the music, the marketing approach, the execution, the videos and STILL BE RELEVANT.

B-Roc rockin a concert in Taiwan

The people are what makes the music worth it. We are out here to out-do each other, and this is the form of celebration me and my team want. Lets compete to “up” the quality of this scene, lets be about our best songs and albums. This is how we want to preserve the culture, hiphop as means of excelling through anything (record label drought, financial downturns, not enough funding to fuel projects) -- we want to preserve the culture of “beating the odds” too. The scene is very much alive to the point that even rock heads show respect to our own musicality.
So the independent scene really is an exciting scene right now, we see more than artists rise to the occasion. We see entrepreneurs and promoters come to mold the club scene -- some older people just have a hard time embracing the newness of hiphop.

I got involved with the scene after working my ass off. I was meddling with beats the year when recording was jumping from analog to digital. I had a clear grasp of doing things independently and didn’t want to be an artist waiting to get his shot on a list or trying to be put on by a major act. I was learning the ropes from Madd World production, hyping for Dcoy for a couple of shows and just learning and absorbing as much as I can. All this, while still messing with rhymes with my former group, Crecon (Creative Consciousness) -- then we built Turbulence and embarked on the journey, to carry the tradition that Bomb Azz and Ill Def left me—being independent.

As a kid of the future then, I did link up with some artist online -- there was a forum for lyricists called Urban Pinoy, which is a highly creative bunch of emcees who would critique everyone’s work, including point of corrections and question/show the science behind the rhymes. This site allowed me to meet Nimbusnine, Pornstar, PHD, Haven, Trip tha Light and more Pinoy emcees that will remain unheard of but will live through my music. Some of them, I met as sheer raw talented hiphop heads and through the years developed to be some of the best the Philippines has seen. I am a firm believer of artist development. It’s a lost art, some people think all they need is good rhymes. I believe they need to be developed as a person as well. Some artists like Traumatik I hunted down, all the rest really is family.

There have been several conversations happening between artists in the Philippines and Filipino artists in the States. On my end alone I was able to capitalize this internet thing early on -- I sent so many beats to people who are on the same wave length as me. Reaching out, either way, whether its me or Fil Am artists is always a good thing. I'm surprised that some cats from the States even think I'm big back home, when really I struggle just like them. I enjoy conversations with our brothers abroad cuz we all speak of the same struggle, we just act on it differently -- we always extend a helping hand to anyone who needs it. I think with the emergence of Nimbus9 three years back, it kinda showed some cats that hey we are legit with our English and yeah we can flip it back to Filipino too without having a sour taste on your tongue.
B-Roc and Chrizo feature in July issue of Gadgets Magazine

A lot of people juggle between English and Tagalog. Language is a medium of this craft. As I told you, I am a fan of artist development so Tagalog, as much as it comes naturally, we all need to study it too. Not via textbook but by continually using it and respecting its roots. Every one got they own twang and enunciation styles but really "if it comes from your heart then it can never be wack," word to Mike Swift. Luzon uses Ilocano in his songs -- the Philippines is a multi dialect country, and hiphop is about a message -- so whatever language you are comfortable with, use it -- and don't sacrifice the message just so you can spit in English. Be about the substance not just about the aesthetic.

The obvious influence in my beat production style are Just Blaze, Kanye, Primo, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Buckwild. I go for the drums. Whether it be an 808 bass heavy kick or something else. Andre Harris of Dre & Vidal once sat me and Chrizo down and told us that for him, the drums gotta be banging as it is the backbone of the groove. Locally Protege moves me, Juss Rye, Jedli, Mic and Skarm of AMPON -- they are a mean batch of producers.

I hope the independent scene could finally become a haven for business and art -- I could only play my role and hope that everyone else gets just as lucky. But as I told you, everyone here who think they can rap are suddenly artists, we are losing fans and this is what makes it suck. And when somebody breaks through there will be more kids who think they can do just that without putting in work and paying they dues. I hope to see the hard workers get a fair share of what the indie scene can offer and I want to see corporations investing in the scene and take the middle man (the labels) out and deal with us directly.

Back 2 the New School was a project we did for 2 weeks just to test our clock work whether we were getting rusty or not. We had cats even from Singapore rocking a Chrizo beat. What we try to do on every release is discover a new act that could potentially break through within the next few years. In this project we came across Kimmie, who has the makings of what could be the resurgence of Pinay homegrown talent in hiphop. The team just wrapped up Marquiss' GRAE (Greatest Rap Album Ever) which is a masterpiece. We are wrapping up recording AMP's GOLD BARZ. We will be working on Nimbus9's debut CD this year, and SILVERBACKS, which will be out as well.
You can catch B-Roc on his blog, SoulFiesta. And be sure to peep Turbulence's new spoken word poetry video, "Beyond Beyond".


Monday, July 6, 2009

Live and Direct from Manila: Part IV: Mestizaje Talaga!

"Fusion" banner for the "Looking for Juan Outdoor Banner Project" that addresses the complexity of Filipino identity displayed across the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

"Shoes ko po!" a playful corruption of "Dyos ko po," or "my God!" This sign succinctly illustrates the English, Spanish, and Filipino remixing in everyday Philippine language. (Dr. Seuss Maryosep!)

Throughout the Philippines
, it is not hard to see the mixture of various languages ranging from Philippine varieties, American English, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. From the store names at the extravagant SM Malls, to the ever-popular spoof t-shirts, to the fuming jeepneys, language play and remixing is integral to everyday life in the Philippines. Simply talking to Filipinos, they like to invert and restyle not only Spanish/English words, but also Filipino words (like "astig" for "tigas" and "yosi" for "cigarillo"...there's much more, maybe you can think of some).

With language play such a central part of Philippine society, why is hip hop continually relegated to the margins? Language creativity in hip hop seems like a complimentary fit in this society. Why is it "jologs"-- I guess a rough translation would be "ghetto"?

So, maraming props para sa mga Filipino hip hop artists doin tha damn thang. Keep up the noble struggle!

Yo, global Filipino society is such a turntablists' psychodelic dream...diba?

Live and Direct from Manila: Part III: Hip Hop Talaga!

Live from Las PiƱas, Southern Metro Manila: PhD, Traumatik, Marquiss, MV, Aero, and CHRiZo. Talented brothers bringing you the best of hip hop taga sa Pinas.

"It's a noble struggle," says CHRiZO of Turbulence Productions. I had the privilege to break bread with the bruthas and sista from Metro Manila, who spoke about their slow but steady wins despite the continued marginalization and denigration of hip hop in the Philippines, an irony compared to the success and immersion of hip hop among Filipinos in the U.S.

Philippine magazine Fudge article on the success of music producer CHRiZO.

Flippish interview with Turbulence folks on Thinking Man's Hip Hop release in November

One thing is for sure, the small yet passionate circle of independent hip hop artists in the Philippines put in work in this game. Reflecting on my Fil Am experience, I think Fil Am's need to check they game, cuz Philippines is on the rise. In fact, its been on the rise, but heads sa States bin sleepin. Craft, discipline, and heart...these terms describe the dedication and keenness that Metro Manila hip hop heads commit to hip hop culture. In a kind of time/place warp, I didn't know if I was "stateside" or sa Pinas that night in the studio buildin with these heads; the folks in hip hop game blur, funktify, and transform the boundaries, quality, preferences, and standards of hip hop by using tried and true boom-bap hip hop sound stylized with a distinct Filipino flavor. They found a formula that works, and this formula is makin impressive moves in the Philippines and throughout Asia. Fil Ams at lahat ng tao sa U.S.: be on the look out for these guys and gals. Your next favorite rapper or beat scientist might be from the islands.

Please stay tuned for more on these artists and visit their websites.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Live and Direct from Manila: Part I

Good afternoon folks! Or for those Stateside, good early morning (I'm from the future)! I'm reporting love in the SM Mega Mall in the heart of Metro Manila, on a spontaneous trip to the Philippines. Hopefully, as I seize opportunities to find internet access, I can write about some of the interviews I will be doing on hip hop in the Philippines. So far so good, I'll keep yall posted on the connex I be makin and the ciphas I be breakin.

Earlier, me and my cousin had the privilege to sit in with DJs Jerome Smooth (a fellow UCLA alum) and Janice at Wave 89.1 in Manila. Listen to them live on the website. I will later report on the hip hop scene here from the point of view of the personalities that pump the jams on the air. Hip hop and R&B (or most likely called "urban") music is quite popular here, way more popular than 11 years ago when I was here last. All the music you hear in the States on the radio is here, PLUS covers of the same music by Filipino artists. I heard a dope Beyonce "Single Ladies" accoustic cover in the Jeepney last night. Not "jologs" at all yo.

My pesos are running out at this net station. Stay tuned...
Update: I am learning more about this "jologs" discourse. Maybe I didn't use it in a proper context above. Look forward to reading this. Hilarious.