Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hip hop over homework: Filipino Americans "failing"?

Filipino children recite "Jingle Bells" in the classic
Philippine film Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976).

Getting “Stuck”

In a November issue of the Asian Journal, an article entitled “Why Are Fil-Ams Doing Poorly in School?” compares the “poor” academic performance of Filipino American students with the stellar achievements of other Asian American groups. Among other startling statistics, the data gathered by the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) reports that “Filipino-American public high school students in the city of San Francisco had the highest dropout rate among other Asians. Those who stayed in school barely passed.” It continues,

“In San Francisco public schools, the report revealed, the California Standardized Test scores of Filipino-Americans in 6th to 8th grades were “Below Basic” in both English-language arts and mathematics. In the 9th to 11th grades, 42 percent of Filipino students were in the “Basic” and “Below Basic” levels in the Star Math test. California schools have five performance levels: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic.

In Los Angeles, the dropout numbers for Filipino-American students represented 56 percent of all dropouts in the county.”

The last statement, Fil Ams representing 56 percent of all dropouts in LA county, is probably an error. The article’s author, Dennis Clemente, likely (hopefully!) meant Fil Ams represented 56 percent of dropouts among Asian Americans in the county, or he likely meant Fil Ams dropped out at a 56 percent rate within the ethnic group. Whatever the case, the data is troubling.

Furthermore, when it comes to science and math, Clemente notes,

“A 2006 Seattle School District study also found that in the 10th grade WASL test, 73 percent of Filipino-American students failed the science component and 55 percent failed the math component. Both are subjects required for graduation.”

In a December article, the Asian Journal continued the theme of Filipino American student academic underperformance, but this time it addressed their low-rate of enrollment in higher education (four-year or higher academic institutions). Melany De La Cruz-Viesca, a friend of FilAm Funk as well as a former member of the legendary L.A. poetry troupe Balagtasan Collective and current assistant director of the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, iterates the crisis young Fil Ams are in when it comes to higher education:

"'We’re not going on to graduate programs or doctorate programs. I think in a way Filipinos are getting stuck and I’m curious to try and find out why that is. Are more Filipino students going to community colleges first before transferring, or are they being tracked into these high school programs that do allow them to go to a four-year university? More and more, I think we’re getting stuck at community colleges or they just finish with an AA degree before getting a job.'

'It’s really telling because if you see Koreans and Taiwanese, they are going on and receiving their graduate and doctorate degrees,' added De La Cruz-Viesca."

Why Are We Running the “Race“?

One question I would like to raise is the comparative value of the (phantom) category of race (here, we are talking about “Asian American”) and its uncritical usage in the two articles. The articles essentially ask, “Why are Fil Ams underperforming in academics when other Asian Americans are doing better (or overachieving)?” I would like to ask, “Why compare Fil Ams to other Asian Americans in the first place?” In the same vein, why compare Koreans and Taiwanese together? Essentially, what “glue” holds these groups together—what characteristics give them comparative value? Is this a biological issue? If so, how is this different from the practices of biological racial taxonomy used to justify racial segregation and differential treatment at the turn of the 19th century? Or maybe this is an immigration issue? If so, for the sake of analysis, why can’t Fil Ams be compared to Mexicans, Haitians, or Brazilians? Why are we concerned with how more “successful” Asian Americans are doing? Why does it matter? The second article's criticism of the state's lumping of all Asians together is a step into the right direction, as the state's determining of racial membership holds a certain aura of authority. We must be self-critical when we redeploy the state's same logic.

A second set of questions I have concerns the meaning of “success”. What does it mean to be “stuck” with an AA or community college degree? Why is receiving a graduate degree at a high rate (especially when compared to Asian American groups) a marker of ethnic achievement? When and why has “success” become a foot race?

Yes, a foot race can be the appropriate analogy if academic “underachievement” of Filipino Americans can be attributed to social ills impacting the Fil Am community. Certainly, there are social ills. But also, there might be (and this is where further research is needed) a hyperbolic sense of crisis imbedded in these articles. Just how detrimental is it to the Fil Am community to receive an AA degree at a higher rate than other groups (as the second article demonstrates), rather than a PhD degree? And, what kind of job market are Fil Ams saturating? Is it lower-paid or middle-class? Is a working-class income (or near working-class income… I understand the arbitrariness of these class designations) such a disavowed concept? Or are Fil Ams really at risk of slipping into the abyss of poverty as the articles strongly suggest? Simply put, is there a sense that Fil Ams somehow deserve to align with the upper strata?

What is interesting about Clemente’s article is that in his inquiry about Fil Am’s “underachievement," he does not interrogate so much the impacts of this phenomenon as much as he offers reasons why young Fil Ams are doing poorly in school. He even questions the role of Filipino genetics, a gesture to the practices of turn of the 19th century biological racial classification mentioned above. Clemente asks, is it genetics or environment? His section, “Hiphop over homework” spells out the environmental threat hip hop plays in poor academics.

Hip Hop Pathology and Alternative Knowledge

Perhaps not as dangerous as the genetics card, the environmental argument of “hip hop pathology” poses a sinister blame game nonetheless.

Not being very specific on what he means by hip hop, Clemente paints a (and I say this crudely) “ghetto fabulous” Fil Am way of life, and apparently it has something to do with “Hiphop over homework.” He states,

“The [NaFFAA] study reported that Filipino students focused their energies more on working so as to be able to buy expensive clothes and cars. Also, they were much more into dancing and singing than studying and earning academic awards.”

Clemente goes on to tell a “success story” of Miguel Cutiongco who attends Harvard as a model of a Fil Am who “made it.” Troubling Clemente’s own genetics proposition, the author points out that Cutiangco’s parents are highly educated, having graduated from the University of the Philippines and Northwestern University. Not many young Fil Ams will relate to Cutiongco, even the most academically-talented students who dot the many community colleges, state colleges, and universities around the nation. Cutiongco’s story is just simply not relevant to most Fil Ams.

What many young Fil Ams will relate to is the hip hop story, which many of us know is not antagonistic to academic “achievement.” Especially on college campuses with Filipino student organizations, hip hop has been extremely central in day-to-day life, with dancing in particular forming a well-known social life among Fil Ams in college. At times this social life gets in the way of academics (this we know for sure), but just the same, this social life also helps us survive and thrive. This social life, as many of us can attest to, has given us a sense of meaning, passion, and wisdom. In some of us, it has even sparked a sense of social justice. For example, in a recent interview, Kimmy Maniquis, a choreographer of Kaba Modern in the mid-1990s, notes that Kaba Modern has been a positive space for community development and organizing. Today, Kimmy is a successful community organizer in Long Beach. Kimmy’s is just one of many stories of Fil Am organizers, educators, artists, performers, and even politicians who gained experience and wisdom within hip hop spaces.

Hip hop has been so central to young Fil Am life—to pathologize it would be to disown the rich texture of our community. This disowning would be a fruitless attempt to exorcise the collective soul of Fil Am youth (and for older Fil Ams who have been immersed in hip hop for some time now). Geologic speaks of our community's rich texture in “Commencement Day”,

“Up in assemblies nobody would listen
Instead rock the mixtape and Walkman
Discrete with the headphones
Threaded through the pockets and the sleeve.
You received education through the music you heard.
Cafeteria tables enable beats to occur.”

As the song goes, sometimes school sucks. The blatant historical lies and the irrelevant lessons just don’t interest young people. Geo continues,

“History repeated you repeat it to regurgitate
Slave-owning dead white men.
Folks, you know they make curriculum
Designed to make obedient drones.”

It is important to be clear that Geo is not criticizing the abstract concept of education itself, but rather the politrickin educational institution that fails students, an institution that is directly linked to the “Benevolent Assimilation” (a code for cultural extermination and colonial social engineering) of Filipinos by white Americans during U.S. colonization. The images of Filipino students reciting "Jingle Bells" included in this entry visualizes the absurdity of U.S. education, where white teachers taught songs about snow, Christmas trees, and white American heroes.

Given this history of U.S. educational duplicity, the notion of “knowledge” is already a fraught concept: “knowledge” for whom and for what ends?

And if hip hop is the story we can relate to, can hip hop offer mental "intelligence"? Can our hip hop performances express our corporeal “genius”? Can our “achievements” be gauged by our knowledge as artists, archivists, dancers, emcees, and poets? Rather than “Hiphop over homework” can hip hop be our homework?

In “Commencement Day,” a song that issues a reality-check to new graduates, Geo educates his listeners about material history, a history deliberately obscured for Filipinos, a history that many young Fil Ams seek and usually fail to find in the classroom. Referencing the Colt 45 pistol used to kill Filipinos during the Philippine-American War in the early 1900s, Geo’s lessons address “us” as Fil Ams rooted in history: we are the here today because some of us survived the Colt 45—our bodies are the proof of our survival. And today, alive in the U.S., we are negotiating the idea of “success.”

“Ay yo we made it
45 caliber proof
And your teachers ain’t believe
That you can handle the truth…
As you recognize
The thresholds of negative stress
The crossroads between
Complete failure and success…”

A Filipino student recites "Jingle Bells" as documentary
footage of WWII atrocities overlap her image.

Hip Hop as Culture to Work With, Not Against

Unlike Clemente, I want to be transparent when I use the term “hip hop.” As demonstrated by the Fil Am student organizations, hip hop is not simply a dance style or musical genre but it is also (more importantly) a cultural and social space which is historically-rooted (rather than a pastiche of aesthetic expressions). Hip hop as a space mobilizes community. This vision of hip hop, rather than pathologizing it, offers a productive opportunity to work with Fil Am youth rather than talk down to them.

Instead of demonizing hip hop and disavowing this central form of expression so dear to young Filipino Americans, perhaps we can view it as a legitimate and valuable resource for alternative knowledge. How can the already-existing elements within our culture enhance our “success” and “achievement”, both in academic life and in the “real” world?

It is important to do well in school, and it is my hope that the dismal data in the NaFFAA study improve. There is no doubt about that. But at the same time, I believe that “success“ is not only limited to classroom learning and higher education statistics. Other sources of knowledge, forms of intelligence, and “success” texture the lives of Fil Ams.

"Success" can also be re-visioned as the gaining of knowledge relevant to our own bodies and history--in other words we can successfully "win" back knowledge that has been buried. Unfortunately, "knowledge of self," which is so central to the theme of this blog, usually does not come from the classroom. For some time now, for Fil Ams, “knowledge of self” has come from hip hop.

In the classic track “Blue School,” Geo spits about the rich “wisdom” outside the traditional classroom and in the hip hop space. Hip hop has figuratively become a part of Geo, and his questions are answered on the dance floor:

“In the Blue School, class is in session,
Ask a question, cuz class is in session…
…And now my arteries connect to the amplifier wire
The music make the flames in my inner fire higher
I reinvent the language in the image of a dancer
Contorting where the floor becomes an answer.

“Primitive” Bodies, “Primitive” Knowledge, and the “Blackening” of Fil Ams

Recent journalism touching on Filipino American embodied (as opposed to cerebral) intelligence is not limited to the Asian Journal article. In the controversial 2007 L.A. Weekly article “The Fil-Am Invasion”, which portrays Fil Ams as somehow “taking over” the Hollywood hip hop club scene, paints a picture of Fil Am corporeal excessiveness, an image not too far from Clemente’s “singing and dancing” depiction of Fil Ams. In the piece, Sam Slovick writes,

“These Fil-Am kids are serious about having a good time, and that’s about it. It’s cultural. It came from the islands. The celebratory communal music and dance go way back to tribal roots. The DJ is spinning hip-hop, of course.”

As I tackled in a prior entry, Slovick’s fixation with Fil Am “tribal” bodies is connected to white historical fascination with Filipino primitive “otherness.” The Philippine Reservation at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair stands as the paradigmatic example of white “gazing” upon “tribal” Filipino bodies. The Philippine Reservation was about biological racial taxonomy: the marking of Filipinos as “less than” whites and certain Asians (see Robert Rydell's All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916). Slovick’s depiction of Fil Am kids’ “tribal” “dancing around” astonishingly resonates with the historical consumption of Filipino bodies. The only difference is that instead of communing with tribal drums, we are now communing with hip hop.

Slovick and Clemente have effectively replaced a Filipino primitivism with a black primitivism, although the two primitivisms have traveled with each other since the turn of the 19th century‘s practice of racial taxonomy (see Cedric Robinson's Forgeries of Memory and Meaning). For Slovick and Clemente, hip hop has become code for a blackened racial position. It’s something that young Fil Ams “naturally” gravitate towards, distracting them from the important things in life, like school (over)achieving.

A friend to FilAm Funk, sociology scholar Valerie Francisco spells out the “blackening” of Filipinos that Clemente deploys. Her citation of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s acknowledgment of this “blackening” is useful here:

“Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote a book called Racism Without Racists where he effectively argues that Filipinos belong to the “collective black” in the US racial order and, I would argue, the US social imagination…

We can’t ignore that Filipinos as well as other Asian Americans who are, in a sense, “blackened” (either by US foreign intervention in their countries–Vietnam, Burma, Laos, hella other Southeast Asian countries) aren’t also doing as well as the poster-child (East) Asian groups…”

The True, the Good, and the Beautiful

Fil Ams’ supposed “deviance” from Asian American academic overachievement illuminates how racial categories position Filipinos in curious ways within the landscape of U.S. racial membership.

The task, therefore, may not be about pinning down Fil Am racial membership, either to lament their shortcomings to a model minority Asian Americanism or to demonize their “primitive” black cultural participation. Perhaps it would behoove us to see what is happening “at the bottom”, to understand the intelligence and genius of what is already there. The alternative classroom of hip hop has at many times been the pathway to Fil Am “success”, even if that “success” may not look like a PhD or MD degree.

During martial law, Imelda Marcos funneled billions of pesos to beautification projects to superficially “cover-up” the slums and construct prestigious cultural centers to impress foreign visitors in the Philippines. Imelda’s beautification initiatives ultimately failed, making no long term impact on Philippine society. To this day, she retorts that she only wants to promote the true, the good, and the beautiful. But in reality, Imelda has not been able to face the truth.

Contrasting Imelda’s maxim, hip hop often tells the startling, the bad, and the ugly. In other words, it tells the real truth—raw and naked.

The startling, the bad, and the ugly can be a transformative thing, alarming us to the work that needs to be done. It does not conceal or pretend. It awakens and demands. Hip hop’s alternative knowledge has been a staple of Fil Am life for decades now. How much value is a college degree if one graduates without “knowledge of self”? How many of us are still singing "Jingle Bells"? Geo‘s “Commencement Day” suggests the ongoing education of “knowledge of self”, one that continues even after you toss your graduation cap into the air:

“Now you stand at the summit
Future facing the wind.
Now it’s time to let your true education begin.”


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Lyrical Empire premieres in Manila

Lyrical Empire: Hip Hop in Metro Manila premieres in the Philippines! Thanks to all the good folks like Jerome and Knowa (and everyone!) for making this finally happen. I wish I could be there. This project is for the artists and fans in the Philippines, and beyond! Keep on keepin on! Pataas!

Thursday, December 30
CLUB TECH GENIUS MANILA (located inside Manila Ocean Park)
Kalaw Ave. & Roxas Blvd., Behind the Quirino Grandstand
Luneta, Manila

as part of the bigger program:

2010 RAP-UP PARTY: The Capital G Shop & AllStars DanceSchool Holiday Bash

THURSDAY, DEC. 30, 2010

MaddyMatikz and Stratosphere Productions

Hosts: Jerome B Smooth & Sheera Vera Cruz
...Sponsors: Q-York, Capital G, Allstars Danceschool, Club Tech Genius Manila, Gold's Gym, Naughty Needles, Amazing Playground

Please bring ID if you want to drink
P150 entrance fee on Guestlist
**For kids, only age 14+ can enter. Pls bring school ID**
Text 0927.565.6540 or email for GL & Table RSVP on or before 5pm, Dec.30.

9PM -KRIS KRINGLE (Bring a gift worth P300 for gift exchange) NO GIFT BROUGHT, NO GIFT GAINED.

Directed by Mark Villegas and features artists such as CHRiZo, Marquiss, MC Dash, iLL J, LDP, MastaPlann, Philippine Allstars, & many more!

11PM -LIVE PERFORMANCES by Jonan Aguilar & DJ Bboy, Q-York, Chelo Aestrid, KrumPinoy, Allstars Danceschool Scholars, & many more!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Global Pinay Style

Brand new short film brought to you by FilAm Funk. Pinays making an impact worldwide, shaping the image of Filipinas globally, and creating a rich hip hop scene in the Philippines.

Thanks to the sistas from the Philippine All Stars and Stellar! Chelo, Bea, and Madelle, yall rock!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weekly Beat Sessions connex worldwide! Funkin that OPM

Bojam aka Jumbo of Quezon City, Philippines connex
through Generation ILL's Weekly Beats Sessions

Generation ILL presents the Weekly Beat Sessions: "1ne Sample. Multiple Producers. Multiple Beats." This round they take it to the islands and funk with the Original Pinoy Music song "Isang Gabi" by Victor Wood (bel0w). A virtual assembly of 16 Producers from the Sunshine State to the sunny Philippines and all the way to the tundra of Toronto to foggy Londontown--these beat crafters twist, crack, chop, and flying jumpkick the somber Filipino ballad.

Big ups to ILLa for creating a community like this. Read below for details on his inspiration, a plug for my documentary, and the ways he is connecting creative minds around the world. And be sure to see how these producers really funked up this sample. Which one is your favorite? (No biases, but shout outs to Bojam and Chrizo cuz they dun set it off this time!! EeEw ang nasty sila nga!)

From MNL to FLA, show love!


The first records I ever sampled were from my dad’s old record collection. About half of them were Filipino records or Original Pinoy Music (OPM) from the early 1970s. I remember sampling an old 45 by a group called Soul Jugglers (which I cannot find anymore) and Balikbayan by Dale Adriatico.

What I came to realize was there was so much talent over there and there were so many amazing records that were put out. The instrumentalists, arrangements, and vocals were amazing. Fast forward to 2007 or so — I first connect with Chrizo on myspace. After checking out his music and the other artists he was collaborating with, I come to realize that the Philippines also has a dope ass hip hop scene that is on the come up.

The hip hop scene in metro-manila was the topic of the documentary, “Lyrical Empire”, made by our boy Mark Villegas of FilAmFunk. Check out the trailer to this documentary which features Chrizo and also music by B-ROC (who made his debut submission this week). I had an opportunity to watch the full-length documentary yesterday and ended up watching it several more times. The list of screenings can be found here.

In keeping with the theme, this week we sampled an OPM song by Victor Wood. I speak very little tagalog, but i got some help from someone who summarized the song in three sentences: the girl he loves is dating his best friend, he becomes the best man at their wedding, best friend ends up leaving her. Depressing song, but amazing sample.

Anyways, check out the featured producers, several of which are making their debut to the Weekly Beat Sessions. Thanks for listening and for spreading the word about the site. Also stay tuned for the upcoming Christmas/Holiday edition of the Weekly Beat Sessions by @generationill. peace, illa (@illa0804)"


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Who's That? Brown up and down the West Coast

Beatrock Music artists and merch: Alfie Numeric's critique of the Filipina self-martyrdom, Manila Ryce's "Our Lady of Perpetual Dissent", and the Beatrock Music cap

This past Friday and Saturday, Beatrock Music celebrated its first year anniversary in Long Beach and San Francisco. An impressive collection of Fil Am (and the homey Otayo Dubb and the CounterParts Crew) rocked the stage. I copped some merch at the Long Beach show (see above), including the fabled Beatrock Music baseball cap.

Beatrock Music artist Bambu performed "Who's That?!", a song that uses the beat originally produced by Das Racist and uses a Tribe Called Quest "Scenario" sample: "Inside, outside, come around. Who's that? Brown!!!" Bambu, always baggin on DJ Phatrick (his "Chinese DJ"), joked, "It says brown. So it's hard for Phatrick to play this." Along with back and forth jabs, Phatrick and Bambu performed a great improvised showcase.

Brown music up and down the coast! Congrats to Beatrock Music for a memorable year!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Cipher: You wanna battle? Estria does it again

Vogue 1 (TDK crew) "healing" through the spray can at the 4th Annual Estria Invitational Graffiti Battle (2010). The theme for the competition was "heal." Check out who came out on top.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Infected by Generation ILL and Deep Foundation/Hydroponikz EP

It's time you DLed the new EP Deep Foundation & Hydroponiks present Generation ILL. The EP is an East Coast+South collaboration between the NY/NJ emcees of Deep Foundation/Hydroponikz and the Florida beat production crew Generation ILL. And what a sweet collaboration it is. The album also features cameos with Bambu, Rocky Rivera, and Ashley Robles.

The tracks touch on various themes, from the mellow dance hit "To The Beat" to the multi-meaning diaspora-inflected "World's Apart". The latter is one of my favorite tracks: it cleverly manages to portray the pain, angst, and contradictions involved in living as a Filipino in the U.S. as well as painting those same conditions as seen on the streets of the U.S. and the Philippines.

Peep an excerpt from Mugg Shot's verse in "World's Apart":

"Was mothered by a land
Where white stands for rich
And dark tans are brands
On backs that stand stiff.
When your status is defined
By similar outlines
Social classes divided
By aboriginal ties
Round-eye descendants of
European demise
Fetishizing a skin to avoid
Being deprived.
We lacking pride from
Where our people derived.
We came enslaved
The day they people arrived..."

Hip hop still speaking truth to power. Word. I was fortunate enough to catch up with illa and SoCo from Generation ILL to find out more about the geniuses behind the sound:

Who are the folks in Generation ILL? What's up with the name?

SoCo: Generation ILL is comprised of five members: myself, illa, PMBeatz, Eladbrit, and Sidewayz. I mean, it just kinda sounds cool, right? But really, there’s multiple meanings behind the name. Generation ILL is not only a music production crew, but we also represent a collective of like-minded individuals that recognize dope music and support the artists that make it.

illa: We wanted our listeners to realize that they are a part of that same generation that fell in love with the true spirit of Hip Hop. You are a part of Generation ILL if you listen to and support other artists that are making good music—especially in Hip Hop. We want good music, not just our own, to re-infect the masses and spread like an epidemic.

Describe the beginning stages of putting together this EP.

illa: In 2009, we heard Deep Foundation and Hydroponikz were working on a project so we sent one of our Gen ILL Beat CDs to their manager. As you can see, they ended up using most of our beats for the EP. As a matter of fact, "At Your Request" and "Worlds Apart" were specifically made with this project in mind.

SoCo: We use a lot soul samples in our production and the beats that DF and Dro chose for the EP elicit a lot of emotion and inward reflection—almost an escape to introversion, you know? As a result, it helped influence the amazing lyrical content they ended up writing about. Content that also reflected the reason behind the name for our company.

illa: At that point, they were like, okay, let’s present Generation ILL, the production crew, and at the same time describe what the state of affairs is for the everyman all over the world. After that, it was a wrap.

Artwork by Manila Ryce

How was the process with working with DF in NY? Was it difficult to work in together in the virtual world?

illa: It was definitely a new experience for us. It’s one thing to pass a beat to an artist who you may not be able to work with during the recording process but with this project, the music was just the beginning. As the EP evolved into a joint venture between us, DF and Hydro, we became fully involved in all aspects of putting the project out—everything from distribution to promotions, we were definitely grateful for the opportunity to work with those guys.

Soco: You know, thanks to smartphones and the internet, there wasn’t a lot of downsides to the process. Of course, if we were up in NYC, I’m sure it would’ve made things a lot easier. They shot a couple videos for the EP up there, too—we would’ve loved to be in front of the camera together with DF and Hydro. There’s still an opportunity for that, tho…we’ll keep everyone posted once they’re released. I mean, so long as there are planes, we’ll still be able to meet up in person.

How has your experiences being part of Filipino American community spaces influenced the energy and tone of the album (or your music in general)?

SoCo: Well, three of us actually met back at the University of Florida when we were part of the Filipino Student Association (FSA) there. We were actually pretty active in the organization until we started making music, funny enough. However, Filipino music had a big influence on our production—specifically old OPM soul.

illa: We’ve always been a huge fan of OPM music—the amazing vocals, instrumentalists, and arrangements. So whenever we hear some really good Filipino soul music, we’re like, "the world needs to hear this!” The thing is, outside of Filipino producers, most music heads (let alone those in Hip Hop) don’t realize the depth of emotion old, Filipino soul and folk singers delivered their lyrics with. It’s pretty awe-inspiring.

Soco: I guess we were fortunate enough to have joined the FSA in a year with older members that were big music heads. Some were DJs, others were really big into music in general and we learned a lot about other artists we normally woudn’t have had exposure to so soon. Like, one of the guys had just bought Blackalicious’s NIA and I had never heard anything like it. I remember, our friend Ray was part of Slum Village’s street team and that was the first time I had heard anything from Dilla. Our minds were blown away listening to Fantastic V2.

illa: And really, if it wasn’t for the UFFSA, we probably wouldn’t be here doing this interview. We started making beats and recording music while in college and later, when we were performing, it was that same organization—that same family—that came out to support us whenever we had a show. Now that we’ve evolved into Generation ILL, and since we’ve collaborated with Deep Foundation and Hydroponikz, we’ve seen that support from not only FSAs, but the FilAm community nationwide as a whole.

illa and SoCo prefer visual anonymity in order to impress your ears

Why do you think it is important for this collaboration album to be heard by Filipino Americans?

SoCo: Just as Deep Foundation and Hydroponikz draw from their own experiences of life growing up as Filipino Americans, we try to make sure our beats capture that same type of intensity drawing out those same emotions. Of course, as Filipino Americans, we have something to say. And as you hear in the EP, it’s not just about what we go thru here in the States, but what our families and friends go through in the Philippines as well. Most of our struggles, though they may be on different scales, parallel day to day. That’s what we hope to convey to Fil-Ams and Filipinos alike.

Who are some of your musical influences?

In terms of producers: J. Dilla, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, illMind, Just Blaze, Kanye West -- just to name a few. Many of our influences range from Jazz Artists like John Coltrane to soul artists like Curtis Mayfield or Gil Scott Heron.

In terms of beat and lyrics, what is the motivation behind "World's Apart"?

illa: One day we were listening to Pandora and the first song that came on was a track called, You by Marvin Gaye. When I heard the lyrics, "Worlds close yet worlds apart". I immediately thought of Deep Foundation's track from earlier in their career, A Place Called Home. I immediately sat down, slowed down the sample, chopped it up, laid a Little Richard drum break over the sample and sent it to DF. I think the chorus obviously had a big influence over the concept of the song and that's actually one of my favorite tracks from the EP. Its another example of where we didn't even need to communicate our intention of making a particular beat, they already knew.

Why do you guys prefer to work in a crew?

illa: Well, the idea of Generation ILL as a production crew/company was a product of the jam sessions we used to have up in Gainesville. Every Thursday night, while the emcees would be freestyling, the producers would get together and chop up a single sample and present them once everyone was done. It was a chance for us to not only share production techniques, but also an opportunity to introduce each other to the different equipment and programs we used. The producers started to meet up more and it gave us a chance to build that camaraderie fueled by making beats.

Soco: One thing we all have in common, other than music, is that we all have separate lives in separate cities. Nine-to-five’s, school, family responsibilities—and as individuals, the fear is that you might get lost in reality. We all decided to come together as Generation ILL to represent that bond we share as artists and beatsmiths and to keep that passion alive—the passion to keep making dope music. It makes us better in our craft—iron sharpens iron, you know? Being part of a crew lets our individual styles shine from one point, which in turn allows artists to find a plethora of different sounds in one place.

Any future projects?

We're looking forward to some collaborations with several artists from the West Coast. Currently, we're working on a track with Bambu/Beat Rock Music on an upcoming project. We have a R&B/Soul- inspired beat cd in the works which will be available soon and we have plans to release a Generation ILL project with a series of featured emcees during the 2nd Qtr of 2011.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Hip Hop in the Philippines freestyle

Chelo of the Philippine Allstars/O.N.E. and Knowa Lazarus of
Q-York/O.N.E. host the 2-on-2 Bboy/Bgirl battle at Sofitel Hotel in July.

Knowa Lazarus sums it up pretty well in this 3-minute freestyle session at the Capital G Shop in San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What makes a "People's Champion"?

Check out this great article by veteran hip hop authority Davey D, who is featured in the opening part of my 2007 documentary, Hip Hop Mestizaje (embedded in the right panel of this blog).

Manny Pacquiao the People’s Champ: Is that too Much for Floyd to Handle?

from Davey D's Hip Hop Corner
November 15, 2010

"...While the world watched and cheered, we’re sure a certain boxer with a big mouth and lots of money sat at home also watching. There is no doubt that Floyd ‘Money Making’ Mayweather has come to realize two unshakeable truths. First, he can’t beat Mr Pacquiao. Yeah, yeah, we heard all the talk about how he’s a skilled precision fighter, a true student of the game blah, blah, blah…Save it. He knows it, I know and you know it. Mayweather watched and realized this past Saturday night this is man he can’t beat.

The other thing he realized is that he’ll never be seen as one of the greatest, even with an undefeated record. As a world champ, he misread history and what it means when you hold such a title especially as a Black man. The ring was always symbolic of power we did not have.. Even with boxing legends like Sugar Ray Robinson, part of what made him great was his accomplishments in the midst of hard oppressions. the accomplishments of boxing greats like Joe Louis and Jack Johnson became a symbolic victories for all those who felt marginalized and oppressed. Their victory was our victory.

Manny Pacquiao has captured that spirit globally. Sadly Floyd Mayweather has misread the signs of today’s times and missed the opportunity to be ‘the people’s champ‘. If Mayweather and Pacman were to fight and he somehow won, Manny would still be seen as champ all over the world. A Mayweather victory would be a hollow victory. Mayweather does not have the admiration of the people especially globally, and no matter how much he brags or ‘adroitly ‘plays the role of villan’ aka the ‘man you love to hate’, he’ll never be seen as a man for the people. What a wasted opportunity...."


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Fil Am renaissance?

Premiere is a testament to the 90s Filipino American R&B musical "renaissance", a moment when Fil Ams were at the brink of mainstream status, nudging at the edge of the niche ethnic market, and certainly spreading out of the Bay Area cultural core to Fil Ams all over.

If the mid to late 90s was an era for Fil Am R&B acts, then the 2000s is for Fil Am emcees (and the scenes, audiences, markets, and artists do overlap). Is this decade a new "renaissance" for Fil Am artists (hip hop, R&B, or otherwise), or was the 90s just a special, special moment (well, certainly there were more women and group-oriented acts)?


Asian American Invisibility: You don't see us, but we see you!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Filipino-Mexican showdown x kultura (x champorado)

Ready for the Pacquiao vs. Margarito fight this Saturday? Will the congressman defeat the Master Plaster? Patis or Tapatio?

The match this weekend is a good opportunity to explore the Filipino-Mexican connection, a growing scholarly topic, and a visual and cultural "common sense" among many Filipinos and Chicanos in Southern California. One scholar is doing interesting work on looking at Filipino and Chicano emcees and their political messages relating to homeland and diaspora.

The upcoming boxing performance echos the influence of "real" performance traditions between Mexico and the Philippines, with the latter as "New Spain" working as a colonial mediator to the far-off Spanish island colony. Here is an excerpt from Palabas: Essays on Philipine Theater History (1997) by Doreen Fernandez, a book that outlines various Philippine "performance" traditions, ranging from precolonial rituals to Philippine theater in the 1980s. (I suppose it is up to one of you to write a book on hip hop traditions in the Philippines.)

"During much of the colonial period, Spanish culture was introduced through Nueva España (Mexico), from where the Philippines was ruled by Spain through the Ministro de Ultramar. Soldiers of Adelantado Miguel López de Legazpi in the late sixteenth century are believed to have been the ones who brought over from Mexico the metrical romances of chivalry and of the lives of saints and martyrs, which were popular in their day and which, in indigenized form, became the native awit and corrido" (5).

Oh! This explains the whole champurrado/champorado thing! We all just one big chocolate mix. Well, of course Mexicans use the corn/masa, and the Filipinos, rice. And according to some recipes, the Mexican champurrado is served with alcohol.

meet champorado.

Lambanog champorado for cold nights!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Cipher:GRAE matter

Philippine emcee Marquiss is dropping his G.R.A.E. album November 25th. More from B-Rocc at SoulFiesta.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Rocky Horror!

Rocky horror!! Happy Halloween! Beware the Aswang, White Lady, Duwende, Manananggal, and all that...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Special Feature: Boogie Brown in Paris Town

Boogie Brown has a new blog on urban youth culture in Paris. Follow Brown down "on the street" in Dans La Rue to discover b-boy, graffiti, fashion, parkour, and street dance culture in the city of love.

Here is a recent entry:

Rep Wear You From


Fashion is undoubtedly one of the core elements of Hip Hop. After all, 1990's hip hoppers practically made the Tommy Hilfiger brand. And where would New Era fitteds be without Jay-Z?

Hip Hop, in every one of its art forms, is all about stylistic expression. It's no surprise then that fashion, as an outward expression of style, is so embraced by the Hip Hop generation to connote culture and identity. It's about reppin' who you are and where you're from.

The glocalized Hip Hop community here in Paris and France puts its own twist on that concept and the outfit trends from the US. Sure, the fitted caps, baggy pants, and fly sneakers remain a staple, but here young people spice up their wardrobes with a smattering of ethnic and religious roots.

World b-boy champ Lilou

At every event I attend, I always feel like I'm at a convening at the UN. In the middle of a cypher, there will be a gleaming turquoise jacket with "ALGERIE" embroidered across the chest. To the left, I'll spot the outline of the African continent colored in bright red, green and yellow, on the front of a sweatshirt. I'll pick out the word "SENEGAL" discreetly wrapped around a friend's wristband. And then of course, my favorite Tee yells out to me, with huge block letters, "I'm Muslim, Don't Panik!" As I observe, I notice that I too am rockin' my favorite Philippines revolution crew-neck...


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sunday Cipher: FlipTop sa Freedom Bar QC

I was able to attend this FlipTop session in Quezon City in July.

Far. Sweaty. Crowded. Bad acoustics. But still passionate about the culture. Philippine hip hop is the real deal, and they are hungry for more.

Check out my entry:
Guerilla Style: FlipTop gives you raw Philippine rap


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Leo roars for the 8X10 Collective

Leo Angelo Bio displays his Erykah Badu rendition

I've been representing Jacksonville, Florida pretty hard for the past few weeks. Here is yet another spotlight on a Jacksonville Pinoy/Pinay artist: the talented Leo Angelo Bio of the 8X10 Collective. We profiled Grace Bio last week, so check that out if you haven't already. I encourage all Filipino Americans to explore the hidden pockets of Filipino talent across the country.

Here we go!

When and why did you get into painting?

I got into painting when I was 8 years old reading X-men and Kung Fu comics. My favorite illustrators are Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams, who made beautiful water color paintings of Marvel characters, and Tony Wong of Jademan comics. They were all major influences. During my teens, graffiti had a major impact on my style.

Why do you believe painting is the best way for you to express yourself?

Painting is a force which is drawn from your soul, your Devine self. Painting and drawing is a spiritual act, as any Art is. Color, shape and form interpreted by imagination: the illusion provokes thought into the viewer.

What inspires your work?

The Creator’s creation creates my creativity. I’m drawn to truth, beauty, and God. I wish the viewer to understand an artist's mind.

Describe the graphic art scene in Jacksonville. How does it compare to other scenes you are familiar with?

The art scene in Jacksonville is a growing, long over-due young scene. I am just now getting into the emergence of the scene. I have been performing live art in various venues around town with my sister, Grace. The thing about Jacksonville is, it loves art but doesn’t like artists. There a lot dope artists in Duval that hardly get shine. A big city like Jacksonville should embrace art more, because we are the soul and future of the city. The Filipino community should embrace their youth and their creativity, because without it - they will fall into negative stereotypes, which destroys representation our people.

At the 2nd Annual Filipino Pride Day in Jacksonville, Florida

Describe your experience at Filipino Pride Day. How was your reception by the festival goers?

I had a good time, but expected more. As a Non-Filipino, I would have liked to learn more about the history and culture. I was looking to see more political activism and social awareness about my country - the two things Filipinos ignore here in the U.S. I have to say, I was saddened that people were wearing Pinoy pride shirts but didn't know who I was painting (Ninoy Aquino). But, it was good time to reveal The 8X10 Collective to Jacksonville and the world!

93 Til... Souls of Mischief

Who shot ya!

What is your favorite hip hop album, and why?

I have been into hip hop since 1986 so it’s hard to have one favorite album. De La Soul’s “Buhloon Mindstate” and Digable Planet’s “Blowout Comb” would have to be my top two. Both albums got dope samples, hard-hitting beats with a jazzy feelin'. Both albums exemplify the highest creative potential in Hip Hop. Both albums you can rock all day, every day!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday Cipher reps the Empire!

Ok, gotta delay diggin for youtube gems so I can plug another screening opportunity for my documentary Lyrical Empire: Hip Hop in Metro Manila at the 11th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Lyrical Empire is featured in the He(art) of the Matter SDAFF festival program this coming Sunday, October 24 at 4:45pm.

This documentary is slowly making its film festival rounds. I hope to bring it to Manila soon. Since we're in San Diego, I will not refuse any offers of carne asada fries.

Marquiss and Chrizo for the radio heads (Photo: Bong Andres)

Lyrical Empire: Hip Hop in Metro Manila trailer from Mark V on Vimeo.

You can read more about my experience with a few of the Metro Manila hip hop heads in my article for Evil Monito magazine.*

Lyrical Empire: Metro Manila Emcees Overcome Challenges in a Multilingual Nation

Ridin’ out in Metro Manila

On a drizzly, humid July afternoon I squeeze into an overflowing train headed for Las Piñas, a city in southern Metro Manila. I hop from the train onto the Philippines’ most ubiquitous forms of transportation, the jeepney, a functioning relic of the United States military ostentatiously stylized with distinct Filipino flavor—bright paint, shiny chrome, and customized body kits. Like the other commuters, I cover my mouth and nose with a handkerchief as we battle the Metro’s pollution and traffic.

I am on my way to interview the Turbulence Productions crew, a small, independent group of emcees, beat producers, and entrepreneurs who rank as one of the most respected hip hop crews in the Philippines.

As someone who has been immersed in hip hop and who documents Filipino American involvement in the cultural cipher, I, like many other Filipino Americans, carried my own biases about hip hop in the Philippines. I believed because the Philippines is a poor country whose people are obsessed with mimicking catchy American pop songs, the quality of hip hop in the country must be sub-par.

I had it all twisted. CONTINUE READING...

*I meant Philippine presidential-candidate Ninoy Aquino. Thanks Eric Tandoc for the heads up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Amazing Grace of 8X10 Collective

When and why did you get into painting?

I started drawing when I was a child. My sister told me I knew how to write my name in cursive, then started drawing everywhere around the house. Fast-forward to when I was around 5-7 years old, I walked into my brother Leo's room rockin' a graffiti piece. That experience alone influenced me to keep flowin' with Art.

"Flutist Dreams"

Why do you believe painting is the best way for you to express yourself?

Any expression of the soul is communication from God to the world. We are His conduits. Its just up to the person on how they convey that energy to the world. Making Art for me is what I know best. Its what resonates within me & flows out of me. Its like breath. If I don't share it, I feel as if I am not allowing humanity to feel what it's like to be truly alive. To not do it, I feel as if I am dying.

"Ode to Hip Hip"

What inspires your work?

God, my brother, my sister Gigi & my boyfriend Dorian "DENZITY" Lopez will always be my inspiration. Knowing God created everything in the universe as well as humanity me always leaves me in awe. If people only knew how complex we are, as well as how infinite the universe is, they would think and live differently. On behalf of my brother & sister- they have raised me to be the artist I am today. They taught me techniques, introduced me to various dope artists, bumped amazing music, overall- enlightened me. Lastly, my boyfriend's encouragement pushes me to do the impossible. His faith in me makes me want to do my best in everything I do as well as break through any boundaries that get in my way! Having them in my life keeps me moving!

Mika, Monica Monet & Troy with Grace's "Afrocentrizm" piece, done live in support of Blak.Woman.Dynamik (the play) & Monica Monet @ Mr. Q's Funk Jazz Cafe

Describe the graphic art scene in Jacksonville. How does it compare to other scenes you are familiar with?

From my experience working in the art scene, I found myself exhausting myself to redundancy. I became a "Yes Man" to every opportunity to show my work all over town, but haven't gained much from it. I have my crew of friends/supporters, as well as a lot of compliments from various peoples, but I felt as if I became a bird in a cage. For a local artist, there is no problem getting your work up in a venue & getting some publicity. The problem is most artists get support from their closest friends/fans, but it hardly goes outside of that circle- nevertheless, outside of Jacksonville. I've met & know of a lot of talented cats & find a lot of them getting frustrated in Jacksonville, until they move or experience scenes in other areas. It still has room to improve, but the people need to join together to help its progression.

In comparison to NYC, the hustle is harder, everything is flavorful, there are a lot of interesting cats to mingle with & you have the world as your oyster. From my experience hanging out with my sister in Brooklyn, I noticed her circle of friends are all amazing artists that all genuinely love & support one another. When they do events, they rock it solo or together, get mad support from their crews & from people that are interested in what they have to offer to the world. They usually have dope advertising and lots of press from the event itself.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I've been making numerous trips to
NYC since 2005. Recently, I went there for this event "Meeting of Styles" at 5 Pointz held on Sept. 10-12. A mutual friend of my family & crew, Reskew, received confirmation from Meres (owner of 5 Pointz) to do a wall for the event. So me, my brother, friend & boyfriend decided to drive up from Jacksonville. We all stayed together for a week, but I stayed another week to hang out with my sister. It was an inspiring trip that I'll never forget! Check out the video below. This is one of the things we did while we were there:

Live art action at Filipino Pride Day

Describe your experience at the 2nd Annual Filipino Pride Day in Jacksonville, Florida. How did you get involved with the festival? How was your reception by the festival goers?

My main focus was to represent my people and to enlighten them with history of the Philippines. I was also excited to have my crew, THE 8X10 COLLECTIVE (me, my brother & sister) in one show. Knowing that our first show was at a Filipino festival made us all very proud! My experience there was an enriching one. I was happy to share our gifts to our people as well as remind them where we stand as a people. Painting alongside my brother (I painted Corazon Aquino, he painted Ninoy Aquino), we attracted a lot of attention from people passing by. Some stayed throughout the entire performance to see our progress. We also had dope tunes blastin', incense burnin', good energy, as well as having my boyfriend, friends & family come support.

I actually got involved with the festival through Audrey Aviles (a family friend) & hooked up with the show by Angel Dendam. We thank them for everything they have done! It was an absolute success!

"Paths of Rhythm"

What is your favorite hip hop album, and why?

My musical tastes are very broad, but I would have to say my staple Hip-Hop album would be The Roots "illadelph halflife", simply because that was the first hip-hop album I heard. I remember vividly diggin' through my brother's music collection when I was in 5th Grade & pullin' out this album. I jammed out to it for a long minute. This album changed my overall being since then! Also, Digable Planets "Blowout Comb" How could you NOT love that album? I find my ass still boppin' my head to that sh*t! That album is super dopeness at its finest and will never get old!