Monday, February 22, 2010

Post-racial in San Diego? No.

UPDATE: "Students walkout of UC San Diego teach-in on 'Compton Cookout,'" LA Times

"Blanco: In Solidarity with 1.3% of UCSD," FOBBDeep
TV Show Incenses Black Students at UCSD
UCSD race tensions rise after ‘Compton Cookout,’ use of n-word So this is the Obama generation? The demonstrated victory of a "post-racial" America? We "made it" right? Wrong!

In this genocidal and colonial nation, "winning" social equality--materially or symbolically--is not an easy task. DJ Kuttin Kandi, who works at The Women's Center at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) notified me of some tragic and infuriating events related to the campus last week. Kandi, like many of the staff, faculty, and students at UCSD, are put in a challenging predicament as they try to make sense, respond to, and create a long-term plan after a fraternity threw a "Compton Cookout"-themed party last weekend in order to mock Black History Month. Women attendees were told to speak loudly, wear gold teeth, have an attitude, wear their hair short and nappy. Fried chicken, watermelon, and purple drink were on the menu.

First of all, shit is fucked up and distasteful from the get go. There is no interpreting this as subversive or "boys just having fun." Secondly, the watered-down response by the university's chancellor ("this party is not in line with campus values") is sad. If black students are betrayed by the administration--when their less than 2% of the population--then why even attend a campus community that devalues their presence, dehumanizes their existence? Existence is at stake here...the value of black students' minds and presence. This is not only about the pitiful ignorance of frat boys, this also encompasses the bigger issue of the failures of campus climate.

A second "Compton Cookout" is said to be scheduled for March in defiance of the protests against the first--this after a number of protests and calls to action, and a campus TV show supporting the party and uttering that "niggers" are ungrateful and using the words "Compton Lynching."

Also, what is this, 1990? "Compton Cookout" really? Listen, I have fam that taught K-12 in Compton, and it's changed considerably and has a large, noticeable Latino presence. So the FUBU and NWA references in this party are wayyyy outdated. How white is this party??

Love and justice goes out to Kandi, Prof. Wayne Yang, Prof. Jody Blanco, all the student leaders, and everyone trying to create real meaningful changes as a result of these occurrences. Similar parties happened at my campus a few years ago, so I'm not surprised that racial caricature parties occur among fraternities. It's the actions that come after that need to be strategic and meaningful.

Where is this "post-racial" America? It's at the bbq, mocking you, grinning at you with gold teeth.

If you're Filipino, please read the letter posted on FOBBDeep's site. Jody Blanco shows that this is not just a black issue and the reciprocated relationships between blacks and Filipinos throughout history (including the Buffalo Soldiers resistance in the Philippines). This is a moment to demonstrate our solidarity. This is a social justice issue, but it's also a reflection of our times.


Monday, February 15, 2010

New video: the Diamond Dame cuts you in pieces

The dudes Patricio and A.J. (of "Bebot," "Crooks and Rooks," and "Champion" fame) bring their newest music video. Hopie Spitshard's trippy and witty "Yummy" is transformed into a visual mixture of late 80s early 90s mobile DJ garage party nostalgia, home video vintage, psychedelic trip, comic book cool, and delicious female revenge. (Here is my review of the Diamond Dame's album a few years back.)

Hopie Spitshard "Yummy" Official Music Video (Directed by Patricio Ginelsa) from Kid Heroes on Vimeo.

Yummmm!! Keep doin yall's thang Kid Heroes, Xylophone Films, and Hopie!


Friday, February 12, 2010

6 Year Rap Comparison!

To bring home the last post's theme about the changing motifs in hip hop, and to make you (well some of you, and me) feel older, here is a 6 year span (1987-1993 and 2004-2010) comparison of notable albums:

Eric B. and Rakim
Paid in Full (1987)
This is the duo's first studio album, inaugurating the Golden Age of hip hop (when going gold was a respected standard of success) with that b-boy, sample-based sound. James Brown's breaks are reinvigorated in this audioscape. Notice the DJ is still central here.

A Tribe Called Quest
Midnight Marauders (1993)
This album is in line with the Afro-Humanist vibe of the early 90s, and came out at a time when hip hop's Westcoast beef would start to heat up! The sounds are a bit more experimental than in the 80s. And where did the DJ go??

Kanye West
Included the hit singles "Jesus Walks," "Get 'Em High," and "Slow Jamz." Kanye West begins building his rap empire with that mid-2000 sound. What can stop him now?

It's a bit premature to know a notable 2010 album, but Jay-Z and Alicia Key's single"Empire State of Mind" has been making a killing and paints a good sense of rap on the radio today. Not too drastic a change from 2004! Right?

The 2000s saw the coming and going of hyphy, the rise of Southern crunk, the return of Chicago (with Kanye and Lupe Fiasco, for example), ring-tone rappers, auto-tune, and the dominance of strip club-themed music.

Do you feel that the span between 2004-2010 saw much of a difference in the transformation of hip hop music as between 1987-1993?

To those who have been following hip hop made by Fil Ams, Blue Scholars' first album came out in 2004! Bambu's album Self-Untitled came out in 2003! How you like that??


Friday, February 5, 2010

The controversial and the kitsch: domesticating hip hop defiance

It's a new decade, and hip hop is getting older. Yes, time keeps on ticking...

I've written about it almost a year ago, but questions surrounding the trajectory of hip hop musical engagement within the current socio-political context still linger. I'm sure Bakari Kitwana, Nelson George, Jeff Chang, Tricia Rose, Davey D, Mark Anthony Neal, Michael Eric Dyson and all the "hip hop scholars" and journalists have been entertaining this question to death, but I'd like to continue the conversation in a more intimate, Fil Am funk setting.

In March last year, I wrote:

"With Black Star's late 90s hip hop anthems, I think that Black Star's generational cohort demonstrates a "bridge" that connects the 80s political canvas with the emerging millennium music. The chant "One, two, three..." exemplifies this bridge. To be certain, material from the 80s and 90s still echos today. Generations are never so distinct, but I think certain songs, groups, and anthems point to "road markers" that give character to various eras.

So, what can be said about the ending of the first decade of the millennium? What are the "hip hop political themes" of an Obama generation?"

In the beginning of the new decade, these concerns are ever more pronounced. With the 1990s almost "dead" to many young people, the political and social imaginary of those times are buried alongside that decade. Latasha Harlins's murder, the LA Uprising, the O.J. Simpson trial, Amadou Diallo's slaying, the War on Drugs--the list goes on about the power struggles over the lives and representation of racialized people during during the 1990s. In whatever capacity, hip hop music ambitiously addressed all of these.

Hip hop music still addresses very cogent topics today, no doubt, but the difference-maker in the 1990s is how its played on radio and television. Decades ago, the hip hop that was broadcasted (not queried on the internet) gave you both the controversial and the kitsch. Today, arguably, hip hop is simply kitsch. The dark underbelly of urban life described by Jay-Z in "Empire State of Mind," the "hardness" of Rihanna, or Snoop's brooding and threatening audioscape in "I Wanna Rock" are deployed and received as mass produced, playfully consumed commodities interpreted in a horizontal array of other colorful goods (such as country, rock,, soda, and cell phones). Where Rob Base and EZ Rock entertained us with innocent party music, Snoop reconfigures the mood of "It Takes Two" (1988), makes it sound scary. But its really not. It's party music. Entertainment. Where is the "real" threat?

Snoop's video for "I Wanna Rock" features the Quest Crew who won America's Best Dance Crew a few seasons ago. You bet they have a buncha Pinoys in that crew, which is named after the Quest Learning Center building where the dancers practiced in Cerritos (just east of Los Angeles). Here we see the pastiche incorporation of the innocence of street dance and the deathly pimp persona of Snoop. Both seemingly disparate images have one thing in common: they are both consumed as flattened, equal commodities.

The more I learn about hip hop in the Philippines, the more I raise these questions about hip hop commercialism and the cultural apparatus hip hop provided/s for many participants. For example, Masta Plann's immersion into the Philippine music scene in the early 1990s illustrates an interesting collision of people (Filipinos in the Philippines) who "other/ed" hip hop to a caricatured extent and a pair of young Fil Am rappers from Southern California who stayed faithful to an assembled codifications of hip hop culture--such as the four elements discourse along with the Nation of Islam-inflected "knowledge of self" ethic (i.e. their original name was "Knowledge Brought Forth").

This example of Masta Plann in the Philippines emphasizes the convenient commercialism vs. cultural apparatus dichotomy, because in the Philippines hip hop has been widely consumed without a critical engagement with its politics, pleasures, or cultural context (except of course the small community of hip hop heads influenced by Masta Plann). It is simply "sa-rap" (yummy) music--to be eaten and disposed of without being transformed by it, without worldviews shaken or challenged.

Masta Plann and entourage reflecting a 90s sensibility with plaid shirts (which is back apparently, but tighter), rounded shades, oversized jeans and button-downs

I think today in the U.S. for a
whole generation consuming hip hop devoid of its defiant politics (on the radio), the music is treated similarly as in places like the Philippines. Hip hop in the new decade, for better or for worse, is much less a weapon than a patterned sequence on your daughter's backpack. However, the biggest difference, if I may, is that in the U.S. there is an embedded history of race, economic inequality, violence in urbanization, and musical politics transformed hip hop's politics over time. Whereas in the Philippines, hip hop culture is such a foreign concept that it hasn't had time to be domesticated or tamed in the same way.

And that's not to say that all hip hop was consumed with ardent politics as in decades prior. Other factors matter to how hip hop has been received. In the U.S. in the 80s there was a dedicated community of listeners, many who would gather around the boombox into the oddest evening hours to catch the latest hits put on by mixmasters. There are even stories of early Bay Area hip hop fans who miraculously picked up LA's KDAY on good nights...before the Bay Area played hip hop on the airwaves. Also, people would GO to parties to hear the newest music (complete with a whole "party flyer" culture. And the DJ was the musical arbiter, the gatekeeper of new hip hop). You had to BE with other people, hear other people talk about the music--you would be part of a listening community.

When mullets were hot. 1980s party as shown in my film Legend. Courtesy of Isaiah Dacio.

Today, you can enjoy hip hop music without the culture...without people. In this new millennium, digital technology reigns, and hip hop is consumed right alongside clips of cats playing piano.

The LA Uprising of 1992 may not function in the social and political imaginary of today's young hip hop generation. Hip hop still plays an important role in popular culture, regardless of its saturation in consumer capital exchange. We consumers have real agency in our lives, and this post is not a tired mantra on the monolithic evils of "the media" or the latent progressive value of postmodern expressions. I am just raising questions on how we approach hip hop in the new decade, the new millennium, especially when we have curious youngsters who have direct access to OGs still hung up on the "golden age." We can build.

In closing, KRS-One's anthem "Sound of Da Police" (1993) is almost two decades old and it will always hold a special value for the dedicated hip hop heads of yore and today. But in the new decade, its not the same as in the post-Uprising era. In true consumer fashion, the song's defiance, resistance, controversy can now be contained, exchanged, and commodified into the soundtrack of the year's hottest comedy hit:

"Kenneth! What do you know about egoting!"