An excerpt from my essay “How I Started Rapping” from the newly-published Empire of Funk: Hip-hop & Representation in Filipina/o America, which you can cop here and real soon at Amazon & Barnes & Noble.
1. A Bad Rap
It’s 1987 somewhere in Waipahu. I am seven years old at a wedding and I’m dressed in slacks, a dress shirt and a pair of Adidas. The rented-out gymnasium is laid out from front to back like almost every big party I’ve been to: a food table laid out buffet style, tables and seats for eating and chilling, a dance floor that’s too big, and, at the very end of the room: a DJ behind a table standing between two large speakers flanked by his pompadour-and-rat-tailed mobile DJ crew.
I remember thinking they were the coolest Filipinos I’ve ever seen. I had been to many other Filipino parties with DJ’s but these dudes aren’t playing music from their living room speakers or using two tape decks. They have turntables and their own sound and lighting system. A banner hangs on the wall behind them repping their mobile DJ company name, probably something like “fresh” or “fusion” or something else that begins with “f.” They play all the 80s pop stuff all wedding DJ’s should play, but they’re also playing a bunch of rap. I emulate the older kids’ breakdance moves when they aren’t looking. The DJ pays Run-DMC’s “My Adidas,” and I’m like “hey, I’m wearing those!”
This isn’t one of those “when I fell in love with hip-hop” moments. It’s simply one of hundreds of moments I remember, out of many more I’ve forgotten, where hip-hop happened to be the soundtrack of my upbringing. For many Filipino kids who grew up in 1980s America, we didn’t fall in love with hip-hop, but we fell in love while hip-hop surrounded us. Before YO! MTV Raps and The Source Magazine and weekly rap radio shows, it was at the big Filipino party—debuts, weddings, graduations, christenings, birthdays—that hip-hop music ingrained itself into my musical DNA.
It wasn’t until later that I even knew hip-hop was called hip-hop. I got into it because all my friends and cousins were into it and we all got a rush out of listening to music with curse words. In 3rd grade I started trading cassette tapes with classmates. I discovered Too $hort, N.W.A., even local joke rap like 2 Local Boiz. In 4th grade I got suspended when my teacher caught me pulling out a copy 2 Live Crew “Me So Horny” cassette maxi-single from my backpack during class. I was sent to the principal’s office, where the vice principal lectured me on why all rap is bad, and he made me write a one-page hand-written essay regurgitating everything he just said as if I’d start believing it if I was forced to write it. Then they called my Ilocano parents to come get me.
I remember thinking, wow, I’ve never seen old people react like this to music before. They were trippin’ like someone stole something from them or insulted their family. Because of music. And not even music they were familiar with, but music that someone else told them was bad. That’s when I really turned it up and listened to every rap record I could. I knew that whole “rap is bad” propaganda was bullshit because I was actually learning things from these songs that I wasn’t learning in a classroom. Black History, police brutality, all the stuff Ronald Reagan’s administration was doing that wasn’t on the news. While they were saying rap was violent, I was listening to rappers unite against violence on “Self Destruction” and “We’re All In the Same Gang.” While they were saying rap was misogynistic, I was listening to 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.”
“Last November, I went back to the Philippines for the first time since 1986. I was 6, my lolo had just passed away, and the Marcos dictatorship had just ended. It had been so long since then that I could no longer distinguish which images of the Philippines floating in my head were actual memories or imprints of photographs my pops took, substituted for memory.”
Read the whole photoessay “Pilipinas: Nov/Dec 2013 by Prometheus Brown" at wearejuxt.com
While on our last trip to Hawai’i, we linked up with the Angry Locals fam to do some recording for our upcoming album, Barkada. On some spontaneous shit, we ended up recording a remix to their track ”Locals Only,” which will be a bonus track on our album. Here it is!
New track from The Bar (Prometheus Brown & Bambu)!
Geo is selling ten film cameras from his collection tonight (Friday, 11/15 8pm) at the RAPPERS W/ CAMERAS PHOTOZINE RELEASE PARTY (2312 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA).
100% of the money made from selling the cameras will go directly to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan relief & rehabilitation via NAFCON. $25 each.