I can’t remember the first time I heard the album (has it really been ten years?), but I am satisfied that my timing couldn’t be more incredible. I shut up and listen.
“There were some people we knew who owned a Filipino restaurant down in the I.D., and at the time it was the only place we had where we could get everyone together have a show like that. It feels full circle, sitting here talking to you over Filipino food”.
I’m honored. I’d asked him to sit down with me to talk about his latest album with his group The Bar called Barkada, a hip hop album that captures perfectly the feeling of familial culture. Like my own Hispanic/latino culture (ironically something we share because the Spanish colonization of the Phillipines) food and family figure largely in everything, and the definition of family extends beyond traditional genealogical meaning, becoming more about who participates, who is part of the crew, or Barkada, literally translated from tagalog to english as “gang”.
We’re all sharing a plate of Inay’s fresh lumpia, a twist on the fried version that uses the un-fried egg roll wrap to softly hug sweet potatoes and tofu under a blanket of spicy peanut sauce. Prometheus Brown followers know him not only as half of a couple of great rap groups but also as the instigator of Rappers With Cameras, and the excellent food-happening idea Food and Sh*t, both of which capitalize on the pop-up shop fad. “Rappers With Cameras started when we shared studio space with The Physics down at the OK Hotel, it was just a way to share our own photography, now we’re having gallery shows and putting out a zine every season…Food and Sh*t, the blog, is basically the same thing with food. We did it once and realized it was really hard work. We thought twice about doing it again, but then we had a reason to, like for our video release for "Barkada". We’ve known Uncle Ernie here at Inay’s for a long time and we knew they were closed on Mondays, so we just brought it up with them and they were like come on in!”.
It’s exactly that kind of community that has attracted people to Blue Scholars, and The Bar. It’s easy to dismiss hip hop as homophobic, or misogynist, or to say the kids just aren’t making good music anymore, but for the last decade making good music, and fighting against those western white ideals, to include racism, and colonialism, is exactly what he’s been doing. We talk as we eat various Filipino dishes, a sour soup called Beef Sinigang whose clear broth contains a bouquet of delicious flavors, and Dinuguan which Geo refers to as “Not for the faint of heart”. It’s a rich, dry flavored dish of pork meat stewed in pork blood, it’s almost black in color, and it’s great with the house chili sauce. “No disrespect to their recipe, but they put a little sugar in it here to sweeten it up, the stuff I ate growing up is much more bitter, I wouldn’t eat it as a kid, but rediscovered it –and my own way to prepare it—later on”.
Prometheus Brown knows well how fickle people can be about flavors. He remembers the same people who praised the revolutionary spirit of Blue Scholars rap in the media coming back around to raze it. “People started to say stuff like, ‘Obama is president now, and you guys are still rapping about the same things’”.
We laugh together, but it’s a shaking your head, shrug your shoulders kind of laughter. Prometheus Brown and Bambu have cultures so rich that they could rap about it for days, but it’s just those kind of attitudes that make their music so vital. Barkada tackles them, while still upholding hip hop tenets like a dance-able-beats pulsing with punchline loaded raps.