Rocky Rivera started her career as a journalist and became a fierce MC. Now she can add author to her resume with 'Snakeskin,' her debut book of essays. (Vivian Chen)
Last year, Krishtine De Leon went to Alameda to honor her late mother, and when she left began a new journey of peeling back another layer of who she is.
Her husband, Jonah Deocampo—a.k.a. rapper Bambu—had just finished putting their daughter on a bike and saw snakeskin lying on the ground. He pointed it out to De Leon, who felt like the remains meant something but wasn’t sure what. Now, after over a year-long process of shedding her own skin, the Filipina American MC takes fans on a retrospective journey of resilience through her first book, Snakeskin.
The 216-page book of personal essays, currently only available for purchase to her supporters on Patreon, documents De Leon’s growth as the fierce MC most fans recognize as Rocky Rivera.
She came up with the concept years ago—originally as a celebration of her tenth year as an independent artist. Through writing, she realized that it’s okay to outgrow older versions of yourself yet still be rooted in who you are—no b.s.—at your core.
Before the birth of Rocky, De Leon was the editor-in-chief of Ruckus Magazine and a music journalist with bylines in Rolling Stone, XXL and The Source, interviewing top-shelf names like Wu Tang Clan, E-40 and Cassie. In 2018, she dropped her third album, Rocky’s Revenge, an 11-track tape with bass-heavy slaps that shed light on social inequities and give off Bay Area energy. Beyond her lyricism, she’s involved in community work as a youth educator and community organizer in Oakland.
In a recent interview, De Leon explained how the title of the book came about after that fateful day in Alameda. For someone who’s spiritual, the dried-up carcass symbolized that it was time to step up as an adult, woman and artist—and to truly be herself unapologetically. “In order to do that, you have to shed your old skin,” she said. “You have to and it's painful.”
Throughout Snakeskin, she explores moments in her life that shaped the woman we now know. She asked herself questions like, “Why did I grow up right now? Why am I the first daughter of an immigrant family? Why am I the youngest daughter of an immigrant family? Why did I see all these things that happened?”
Each essay is written from a raw and introspective point of view with details sure to bring you back to 1990-something, when Keroppi everything was all we wanted. She dives into the intersectionality of being a person of color and a woman, growing up in San Francisco, a little bit of high school debauchery—all while exploring deeper themes like colonialism, feminism, power, privilege and how hip-hop originated from Black culture.
The sociopolitical messages seen in De Leon’s lyrics also shine between the lines in Snakeskin. “When hip-hop went mainstream, it took on all the qualities of the oppressor. And for me, hip-hop was the medium, but it was not the message for me. The message for me is ethnic studies. And the message for me is whose stories do we tell? How do we own our own stories?”
Since the pandemic began early last year, De Leon’s utilized Patreon as a way to connect with her fanbase and showcase works in progress. In doing this, she hopes to create a new paradigm to break old patterns that exploit artists.
“In order for me to legitimize my work, I had to be the one to do it. And I think that's what a lot of us people of color and women of color have to do: we have to be the ones to legitimize our own shit by any means necessary,” she explained. “We're not going to wait for a gatekeeper to say, ‘Oh, we have slots on our women of color lottery system, one out of 1,000 people.’ No, I'm not going to wait.”
The MC-turned-author has a ton planned for the upcoming year. Some exciting projects on the way include a coffee table book with photographer Been Milky, a print magazine by women of color for women of color and a guided journal or planner focused on reflection and looking within—rather than just filling up your calendar with more things to do.
“I want to provide a platform for young writers and young artists—to not just follow in my footsteps—but take that torch and just go as far as they can with it,” she said. “The only way to create a pipeline for me is to be an example. Not only is our music sustainable, but it's necessary. And it's required for the kind of change that we want to see. Not just in music, but in culture overall. And as a culture organizer, I believe that culture is the only way that we can make change not policy, not presidents, but culture.”
De Leon will celebrate the launch of Snakeskin alongside journalist and historian Davey D Cook, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop author Jeff Chang and Rob Kenner, author of The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle. The Twitch book release party will be on Saturday, March 27, and feature a very Bay Area line-up including Umami & Lady Fingaz, Chuy Gomez and DJ Roza.
Between being a mom, wife, daughter, MC, educator and community organizer, De Leon’s been through her handful of ups and downs—all of which have led to more growth and, for us, Snakeskin. “You will evolve even if you don't want things to change,” she reflected. “We have to acknowledge all of those stages of ourselves, no matter how shameful or hurtful, in order to heal.”
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