Rightnowish Presents 'MIXED' Musician Guap on His Black and Filipino Heritage

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Guap performing at a live concert in Manila, Philippines. (Courtesy of Paul Middleton)

This week on Rightnowish we’ve got a special episode from our friends at KQED’s The California Report Magazine. They’ve launched a new series called MIXED: Stories of Mixed Race Californians.   Over 7 episodes, the hosts Sasha Khokha and Marisa Lagos have honest conversations with other mixed race Californians  about the challenges and joys of being multi racial. 

Even if he’s not always recognized as part of the Asian American community, Oakland-born rapper Guap is fiercely proud of his Filipino roots. On the last track of his 2021 album, 1176, he tells an origin story spanning decades and continents. His grandfather, a Black merchant marine stationed in Subic Bay in the Philippines, found himself with a rip in the pocket of his uniform. He found a young Filipina seamstress to repair the pocket — and fell in love. When his time in Subic Bay came to an end, the two married and moved to a one-story house in West Oakland, where they would eventually raise their grandchild Guap, the first-born child of their youngest daughter.

1176, created in collaboration with Filipino American producer !llmind, is Guap’s most personal work to date. It’s the culmination of a circuitous path into the music industry, from first getting recognition as a scam rapper to being featured on a Grammy-nominated album and a Marvel movie soundtrack. For the KQED series “Mixed: Stories of Mixed-Race Californians,” hosts Sasha Khokha and Marisa Lagos spoke to Guap about growing up Black and Filipino, the cultural impact his lola had on him, and how his mixed identity shows up in his music.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity — for the full version, listen to the audio at the top of this story.

A weathered white and light blue house sits in the middle as a young man in a light pink track suit points toward it with one hand, while holding his grandmother with the other. To the left, three teenagers are gathered as two kneel on the sidewalk playing dice.
Guap and his grandmother looking at the West Oakland house he grew up in.

On growing up with his grandparents

A lot of my creativity and explorative intent just came from [my grandfather, Douglas]. He was super handy in carpentry and home improvement. I probably get everything else in my life from my grandma. She is the most hard-working, sacrificial person ever. She doesn’t have a selfish bone in her body. I actually want her to be more selfish. I watched her work so many under-the-table jobs, fight to get legalized, even dealing with breast cancer and she’s still here.

We had a lot of fruit trees — a calamansi tree, which is a Filipino citrus fruit, a cherry tree, and an apple tree. And [my home] was really like a cultural hub for the neighborhood because my grandma would cook so much Filipino food, and we had an open-door policy. We had a lot of food and we shared it a lot so that my house was a home, not only to me growing up, but to a lot of my friends and people around us. My circle got so used to eating it that they kind of expected certain dishes: pancit, adobo, lumpia especially. I think that’s from the nature of my relationship with my grandma.

A Filipina grandmother in a fuzzy, brown coat and wearing sunglasses smiles as she poses for a photo with her grandson, who towers above her and lays his cheek on top of his head, wears a pink, knitted sweater and silver durag.
Guap and his grandmother, Corazon Mckinzy, in Oakland.

On navigating Blackness in the Filipino community

There was a lot of love inherently and a lot of acceptance, but there was also a lot of subtle racism. Even the Filipino elders, who I was receiving it from, didn’t really understand that it was racist. I never played sports, but I got compared to almost every athlete, mostly basketball players. And I used to be so irritated by that. I don’t want to be compared to them. There was even light pressure to get me to try to play basketball, and it got weird.


More from The California Report’s ‘Mixed’ series

So it was little things that built up over time. Comments and assumptions. Now, I know that a lot of my mischievousness as a child was because of ADHD. [Back then] I’d fiddle around with something and get in trouble and that was because I was the Black kid, not because something else was troubling me. Normal mental health issues got waved off as Black problems.

[When I visited the Philippines] it was weird to see people almost as dark as me, but they still [were] kind of confused. The wildest thing was people coming up to me and touching my hair. My grandma warned me about that. But it was always cool when people just walked up speaking Tagalog assuming that I completely understood it because, you know, they’ll try to talk slower if they feel like you’re foreign. So I thought that was cool.

A Filipina family of about a dozen men, women and children sit smiling at a dinner table; one woman hugs a baby on her lap. Oakland rapper and musician, Guap, sits at the table on the right side smiling wearing a white tank top next to a woman in a green T-shirt. A stack of blue, plastic chairs are off to the side.
Guap with his extended family in the Philippines.

On performing at an LA Clippers game for Filipino Heritage Night

Shout out to the homie Roslynn and her company, 1587. She’s a connector for a lot of Filipino American artists, and because of her, I was able to perform at halftime at the Crypto Arena. I couldn’t believe it. I was looking up at 15,000 people or something like that. It was a great vibe and I was just super humbled by it. When things like that happen, it doesn’t even hit me until I get home and I just smile about it.

On tapping into his roots when creating the song ‘Chicken Adobo’

I was making this album with !llmind, who’s Filipino as well, and we were just kind of going over Filipino goals. [Like] what do I want out of this project? And I was like, you know, I always wanted a song that the Filipino kids or the islander kids with the ukulele can sing at the talent show, because we all know they’re going to do it. He was going through some beats and he was like, “You know, I have the perfect one.”

And I was like, man, this makes me feel so warm. I want to make a love song. But if it’s for Filipino kids, I’ll talk about chicken adobo. That’s my favorite food. And eating food reminds me of love [and] love for family. It’s always food when I think about the old house, you know? So I was trying to channel that energy into the song, which is why I’m comparing the love of food to my love for this girl.

On advice for fellow mixed-race artists

I need all my mixed people to talk about it. Express yourself. Express your vantage point, your perspective and put that in your art, especially to the artists. Let it become a part of your identity. I promise [that] the more you are self-aware, the less writer’s block you have. You don’t have to make anything up or fabricate anything when you can fully tap in with yourself. So don’t deny your art that.

Rapper Guap (formerly Guapdad 4000) was raised by his Filipina grandmother in West Oakland. He’s fiercely proud of his Black and Filipino roots, and has been embraced by audiences from Manila to California. (Photos by Paul Middleton/Illustration by Kelly Ma of KQED)



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