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P-Lo Is Feeding the Bay Area With More Than Just His Music

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Two people greet each other in an outdoor setting.
P-Lo greets guests during the rapper and producer's Very Good Food Tour at Señor Sisig in Oakland. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Earlier this season, the team formerly known as the Oakland Raiders won a pivotal Sunday Night Football game in Las Vegas. Afterwards, the players celebrated in their locker room while blasting Bay Area rap anthems and puffing cigars.

The song of choice for the adrenalized group? P-Lo’s “Light This Bitch Up.”

In many ways, P-Lo has become one of the Bay Area’s avatars for winning, having ascended to stardom as a multi-platinum producer and lyricist after starting out as a founding member of HBK Gang. His resume includes producing hits for all of your favorite rappers and collaborating with the Golden State Warriors for events like Filipino Heritage Night at Chase Center, where he often receives energetic daps from the 3-point god, Steph Curry, himself.

The versatile Filipino from Pinole isn’t just popular among sports celebrities, though; he’s also beloved in the Bay’s expansive food world. In recent years, P-Lo has steadily furthered his place in the culinary ecosystem by partnering with notable food brands. He’s twice collaborated with San Francisco’s iconic Señor Sisig to create his own signature burrito and chicken wings.  He also organized a star-studded, transnational “Very Good Food Tour” to celebrate Filipino American History Month this summer. Did I mention his music is featured in a nationwide Wingstop commercial?

An indoor space filled with people with murals on the wall.
A crowd fills Señor Sisig during P-Lo’s Very Good Food Tour. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

It only felt right that I caught up with STUNNA. After sitting down with the artist in San Francisco to watch a Friday night Warriors game on TV, I slid by his sold-out food event in Oakland the following afternoon to grub on wings. He spoke to me about sustaining intergenerational love, cooking up independent success and staying well-fed in the Bay.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Alan Chazaro: I recently spoke with Oakland rapper Michael Sneed, and he credited you and your older brother, Kuya Beats, as being mentors to his generation. It’s something I hear often when speaking to younger artists around our region.

P-Lo: That’s something my brother instilled in me because he’s always been a teacher. Also, I think that’s like, you know, that we’re from here. I want to be able to usher in the new. You know what I’m saying? ‘Cause I’m not going to be doing it forever. I want to be able to make sure that the next generation don’t have to go through all the bruises and bumps that generations before them did. I just wanna be able to pass down the game.

Tell me about your Very Good Food Tour. You hit eight cities around North America during Filipino American History Month to promote small Filipino-owned businesses.

It really started out just doing a bunch of stuff with Señor Sisig. I love food. I love culture. I love learning about not just my culture but other people’s cultures — which is something in the Bay that we grew up on. Our friends are from hella places. All my friends come from different backgrounds. They knew so much about Filipino culture just from being around me, and I know about their cultures from being around them. It’s an exchange, and I wanted to continue that exchange on a larger scale. As humans, that’s how we move forward. The world needs that right now. There’s so much division — narratives in the media, financial. Know what I’m saying? Any way I can bring people together, whether music, food, culture, I’m gonna try my best to do that.

So how did you select the restaurants in each city?

I tapped in with folks in each community. I like to know what the cool restaurants are, and when we’re going to these places, I like to know where my friends and the people living there go. I like to learn from those communities so we can, you know, do things correctly. How can we get ourselves involved there? That’s important to me, connecting with the people and sharing each other’s platforms. Restaurants have their own platforms, I have mine, so it’s beneficial to both parties.

A dish of fried chicken next to a purple drink in a tall glass.
P-Lo’s signature special during his food tour stop at Señor Sisig: crispy wings tossed in sinagang seasoning. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

You’re also creating an original dish for each venue.

Exactly. We’re doing that collaboration to make it even more saucy. It’s cool because music brings people together and so does food, so it’s a perfect meshing. Food is an art form. Just like you can taste when something is made with love, you can hear when something is made with love. It has a certain soul to it. That’s just energy being transferred in both cases. People never forget how you made them feel.

As far as feeding the people, you’ve been cooking up Bay Area hits for years now. Is there a certain dish or restaurant in the Bay that you think gives people a similar feeling of regional pride and identity as your music does?

For me, whenever I come back home from being away, it’s usually going to the Mission for a burrito. I actually got into an argument with some dudes on L.A. radio telling them that [the best] burritos come from San Francisco, and they were like “hell no, this and that,” and I’m like bro, look it up. You know, what many people think of burritos nowadays, that style, that came from San Francisco.

You can never go wrong with a burrito. In the past, you’ve actually teamed up with the chefs at Señor Sisig to make your own signature burrito. This time around, you’re doing spicy sinigang chicken wings with them. What draws you to working with Señor Sisig?

Man, it’s just a fusion that represents who I am. My Filipino background is rooted in family, and on top of that I have my Bay Area background rooted in music. So that’s what this collab is about, in a dish. I love spicy food. I got that from my dad; he hella likes spicy food. I recently learned that spicy food releases endorphins and shit like that.

Is there a strong culture of spicy foods in the Philippines? 

Bro, me and my homie literally just got back from the Philippines, and we were talking about this. There’s not really spice like that, to be honest. At Sisig, you can add jalapeños and peppers, but in general Filipino food is not very spicy. But I still love hella spices, spicy sauces, things like that on my food.

What restaurant, besides Señor Sisig, were you most looking forward to on your food tour?

BBs in Toronto. I’ve been visiting Toronto pretty frequently and I like eating there. They were just added to the Michelin guide (one of 11 Filipino restaurants to do so). Toronto kinda reminds me of here. How the Filipino culture is ingrained. Everyone in Toronto has a Filipino friend. That feels like home to me. One of the gifts of doing this is being able to connect with more people and experience different cultures. It’s not the same everywhere, so growing up in the Bay you think the world is like this. But it’s not. The more I grow older and understand how special it is to be in a place like this, it’s been amazing.

Have you noticed a rise in the popularity of Filipino food trends everywhere in recent years? And how do you feel about that?

Definitely. Filipinos really only been here for like 50, 60 years. We started coming over in the 60s, 70s. I think over time it’s just grown, and now is the moment for this. We have roots here now. We got critical mass. Now it’s time for the take over [laughs]. Now you’re seeing ube at Trader Joe’s and Starbucks and things like that. That’s amazing, that’s cool. Growing up, you didn’t really see that as much. I’m for it, man. That’s one of the reasons why we even started doing this tour and these collaborations. I want people to feel pride in who they are. Most of the time people have to suppress how they grew up or their backgrounds in order to fit in.

But man, from the reactions so far of people who have come to our events, it’s been dope. Our team definitely likes to think outside of the box and create experiences in other ways, and not just always buying a ticket to one of my concerts. How do we create an experience that’s unique to us? This felt like the perfect thing. This encompasses what I’m fully about.

A vinyl album with the photo of a person in a baseball cap on it beside a trucker hat with the words "Very Good Food Tour 23'" written on it.
Merch from P-Lo’s Very Good Food Tour. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

What defines Filipino food for you?

The hominess of it.

Sorry, do you mean that as in “homely” or “homie”?

I mean like that feeling of being at home. 

Got you. I thought you meant it as sharing it with your homies, because that works too. But being centered on the home is definitely on point as well, especially for immigrant diasporas.

Oh yeah, totally [laughs]. They both work. My parents are immigrants, so that experience of eating Filipino food at the house, or at a homie’s house, it’s gotta be that for me. I do like the elevated versions of Filipino food though. I appreciate that. Taking it to the next level. But nothing beats when your mom or auntie cooks it. And that’s something I don’t want to leave out. It should feel homely.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the random intersection of Bay Area slang in rap songs and food. Obviously, E-40 is responsible for most of it. Does anything come to mind for you?

[Laughs]. Yeah, E-40 is responsible for probably 90% of that. Um, let me think. I know food definitely doesn’t slap. That’s where I draw the line. Someone said that on TikTok and completely butchered it. That’s not how it’s used. That’s just not it. But yeah, I also talk about chicken in my songs. Referencing money. That’s just something I’ve heard in conversation that I started using in my music.

What’s inspiring you musically right now? 

I’ve been listening to Jordan Ward. He’s tight. Karri — he has a song out called “3am in Oakland.” He’s a Filipino kid, too. He’s super tight. Michael Sneed. He’s very unique. He’s been out in L.A. working in our studio, going back and forth to the Bay. Watching him create and get it has been super cool. He’s one of the purest people I know. That’s inspiring to be around.

 

You’re considered one of the Bay Area’s biggest voices right now. You’re vocal about different issues like positive community representation, the Warriors and supporting one another. How does it feel to be in that position now?

I’m just grateful, man. I want to keep growing, no matter how big or small, on every level. That’s a credit to the people around me. They allow me to think in progressive ways and bring new ideas to life. It’s truly that, to be honest. Having the right people. And always being open to learning. Gucci Mane said something like, “If you not growing, you dead.” If something’s not growing, it’s finished. So I like to be a permanent student, to embrace the youth, the next generation. Anybody that came out the Bay, I’ve tried to bring them on tour with me. ALLBLACK, [22nd] Jim, Rexx Life Raj, Caleborate, Sneed. Just embracing that growth no matter what.

Who played that role for you when you were coming up?

For me, Kool John and IAMSU!, it really starts there as a member of Heartbreak Gang. Iamsu! and Kool John really gave me all the confidence to do what I’m doing, and they showed me the way. Sage, too. G-Eazy played a huge part and taught me some game. Shit, 40. Uncle Earl. Just having phone conversations with him, or him calling me to get my opinion on things. That’s surreal. I grew up on him. Being around all of them. They gave me that push like, “Bruh, you can really do this.” Being a producer at first, people thought I could only do that. SU! and Kool John pushed me to actually be on songs. 

HBK Gang has played a tremendous role in the Bay Area’s artistic renaissance over the past decade. Looking back on it, what influence do you think you all had?

That era set the table for pretty much the future of Bay Area music. There wasn’t really anything for the soundscape in the Bay at the time, in terms of production, what it all sounded like, and fashion at the time as well. We did collabs with Pink Dolphin, stuff like that. People weren’t doing collabs with clothing brands. Like any Bay Area story, we’re always ahead of the times.

Where do you think that inventiveness comes from in Bay Area people?

We’re all like hippies, for real. We’re eccentric. And eclectic. It may be the drugs, maybe something in the water. Our water, our air, it’s really good. That’s important. I really think it makes us function in a way that’s different from the rest of the world. We also get exposed to a lot here, and we find beauty in the imperfections. 

I agree. We’re blessed and bipped at the same time.

Exactly. I got homies in the tech world, and I got homies in jail right now. Growing up with that spectrum is wide. That makes us worldly people. You can drop a Bay Area person anywhere and they’ll be alright. And you can always spot us out by just playing Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle.”

Two people stand together talking as one holds a young child.
KQED reporter Alan Chazaro holds his son Maceo while posing with P-Lo at Señor Sisig. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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