There's a Jollibee Restaurant in Daly City. I've walked into it before but turned around after getting freaked-out by the multi-colored signage. Most American fast food restaurants have their color schemes -- two, three at the most -- like a sports team (McDonald's is red and gold, KFC's got red and white, Taco Bell is texy-mexy pink and blue), but Jollibee looks like it got attacked by the Google logo, with some cornea-melting orange thrown in for good measure. This presents a heckuva dilemma for the stoner: if you can endure the jollibright color scheme, you will be rewarded with fried chicken and spaghetti, pizzamelt pies, jollicheezy fries, some noodle and fried pork thing called Palabok, and mango peach pies -- you will enter stoner paradise. But I wouldn't know, 'cause I haven't eaten there. Probably haven't been high enough yet. I am not worthy.
Recently, I read that Jollibee, in it's native Phillipines, has been victorious over McDonald's in the war for its citizens' obviously courageous stomachs. There, Jollibee's profits were double those of the evil Golden Arches -- nothin' like a smiley little bumblebee to deliver the sting of colonial payback.
Today, Hip Hop in America is not unlike McDonald's food: mass-produced, hormone-fueled, highly predictable, and generally, bad for your health. For this reason, I am lucky enough to have some Filipino-American, or Pinoy, Hip Hop to save my "Summer 06 iTunes Playlist" from being completely Hip Hop-Free (except, of course for "Summertime" by Will Smith, which holds a permanent spot on the roster). Native Guns are Jollibee and 50 Cent is McDonald's and I am, uh, the hungry Filipino public. Native Guns consist of the holy Hip Hop trinity of two emcees and one dj- Kiwi, Bambu, and DJ Phatrick. Kiwi and Bambu are both Filipino rappers from LA, although Kiwi now lives in San Francisco and their DJ, DJ Phatrick is from Oakland, via Houston, and he's not Pinoy, but Chinese. According to their MySpace page, they are Pinoy Hip Hop from LA, the Bay Area, and Califaztlan (California before colonialism for Chicano activists). This not only gives you an idea of where the Native Guns are from, but also where they are coming from. It's political Hip Hop at it's best in the tradition of Public Enemy, Dead Prez, The Coup -- thoughtful, subjective lyrics coupled with high-level political analysis. And like these precursors, Native Guns are willing to put the party in "political party." Meaning, the beats rate high on the head-nodding scale.
The Native Guns convincing debut album, Barrel Men, begins with the song "Initiation," which opens with a skit (a kind of Hip Hop audio drama) of a kid getting jumped into a gang. If the song and album that followed weren't so good, such a contrived device would certainly fall flat. It is the social commentary woven together with the emcees' own biographies that stands up, and over the course of the album is enough to forgive the occasional gunshot sound and clichéd skit. These stories stray from the current urban music freaky-tale that is pretty much most of what you hear on mainstream terrestrial radio. These days, ultra-violence is taboo but sex is ka-ching!
One song I love for its irony is called "Work It." It's a song about sweatshop labor (appropriate topic for properly pissed-off Filipinos), but the great thing is that the chorus has the cadence and character of your typical joint about sex and dancing. As if coaxing some dance floor diva to move her backside, the lyrics instruct:
"Baby work it, 'til your hands get sweaty, Baby Work it, til your fingerz get bloody, Baby work it, 'til your stomach go hungry,C'mon get that money honey."
This is followed with an "oh yeah" seductively moaned by young female voices in unison. With "Work It," Native Guns powerfully link the real, physical exploitation of women in the Third World to the representative exploitation of women in our popular music.
As I mentioned earlier, Barrel Men is currently in heavy rotation in my "Summer '06 iTunes Playlist." What makes this album "season-appropriate" -- just peep the rocksteady bounce of "Promise." Early reggae samples are perfect for summer -- not too fast and not too slow -- it's the mid-tempo pulse that moves you through the heat with a little breeze blowin' on ya, but not so fast that you gotta put the top up. This album has a few more of those, including "Slave Thinking," which contains a Bob Marley sample. Once again, something that might seem a little too much, but when Bambu spits 4 bars in Tagalog, all is forgiven (and btw, Tagalog sound's great rapped, and until you hear some German Hip Hop, you won't realize that there are some languages that just don't lend themselves to the form).
Then there is the song "Champion," which Native Guns call their "single" on their Myspace page. Man, I hope that some DJ somewhere is playing this song on the radio or in a club to warrant it being called a single. "Champion," once again, comes with the reggae-inflected chorus, not coincidentally unlike the song "Champion" by LA underground heroes Freestyle Fellowship. I say this because Native Guns obviously owe much to the tradition of the West Coast underground emcee, and that is nowhere more present than on "Champion," where it is the musical syncopation of the rhyming that energizes the song over its steady kick-clap-kick-clap march.
In Kiwi and Bambu the musical afterglow of Aceyalone and The Pharcyde is still burning. And thank God. These earlier artists, although apparently still around, peaked before their time. Now, those of us who once loved West Coast Hip Hop for its diversity, can once again, breath a sigh of relief after years of inhaling big purple clouds of Hyphy-GangstaCrunktasticness. Let us hope that Native Guns' Barrel Men will be the smoking gun we need -- let this album stand as evidence that in 2006 Kiwi, Bambu and DJ Phatrick will be held partly responsible for killing the stereotype that West Coast Rap is either one-dimensional, gangsta-party joints or one-dimensional, back-packer, linguistic circle-jerks. Please, let them be guilty. Give theme the recognition they deserve. Lock 'em up with Mumia and Leonard Peltier, I wanna see "Free Native Guns" on Berkeley bumper stickers for the next 30 years, anything for a sea-change in Hip Hop. That's a cause that needs political prisoners, and Native Guns are prime suspects.