Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Catch Him While You Can - The District

From the District Weekly (4/22/2009)

every community that draws water and electricity in this smoggy sprawl, there are musicians documenting what goes on outside their windows for anyone who will listen. From patchouli-tinged minstrels to landlocked emcees, the voices that resonate beyond their street corners are forever indebted to these surroundings.

Emcee Bambu’s story is of the Filipino-American experience in the oft-romanticized Los Angeles era of pagers and Raiders, where storefronts and futures were just as likely to go up in a blaze. His gangbanging childhood bred an unapologetic streak of confidence and hard knocks that make wrestling with the music industry pale in comparison. After being jailed for armed robbery as a kid, he joined the Marines at the recommendation of a judge. Since this turning point, Bambu has been on a track to improve the world around him. “Change happens from the bottom where the problems are,” he says, calling from New York following a speaking engagement at NYU. “Not the top down.”

Bambu’s newest release, . . . A Peaceful Riot . . . , is a 10-track extension of his philosophy straight off the heels of his recent full-length, Exact Change. Fatgums’ bright production shines with dramatic stutters, both melodic and rhythmic, popping with pristine crispness between a pair of cans. The big-beat stack of Stax cushions Bambu’s calculated rhymes, lighting up both minds and dance floors, with one skeptical eye on those in charge and the other on himself.

The EP is being released exclusively by Beatrock—the safe-house/art gallery within sneezing distance of Long Beach City College. Aside from a busload of DJs and emcees, including DJ Tanner, Otayo Dubb and the CounterParts Crew, the upcoming EP release show also promises what any good party should have: charred, marinated meats. “If you’ve never had Park’s Finest (Johneric Concordia) BBQ, then you don’t know barbecue,” he tells me with a passion usually reserved for the stage. “It would be a foolish thing for you to miss that barbecue.”

Fatgums and Bambu have been working together for a little more than a year. The resulting collision has included not only Bambu’s last full-length album but the recent soundtrack/mixtape, A Song for Ourselves. Earlier this year, filmmaker Tad Nakamura released a documentary about troubadour Chris Iijima, a leading voice in the Asian-American Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. “Tad had been in touch with my DJ. It wasn’t even a question. ‘I need you to get in the studio and do this.’ ” So, Bambu got to work with DJ Phatrick resulting in a 19-track mixtape that features Bambu on nearly half of it. “A lot of socially conscious emcees have clever sound bites and catchy rhetoric, but Bambu has a deep knowledge of historic and current social struggles to back it all up,” says mixtape contributor Senz of Depth. “It takes some courage to talk trash to another rapper, but to critique the most powerful nation and military on earth—in such a smart, lucid, unapologetic way—takes courage on a whole other level.”

As far as the future goes, Bambu has an ambitious game plan focusing squarely on raising his child in a better world than the one that raised him. By the time election fever sweeps the nation again, Bambu expects to be out of the rap scene. “I just don’t know if I have it in me with the family. I just want to challenge folks to look for new talent. I just want to step away,” he says. Like Iijima, who went on to become a teacher and a lawyer following his strummed outrage, Bambu wants to change the world on a local scale by opening up a community space, after-school programs and even teaching some martial arts. Bambu’s effortless flow will be missed when it is gone. So, catch it while there is still time, and grab some barbecue before you leave.


Catch Him While You Can - The District

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