My first memories of hip-hop are from the late '80s and early '90s. I was anywhere from ten to 14 years-old. I was a sponge. I not only liked hip-hop, but all pop music, and especially anything on The Box (you remember wanting to request videos!), MTV and BET. If my brother listened to it (NWA, Ice Cube, Digital Underground, Public Enemy), I probably snuck it in/out of his room to dub my own copy.
My best hip-hop memories come from college. Hip-hop was a cultural discovery at the same time "Asian America" was. My vocabulary was different then: "the elements" (DJing, b-boying, graffiti, MCing), "conscious," "revolutionary," "cipher." I was so excited to go to the 1999 B-Boy Summit at UCLA with my friends. At the time I was doing a stint at UCLA and was hoping to run into (or at least spot) Key Kool (Japanese American MC), who I'd heard was rumored to be attending UCLA. I went (all by my lonesome) to the Whiskey A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard in LA, to see the legendary Freestyle Fellowship's first reunion after many years. I remember seeing Medea Sirkus boogaloo onstage at a Free Mumia benefit in Santa Cruz. "Redefinition" by Blackstar and "I Used to Love H.E.R." were two of many songs in heavy rotation in my car stereo. I secretly wanted to recite the staccato phrases of slam poets, and to be a beat-juggling DJ like Kuttin' Kandi.
Luckily, I befriended many Asian American kids who were into hip-hop, who put me onto new music and ideas. From there, my Asian American "conscious-ness" expanded. I learned about the I-Hotel and discovered the word "manong" was more than how my aunties addressed my dad. I was just coming to learn (by osmosis) more about my Filipino-ness, and language played a big part: "babaylan" (female healers/sages), "kayumanggi" (dark-skinned), "katipunan" (revolution). I tried to bridge the gap between my Filipino-ness and Asian American-ness (which I still see as being separate). I bought and read every Asian American publication I could find, starting with Ronyoung Kim's Clay Walls (in an Asian American literature class) and Jessica Hagedorn's Charlie Chan is Dead and Dogeaters. Hey, that's how I came to intern at Giant Robot!
I've always been more of a "stealth activist" than an "In your face!" type. In high school I wrote opinion pieces and edited ratty little Xeroxed zines. Voicing my opinion has always been the extent of my "activism." But this apathy I feel is amplified, such that I don't think my opinion matters anymore. At 26 years-old my vocabulary has deteriorated and my energy is waning. The daily language I use/hear: "deadline" and "over-extended." Hip-hop and Asian America are monotonous like a paper-pushing desk job.
How can I, the publisher of an Asian American magazine, say that I've lost passion, when obviously (by being involved with such an effort as Hyphen) I still have drive? But the fire doesn't burn as bright as before, and I wonder how soon it will be before I burn out.
If you have any words of encouragement or advice, or even experiences to share: I'm all ears. As I see it, hip-hop music and Asian American issues will always be a part of my life, but I need to find new ways to constantly rekindle the passion and enjoyment for both.