The last time I interviewed a rapper, it was 50 Cent in a piece for a much larger media outlet than our humble Wagon of Dads. L.A.-based Bambu, formerly of Native Guns, may not be as big a name, but he is hands-down the best socially conscious Filipino-American rapper there is, because he freestyles like this and this and because this song is hellagood, as they say out West, as is this video.
So, Bambu, tell me about your kid.
My son, Kahlil Bayani is 2 years old. Looks like his Mom. Boo.
Any significance behind the name?
His first name, Kahlil, was given to him by his Mother after the Lebanese writer, Khalil Gibran. His middle name, Bayani, in Tagalog, means “Hero.”
Hero. Is that something like a career path you’re hoping for him?
Haha. Without sound too cliché or corny, the boy really came into my life at a time when I needed some focus, direction and some “grounding.”
I think a lot of us look at having babies as a way of fixing things in our lives. Isn’t that a mistake?
“Fixed” may not be the word I would use, but having him has forced me to do many things that are really for the benefit of my character… like staying with his Mother and really hashing out our issues, instead of just running from the conflicts and refusing to compromise.
Tell me about your day with the kid.
I teach a documentary filmmaking class to High School students, and it doesn’t start til’ later in the afternoon. So, I spend the mornings making him breakfast (oatmeal usually — I’m the grandmaster at microwavable oatmeal) and just watching him watch cartoons.
If the name Bambu doesn’t work out anymore, try going with Grandmaster Instant Oatmeal.
Haha. Afternoons I’ll go to work, come back home, spend a little more time with him, then off to do the musician thing. Shows, record, etc.
Do you ever wear a Baby Björn? Because that’s like the least gangster thing ever.
Hell nah! I need the bicep/deltoid workout to match the growing belly of fatherhood. Plus, Kahlil has a wicked back-elbow strike.
What do you do with him outside of cartoon watching?
Let him swing the stick (Filipino Martial Arts) in the yard at me… mini-basketball hoop
One thing that impresses me is that it seems like if anything, you are releasing MORE records more quickly now that you have a kid.
INDEED. I’ve done the touring-thing, the tourist-thing when I land in a city. Now I have it worked out to where I can just fly in and fly out for shows. Because I want to get home to him and his Mother.
Has Kahlil changed your sense of urgency about your career?
Yeah, but it also shifted that sense of urgency into a reality check. There’s no money in music anymore. So, I need to know that this is slowly but surely becoming a hobby for me and a way to raise awareness and create an impact towards social change.
Are we going to see Bambu the accountant? Because activism doesn’t pay shit, either.
True! But, sadly, it pays more than music. I’m only going to record one last full-length album and just hang out with Kahlil. I’ll probably put out songs on the internet here and there, but no more going through the process of creating and promoting an album. Done with that. Anyway, nobody really appreciates the full-length album — because so many artists no longer make sonically cohesive bodies of work. It’s just a bunch of songs they were recording, and it’s all so formulaic now.
Yeah, you don’t have any AutoTune on the Paper Cuts EP do you?
Seven Months may be one of the only rap videos I’ve seen with dudes putting cribs together. Did rapping about real life help you when it came time to change diapers?
Absolutely. Haha. I’ve done a lot of shit in my life. *quick life synopsis in 5, 4, 3… I grew up in a gang-infested community in Los Angeles, joined the gang at a very young age. Juvenile Correction facilities played volleyball with me. I caught a little break when I found a way to join the military. I did almost 7 years as a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman. I’ve been homeless. I’ve lost all of my first cousins to violence secondary to gangbanging. So, even before Kahlil, I knew that life can’t be this forever.
I’ve seen you called the Filipino Tupac, and the Filipino Mos Def. So, which one is it?
HAHA. Haven’t heard that one.
You gotta Google yourself more.
Haha. Ummm… Let’s go with Mos.
So, you’ve seen a lot of violence and you’ve rapped about a lot of violence. Do you worry about your kid getting involved in that?
I do, especially because my family is still here. He’ll have cousins who are in. He’ll have uncles who are in. He’s already been to family parties where his 2-year old cousins are displaying the gang hand signs while my cousins are laughing about it and treating it like a cute thing they learned in school. So, he’ll have no choice but to get schooled up on it. I need to really turn myself into someone he’ll want to become more so than “them.” BUT, I don’t want to shield his eyes from the truth and the reality of how the system works. I want him to know and understand that I support the people’s right to choose armed struggle. I want him to know that Dad owns guns. But more importantly, he needs to learn how to respect those weapons and respect LIFE.
Second Amendment dad. I see.
But the NRA can kiss my ass.
Choosing “armed struggle”? There’s an organized revolutionary thing going on in the States?
It’s there. There are many organized fronts that want systemic change versus reform. I organize with a youth and student organization called Kabataang maka-Bayan, Pro-People Youth. We organize in support of the movement back home [in the Philippines] AND more specifically with the issues young people of color deal with domestically, specifically with Filipino youth. Filipino youth have the highest dropout rate in LA, for example.
A recent article talked about people getting killed while singing “My Way” in karaoke bars in the Philippines. And some people were basically saying, well, there’s a lot of violence in that society. Is that true? Is that an issue here in the States too?
Hmmm… Didn’t read that. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the president, is the biggest human rights violator in the world! Her regime is responsible for the deaths of over a thousand activists and students in the Philippines… it is unquestionably one of the most violent third world countries on Earth.
Yeah, I think Geologic [a Filipino-American rapper out of Seattle] was talking about that somewhere. And about that fawning David Byrne homage to Imelda Marcos.
That fucking album! Jeez.
Yeah, Jeez. Is there a Filipino style of fathering?
Yeah, beat them senseless. Haha. Actually, I think Catholicism plays a big cultural role in Filipino values. That would be the most immediate “style of fathering”: Church. BUT, because I don’t do that, I have to rely on raising my Son as a member of a community.
At DadWagon we’re sort of obsessed about doing things better, or at least not worse, than our own dads. Have you vowed to be a different kind of father than the one you had?
Yes. In many ways. I was raised with two father-figures. My biological dad and a man who took me under his wing at 16 or 17. They were two very different types of fathers. My dad was big on really downplaying everything I deemed successful in my life — I guess in hopes of making me push harder to become a better man (?!). The other was really nurturing. He sat me down and taught me about my culture and other cultures around the world. He sharpened me as a martial artist and ultimately, gave me the greatest example of a “family-man” I could have ever had. Luckily, he got me right when I got out of a bid for armed robbery.
Sounds like you went out and dad-shopped for a better father.
Sort of… Actually, I fell in love with his daughter.
Is there any of your music you don’t think is good for him to listen to right now or later? “Pull it Back,” for example, seems to be straight-up gun rap.
I won’t shield him from any of it. I want him to be able to ask me about it. I won’t push in front of him, but he’ll have no choice but to hear my music. So, it’s on me to be sharp enough to explain myself to him. The Bambu of 2005 is not the Bambu of 2010. Unfortunately, as an artist, a rapper especially, we don’t get to keep a secret diary — our journal/diary is out there for the world to hear.
Ah, so you’re like a dad-blogger then. That ups my street cred significantly.
Alright, final topic —
No doubt… perfect timing — Baby Mama is getting antsy.
You made your name on you skills with language. Is Khalil talking yet?
No full sentences yet. He’s really into Yo! Gabba Gabba and Super Why! and he recognizes ALL the letters in the alphabet and his numbers up to 3.
You see some talents there, then.
He has great rhythm. My D.J. lets him play with the turntables and he cuts the fader in and out with perfect timing. I love this little dude.
So will he be a rapper?
Oh no! No rapping for this one…
No, if he wants to rap, I’ll support him… but, he’ll have to battle me every morning until he beats me.
Put that on YouTube.
His mom raps too (she just dropped her album a few weeks ago) and so there’s just too much of that shit going on in the house…
Thanks, Bambu. It’s been good having you on DadWagon
No doubt! Dads of the world unite!