[INDIE HIP HOP] Hip-hop and activism collide in Barrel Men, a debut release by California’s Native Guns. Serving a clever pun on the ubiquitous barrel-encased, unquestionably male Filipino keepsake, the album claims a pivotal moment in Filipino-American music.
While most chart toppers do a tad more than launch a thousand ho-downs, Native Guns seek to ignite social understanding and uplift their audiences. Their raw sound dishes political jabs, casts hip-hop’s cheesy cliches aside and honors timeless elements of soul, funk, Latin rhythms and reggae.
Native Guns’ Kiwi, Bambu and DJ Phatrick pay a reverent homage to the late 1980’s Native Tongues, a collective that epitomized the golden era of hip-hop. Having built names for themselves separately in the Los Angeles’ local scene, both have previously released coming-of-age solo albums—Kiwi’s Writes of Passage: Portraits of a Sun Rising and Bambu’s Self Untitled, where the two first collaborated on the song, “Peaceful Pistols.”
After major scrapes with the law, Bambu spent five years in the military to straighten up and out of the city. His travels also lent a first-hand look at hip-hop’s many regional textures. It brought inspiration spiritually and artistically to the emerging lyricist. Currently, Bambu runs writing workshops and counsels at a youth center.
Meanwhile, hearing “Stop the Violence” by Boogie Down Productions pushed Kiwi to question his then-gang lifestyle. This introspection also triggered the poet inside as he threw down at slam events and underground ciphers. He followed a path of community work, engaging in after-school programs for high-risk youth. Kiwi now works for a non-profit agency conducting health workshops around San Francisco.
Bringing heat to the mix is DJ Phatrick. An ethnic studies graduate, he works for Bay Unity Music Project, a non-profit that teaches youngsters about digital music recording. The collective serves high schools with classes on beat-making and operating 101—the agency’s mock record label.
With production support from indie producers including DJ Rhettmatic of the World Famous Beat Junkies and Visionaries crew, Native Guns combines head-bopping beats with unbridled lyricism.
“Treason” begins with slow, bluesy vocals and follows the trio at an anti-war march. Heavy bass sonically paints an activist’s slice-of-life, with storytelling that is riveting and humorous. “Work It” puts insatiable mass consumerism in third-world sweatshop perspective. For that good ole’ West Coast G-funk, “Kombat” is a battle song exposing the ills of the rap industry. It switches up to a fun Latin vibe in “1995,” as they wax poetic about the early days of discovering hip-hop. “Champion,” the album’s first single, is another party jam.
Finally, slow strings accompany rapid-fire but smooth delivery in “Hammer.” After pondering the Patriot Act, the last hook goes: “Seize the time, take the hour, free your mind, taste the power, open wide, go outside, take to the streets and make them ours, bring your signs, rock them drums, call your elders, call your young, weather this whole shit together, one for all and all for one.”
In these politically ripe times, Barrel Men is essential listening and a lasting cultural contribution, both in the classroom and on the street corner. For more information, log on to www.nativeguns.com. MTW