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Everyday People: Interview with Kiwi

Mornin’ folks, here I have the 2nd installment of Everyday People, my mini-interview series featuring folks in the community. Today I’m interviewing the homie Kiwi, a Filipino MC/educator from Los Angeles but currently based in the Bay Area. Along with Bambu and DJ Phatrick, Kiwi was apart of the highly-influential rap group Native Guns.

1. Who are you, where are you from, and why are you here?

My name is Kiwi Illafonte, I’m a rapper, producer, DJ, writer, graphic designer, educator, and community organizer. I’m from Oakland, CA by way of Los Angeles. I’m here because of my mother.

2. What is one defining experience from your life that helped make you who you are?

There are many. When my homie Russell got killed in the 10th grade. When I first heard BDP’s “Stop the Violence.” The first time I had a gun pointed at me. When my mom had to go with me to the police station cause I got busted tagging. But the one that probably sticks out the most was when I did my first exposure trip to the Philippines in 1998. It was the first time I was experiencing firsthand all the theories and analysis I had been learning about in books and workshops. I learned about how inherent organizing was among the Filipino people, and how powerful people power can be. I returned from that trip committed to that struggle, the movement for National Democracy in the Philippines.

3. Who are some of your biggest influences?

My mother first and foremost. She modeled courage, strength, sacrifice, and resilience to me. Bill Sorro was another huge influence. He was the first real father figure in my life, and in addition to being a fierce champion for housing and tenant rights in San Francisco, he showed me how be a loving revolutionary. I’m also influenced by all the amazing community that I keep close. They are usually the ones with the ideas and thoughts that become my songs or my writings. They are the ones who check me when I say/do dumb shit, who challenge my ideas with their own experiences, and who encourage me to keep working.

4. What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, and what are you doing to overcome them?

Well, my mother passed away a few months ago, and I’m learning each day that grieving and healing is a protracted process. I’m learning to be easy on myself, to ask for help, to cry my ass off, and to be okay with solitude.

Another challenge that I’m right in the middle of is transitioning out of the non-profit world, which I’ve been stuck in for over a decade. Sometimes when we do things for awhile, we become comfortable in them, and we don’t realize there are other options. Recently I resigned from my current job, am going to travel across the world this summer, and will start taking classes full-time at Laney College. It’s pretty scary, but I’m learning that we figure out ways to survive, and in the end I’ll be just fine.

5. What gives you the inspiration/motivation to push on everyday?

Honestly I feel like the world is jacked up, and I would like to contribute to un-doing the damage that humans have done. I want to live to see true justice and equality. I want to leave behind a better world for our children.

6. (bonus) How does it feel knowing that your music has influenced so many people and to be credited as one of the Filipino pioneers in hip-hop? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I honestly don’t really put too much stock in my legacy in hip hop. If anything, I feel like I can honor hip hop best by being true to myself and my community, by organizing and fighting for justice and social change, whether that’s through rapping or otherwise. I do recognize that I have a certain position cause of what I’ve done, and I try my best to use that position to raise awareness and uplift my community.

Currently I’m recording and performing with my band Bandung 55 (that name’s going to change eventually). I’m also working on a solo EP and a book.

Check Kiwi out at http://www.illafonte.com/. Photo above by Leo Docuyanan.

SAN FRANCISCO GRAFFITI, 2004-2005, PT. 2

More flicks from my decade-old graffiti time capsule. Check back next Wednesday for more pieces, throwies, and tags by SF legends.

SF GRAFF 2004-2005, Pt. 2, cont.

"FRISCO ORIGINAL" shirts and slaps available in the DREGSONE.COM store! Sizes are going fast in men’s and women’s, support your local community emcee and grab one now. Every dollar I make from my music or merchandise allows me to continue pushing my art and my community projects. To everyone who’s already supported- THANK YOU!

Underground Classics: Conceit “Wasted Talent”

Peace family, thanks for checking out the first segment of “Underground Classics,” a new series for my blog where I highlight OG albums, mixtapes, and compilations that are mostly unknown by the masses but had a big influence on ya boy. Most of what I highlight here will be Bay Area/NorCal rap tapes but I’ll include under joints from other regions and maybe even some other genres. Basically, this is music that deserves to be heard.

  1. Freestyle Olympics Intro
  2. Max Kane
  3. I Will Go
  4. Scissors & Glue
  5. Frisco City Nightlife ft. Daggawon, Hazard
  6. Cartoon Network
  7. Price of Dedication ft. Wordsmith
  8. Sleep Kids
  9. I Ain’t Bitter
  10. Apple Cobbler
  11. Lady
  12. Scrilla & Scratch
  13. Official Knock ft. Boac
  14. Old School ft. Memo (Mo Classics)
  15. It’s All Strange ft. Fantastik, Rush
  16. In A Minute ft. Topr
  17. Shakes
  18. Common Courtesy ft. Topr
  19. Tomorrow Never Dies ft. Spank Pops
  20. Flying High
  21. We Are @ War
  22. Not The 1ne
  23. California Daydream ft. Evolutionaries
  24. Crackalicious ft. Eddie K, Z-Man
  25. Wasted Freestyle

I couldn’t think of a better joint to pull out of archives then the Wasted Talent mixtape by my homie Conceit. Before I get into the actual music, let me give some background on this dude. In high school all I wanted to do was party, write graffiti, and freestyle. So when Telli Prego told me about this cat named Topr who was not only a dope MC but a graff writer who was down with LORDS crew, I was definitely interested. All my hobbies came together one night at this art gallery in the Mission District, where they let my underage ass drink 40s; some of the illest writers in Bay Area graff had art on display; and Topr rocked an unbelievable freestyle that pretty much made him legendary in my young mind. So you can imagine I was lightweight jealous when, a few weeks later, Telli had hit a house party that I wasn’t able to attend and ended up in a freestyle cypher with Conceit, who was supposedly down with Topr. Coincidentally, not too long after that I bought a Bay Area rap DVD with interviews, music videos, and a freestyle from Conceit and Eddie K. I was like, “Oh shit! Telli freestyled with that dude!” Not too long after that, I saw Conceit in person for the first time.

Hearing they were having another art show on 16th and Capp, I made it a priority to be there and not miss out on any graff, rap, or heavy drinking. Posted outside with my 40 and a stogie, I saw a group of older, hooded, Giants cap-wearing Frisconians, led by a dude I recognized as Conceit. He gave me a nod on his way in, and I eventually followed them upstairs and watched one of my first local hip-hop performances. I was loving what I heard, Frisco’d out rhymes with a little more boom-bap than you normally hear in the regular Bay mobb sound. But when Conceit performed his song “I Will Go,” which is about his own journey as a youth in love with rap to an adult still trying to make it in the game, it was like I was the only one there and he was speaking right to me.

Eventually me and Conceit would meet, party, freestyle, and kick it. His crowd was way older, and I remember some of his folks tripping on us lil’ kids still in high school that would somehow get into the bar and follow them to the house party. But Conceit was always cool when we were around. He always showed love and took an interest in my crew’s music. I could definitely tell he grew up as a city kid just like me; he was the type of cat that runs into people he knows everywhere he went. I guess we were similar like that, ‘cause I’d always run into him- on Haight, on the bus, in the Avenues. When Wasted Talent came out, I copped it from Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it. A few months later when we dropped the first Gas Mask Colony album, I bumped into Conceit and he instantly bought a copy off me. Eventually, we would record a few songs together, and I’ve ended up working with many of the other rappers, DJs, and producers that are on his mixtape.

Anyways, now to the actual music. Wasted Talent seems to be a perfect musical summary of who Conceit was as a person during that time. Not only do you hear his skills in writing and freestyling, but he picked a diverse selection of beats that I feel like any hip-hop head could vibe to. Plus Max Kane (of the legendary FourOneFunk DJ collective) really did his thing blending all the tracks together. Listening to that mixtape really helped give me a sense of how to honestly express myself through music. The subject matter touches on Conceit’s battles with alcoholism and sleep deprivation, golden age hip-hop nostalgia, politics and society, and of course kickin’ it and partying throughout the SFC. But it’s the topic of fake fame and frustration with the music industry that’s most true to the story of Conceit.

In 2006, Conceit’s song “Scissors and Glue” somehow won a G-Unit Youtube Video contest. I say somehow because I don’t think he expected to win and his style was way different than what you might expect from G-Unit. But he did his thing, and ended up winning a shopping spree at Guitar Center, a trip to NYC to open up for Talib Kweli, and a shot at dropping some music through G-Unit/Interscope Records. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out too well. From what I remember being told, his creative vision clashed with the cookie-cutter mainstream sound the folks at the record label were expecting, and Conceit returned to SF without the deal and a feeling of anger and bitterness towards the whole industry. I think that led to a lot of frustration for him, and he started to withdraw himself from the local scene up until the point where even his closest folks hadn’t heard from him and had no idea where he was. He would randomly drop a mixtape or 2 via MySpace, but nothing that really matched the impact of Wasted Talent. To this day, his highly-anticipated debut album still hasn’t been heard.

I can’t really blame Conceit for feeling so frustrated. I think I understand where he was coming from; he had been dedicated to hip-hop since a kid with the skills to back it up but never quite got the recognition he deserved. For his last shot at a big record deal to end on such a wack note must have been heartbreaking. I also think that he blamed himself and his struggle with drinking and the party scene for holding up his progress. Being in his 30s, he probably wanted to take some time to sort his life out. It just sucks that he completely disappeared and I lost that big homie/mentor figure that I would always see around the Sco. Last I heard he had left SF completely. Every now and then he would pop up on Facebook, but I think it’s been at least 2 years since he’s posted anything. I like to think that he’s still out there, living his life and taking care of his close family during the day, but every now and then gets drunk in the middle of the night and writes raps, makes beats, and checks up on the latest music from all his SF homies.

Maybe his ass will even read this, somehow. If so, we miss you, Conceit, I hope we’ve made you proud, and at 27 the song “I Will Go” resonates just as strong with me as it did when I was 17.

Peace

Today I’ve got some throwback footage of Big Rich, one of the rappers who made a big splash on the SF scene, along with his crew Fully Loaded. Now, Rich is semi-retired and focusing most of his time on his music school, Project Level. Me, the homie Jameel, and Patience caught up with Rich last year and here’s some of the conversation captured on camera.

RIP JADE RIP PERCEPT

SF Graff, 2004-2005, cont.

Was 2004 10 years ago already?? In high school I took a secondhand digital camera and went on hypes around the city to take flicks. It was a dope time in graff, lots of bombing, lots of battles, lots of style. I just found these pics stored online, I’ll be posting some from the collection every Wednesday. Almost all the art you’ll see here is gone today! Enjoy.

Everyday People: Malia Connor

What up y’all. I’m happy to introduce the first segment of Everyday People, a quick Q&A interview with folks in my community and from around the world that inspire me. It would only be right that my folks Malia be my first interviewee, since she interviewed me for her blog way back when and gave me the idea of doing interviews of my own. She is an established poet, dancer, mother, and proud Bay Area representative by way of Hawaii. I always run into her around the Bay and at dope community events which she’s constantly supporting. Check her out.

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1. Who are you, where are you from, and why are you here?

I am Malia Connor, originally from the Island of Oahu.. moved here in the 80s for college and never left.

2. What is one defining experience from your life that helped make you who you are?

Only one? Probably when I was told at the age of 21 to find a plan b for my dance career since it was almost over.. i began my dance company, Malia Movement Company which just turned 22yrs old this month.

As a poet, the one defining moment is before the jazz group I was touring with (Mingus Amungus) left for Cuba, my father said.. you are a strong writer with a unique voice so don’t worry about documenting with photos.. document the experience with your observations and write it all down. The piece I created can be found on the first CD of Mingus Amungus.

3. Who are some of your biggest influences?

Dancewise: Katherine Dunham; as a writer: Kiana Davenport, Tananarive Due, Haunani Kay-Trask; as a photographer: my mother

4. What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, and what are you doing to overcome them?

Being an artist keeps you broke. Good thing it feeds my soul.

5. What gives you the inspiration/motivation to push on everyday?

My inspiration/motivation for the last 16yrs is my daughter Oni.. she is why i continue to create to ensure her voice, and mine are always present.

6. As an author, poet, dancer, how do you balance your creative energy and practice so many art forms successfully?

Without my creativity, i would probably drop dead on the spot. Dance, writing, photography, performing is what keeps me alive and thriving.

Check Malia out at http://http://maliamovement.wordpress.com/ and look out for her new children’s book, Mixed Heritage.

Money Alwayz of EVENODDS Tiny from POOR Magazine, addressing the people Special surprise guest Hugh EMC! One of the pioneers of SF hip-hop Heat reppin' the Outbound Had to smooth thangs out to a lil' soul train...

RECAP, CONT: "TAKE BACK OUR CITY," JUNE 7TH 2014, SLIM’S, SAN FRANCISCO CA