About 3 years ago I wrote, filmed, and edited a video about gentrification in SF. I wanted to raise awareness in my own community, nationwide and even internationally about what was going on. I never thought that the problem would have gotten this much worse by 2013. Sometimes I think about this and it almost bring me to tears. I live in Oakland now and I hate coming to SF, it’s expensive just to visit. I get crammed into a sardine can BART train, or pay $6 toll and sit in awful traffic on the Bay Bridge, and I look around and at all these faces and almost never see anyone familiar.
San Francisco is now Babylon. The city culture used to be based on community, on diversity, on peace and happiness like the hippies preached when they came in the 1969 Summer of Love. Of course there was always the gap between the really rich and the really poor neighborhoods, but so many people were able to come together within that gap. They are the ones who helped make this city so wonderful that people from all over the world wanted to live here. But now SF culture is based on greed, selfishness, and hedonism. Whereas before you had hippies, artists and community-minded folks flocking to the Bay Area, now you have people who don’t have seem to have much interests besides following trends, making money, drinking, and running through SF like it’s their own personal playground. This is really symptomatic of the kind of sick American personalities based in ignorance, privilege and entitlement that seem to be predominant in most of the 50 states these days. I don’t want any part of it.
One time another SF native and I were walking near the Embarcadero on a crowded Sunday morning. We looked around and realized that the only other black people in the area besides us were homeless. That’s probably quite proportionate to the general city population- the only neighborhood that hasn’t had a drop in its black population is the Tenderloin and 6th St./SoMa area, where most housing for homeless folks is located. This is all part of the plan: the war on drugs, the epidemic of street violence, the prison industrial complex, the constant cycle of poverty- all of that shit has been working like a charm. People always tell me it’s a class issue, not a race issue, but if you’re black or brown you’re born into those types of conflicts. We inherit them. Our ancestors were exterminated and enslaved and the same tactics used on them are more or less being used on us. If you read comments on news articles or social networks, people act like all the minorities just floated away and are now living on some magical island or something. Actually, I take that back, they don’t really seem to care where we’ve gone at all. They just praise how much safer and cleaner certain neighborhoods have become. Well if the city managed to clean up those neighborhoods, why couldn’t they have done so when they were mostly populated by people of color?
Once I was on 4th and Mission, where graffiti used to be pretty common, and I noticed there wasn’t a single sticker posted or tag on the walls. The streets and gutters were spotless. Now, head on over to BVHP and tell me where you can find the same quality of street cleaning. It’s very obvious that the city government is deliberately ignoring the needs of certain peoples and communities while bending over backwards for others. Meanwhile, they will blame and criminalize the residents of those communities for responding to the unlivable conditions that the city itself established.
Another time, I was walking in the actual Mission District, 15th and Mission, and I noticed huge condos being built and advertised. RIght away I thought, “Oh hell nah! We gotta do something to stop this!” Just then I realized that the developmental planning on those condos had probably started years ago; that all the permits were in place; that the time do something about it had long gone. This is consistent with all the other issues and actions related to gentrification. The more research I do, the more I realize that this has plan has been in place for decades. It goes back to redevelopment of the Fillmore and the creation of the “Western Addition;” it goes back to government shutdown of the Hunter’s Point shipyard and the transformation of that area into a toxic waste dump; it goes back to the military internment of Japanese citizens during WWII; it goes back to the massacre of Native Americans by miners and mountain men during the gold rush; and all the way back to when conquistadors touched down from Spain and forced the Ohlone people into the Mission system.
Almost every turn of events related to city politics in the last 50 years has led us to this. The closure of public schools, gang injunctions, metered parking on Sundays, tickets & citations no one can afford, sit-lie laws, the courtship of the America’s Cup, and the endless development of high-price housing- they are all part of this tangled web.
Maybe this sounds extreme to some but now I relate to those Native Amercians. I relate to the Palestinians. I relate to anyone that’s had their homeland taken from them by people who look at you and everyone like you as inferior. These yuppies, hipsters and tech-types don’t care about struggles of poor, working class people. If anything they are disgusted by poverty; they look at homeless people as a nuisance, young black men as a fear, and outspoken Latina women as a threat. They are conveniently sheltered from us in nice Victorian homes we used to populate, and watch us from shaded outdoor patios at expensive trendy restaurants. To be an outsider in your own home is a terrible experience that I don’t wish on anyone.
Unfortunately this experience is not limited to San Francisco. What’s most disturbing is that this cycle of gentrification is common nationwide. My patna from New York laments about how whack Brooklyn has become. My homegirl from South Central LA is shocked to have white neighbors for the first time in her life. Even my folks in Asheville, North Carolina talks about how trendy hipsters have invaded the town. So, now I pose the question: what exactly can we do?
The sad answer is that, at this point, I simply don’t know. Honestly most of me has given up on San Francisco. I love living in Oakland, and these days that’s where I prefer to spend my time- something I never thought would be the case. But I know in my heart that I can’t just sit idle and start over here. Even if it was possible for me to fully abandon SF, I know that Oakland is experiencing the same type of change as we speak. I’m afraid that just as I get settled here, the Oakland natives that I know and love will be replaced with more of these modern-day colonizers. I’ve already seen it happen in just the short year and a half I’ve lived here. I don’t want to just lie down and accept it.
I want to be face-to-face with Mayor Ed Lee, look him in the eye and force him to address these truths I want to gather the displaced and soon-to-be-displaced residents of SF and force city politicians to give us a real answer. I want to call out some of the authors and publishers in the SF Chronicle on their biased articles. I want them to see, understand, and embrace how the true heart and soul of San Francisco is really living. I want to see some of these media and tech giants that have found success in our city use their massive revenue to help families and working-class people keep living here. I want people of privilege to empathize with our struggle instead of calling us lazy or accuse us of not working hard enough to keep up. More than anything, I want the same thing I wanted 3 years ago- I want the people who can really step up and do something about this to wake up- that means YOU.
About a week ago I hopped in a rental and dipped down the highway 5 to LA. My boy Riley aka DJ Yelir rode shotgun and in the backseat was the homie from Japan, Ill Sugi. Sugi had never been to the US before and was staying at my pad in Oakland that week. I showed him around the Bay and we worked on music at different studios, went record-digging, and did a beat-making workshop with the afterschool program I run in SF. It just so happened that he was planning on meeting up with his family on vacation in LA at the same time I was scheduled to head down there for a show. We smashed down the freeway bumping music from all over the world and trippin’ out on how well we all related without even speaking the same languages.
We dropped Ill Sugi off at his family’s hotel in Santa Monica with plans to hook up the next day. From there we made our way to the Valley to meet my folks Tone aka Gautama. Since the last time I had seen him in 2012, he’d made some changes to his crib and the studio inside of it. He told me that he was now engineering sessions full-time and his skills had gone way up. Riley hooked up his MPC 2500 and started going through Tone’s CD collection of samples. I had arrived to a top-notch studio ran by a skilled engineer in a sunny, LA-suburban house with a fat backyard and a pool. Basically, for a brother like myself, it was heaven.
No one did much sleeping. Each night was spent conversing, smoking, chillin’, and recording. During the day we sat outside in the sun; I’d be writing to the dozens of beats Ill Sugi gave me while Riley made slap after slap on his MPC. Tone’s house was usually full of roommates, his homies, and their children. They all had their own crazy story and definitely provided a lot of inspiration. When everyone was all awake we’d dip through the ugly traffic and hit restaurants, record shops, and clothing stores, promoting music, hitting up old connections and making new ones. Carribean food from Simply Wholesome, rare vinyl at Amoeba (I miss FatBeats), blunts and sunsets at Playa del Rey. That’s that LA shit I love.
My homegirl Jessica met us up and took us to a community event in Inglewood where I got to soak in even more inspiration from poets, rappers, and activists. Just before that we were at Venice Beach, around the exact time someone went on a rampage with their car attacking pedestrians. We saw the sirens and helicopters but had no idea what happened until the next day. Crazy. Seeing how that happened and hearing about the struggles folks in LA were facing at the event reminded me of the times we’re living in. Some things never change no matter where you go.
Tone told me his homie Herm aka Soul Myth was having a pool party for his girlfriend’s birthday. We smashed back to Santa Monica and swooped up Ill Sugi, planning on a night of partying, beat-chopping, and recording. When we got back the pool party was basically an everyone-get-drunk-outside-in-the-backyard party. I don’t really drink like that but Ill Sugi got to get his swerve on a lil’ bit and chop it up with all the LA heads while I kicked it with my homegirl and her cousin. The drunk antics that night had us rollin’. I stayed up for as long as I could but around 5am I passed out in a chair while writing to a beat. An hour later Riley woke me up and I took Ill Sugi back to his hotel so he could get ready to fly back to Japan. I miss my brother already. He told me he had a life-changing trip and me and him are going to be building together for a long time.
The trip ended with a bang on Sunday, my last full day in town. I had been booked to play the 3rd Annual Zeitgeist Media Festival in Hollywood a few months ago and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, I knew I was probably gonna see some crazy ass shit. And I did. The show was at the Avalon Theatre and when I pulled up it was actually jumping. There were all types of people there but the Festival definitely had the LA/Hollywood vibe. The crowd was full of people who were down with expanding consciousness and coming together on positive vibes. I was one of the only hip-hop performers there and definitely rocked the crowd. The audience was one of the most supportive I’ve played for in a while. I sold a gang of copies of “the STYLE tape” and chopped it up with a lot of like-minded people.
My experience with the crowd at the Zeitgeist Festival would be a good way to sum up this whole trip. I left me feeling blessed that as an independent artist, I could take my passion as far as I wanted to. Without any major support in the industry, I can still use my music to take me places, connect with good people, and build towards our common goals. Hip-hop is more than music to me a but a culture and a lifestyle that’s allowed me to bridge the gap between the Bay, LA, and even Tokyo. One week after my trip, as I settle back into the day-to-day hustle and grind of my life in Frisco, I can’t wait to see where hip-hop is going to take me next…