Juanita is……a punk rocker
Bernardo is……a punk rocker
Jamie is……..a punk rocker now!!!!
When people think of Compton California immediate images often come to mind. Thanks to the media when one utters the name of Compton folks immediately think of gangs, guns and crime run rampant. Dig a little deeper and most folks will also tell you that Compton is 100% African American. Both of these assumptions are false. For the most part Compton is a working class community. It has not been immune to gang violence but it is hardly the battle zone people make it out to be. The city has seen its demographics shift incredibly in the past 15 years.
Compton is now 60% Latino, 35% African American and 5% Samoan/other. Another aspect of people’s assumptions centers on music. Most folks assume that the music of choice listened to in Compton is that of hard core rap. This is understandable. Compton is the home of the seminal rap group N.WA. They, possibly more than anyone else put Compton on the map with their album “Straight Outta Compton”. But to just say in this day and age that rap music is the one and only sound in the “CPT” is again missing the mark. Yes Virginia, there is a new sound on the streets of Compton and its name is………..Punk Rock!!!
Actually this new sound has several new names. Punk, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Alternative, Thrash and Rock en espanol can all be heard in the city of Compton. It is very likely you might hear MC Eight bumping in someone’s jeep but now you can also hear Metallica, Korn, The Deftones, Faith No More and The Dead Kennedys blaring out of someone’s back yard. This picture alone does not begin to tell the whole story.
Compton, Lynwood, South Gate and South Central have become the homes of a new Punk Rock/Alternative movement. Back yard parties are had with local bands playing for a very low price. Pools are emptied and turned into make shift amphitheatres for bands to play on Saturdays. Many of the faces that make up this new inner-city alternative nation are Latino but their are African American kids who have also joined the mosh pit, truly changing the face of alternative music and Compton.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. People of color have always been a part of all facets of the rock scene. Roll call and I know I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg: Robert Johnson, Bo Diddly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, War, Malo, El Chicano, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee, The Plugz, Los Ilegals, Jon Butcher, Bad Brains, Los Lobos, Living Colour, Fishbone, Sevendust, Rage Against The Machine and the list truly goes on and on. What makes this new wave of rockers different is that they are indeed coming right out of urban Los Angeles.
Although our cities and enclaves can at times be very segregated music seems to always be the common denominator. In the 50’s Whites were aghast at the “race” music their kids were listening to. They were even sent into more waves of shock by seeing Black and White youth dancing at the same clubs to the early pioneers of rock.
Times change and yet things still stay the same. Parents were further alarmed in the 80’s and 90’s as white suburban youth seemed enthralled with all types of rap music and hip-hop culture. From Public Enemy and KRS-One to Ice Cube, Ice-T, Cypress Hill and the Geto Boys, rap made its way to the suburbs. Looks like it was only a matter of time before the sound of the suburbs made its way to the inner-city.
As I watch this musical exchange take place I must ask myself how is this happening? What we are seeing is not inner city kids trying to be suburban. That notion is just absurd. What we are seeing is again the cultural sounds of the day and yet another example of the ties that truly bind us together. Music can sometimes articulate our feelings in the most purest form. This is more about youth culture than anything else. Rap and now Alt Rock are articulating how our kids are feeling and where their heads are, and there is much crossover from suburban to urban.
Again I say that it was inevitable that something like this would happen. It actually started in the multicultural 90’s. Yes, in the early 90’s Multiculturalism was indeed the buzzword of the month. While universities, movies and TV shows were trying to “diversify” and up the ante on their multiculturalism music was taking it’s own organic turn at the process. At the time Ice-T, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill and the politically charged Public Enemy were looked at as hard core militant rap artists who wanted nothing to do with America’s suburbs.
The funny thing was, each of these artists had a huge white audience!!! Both Ice-T and Ice Cube performed in front of white alternative rock and punk audiences at the 91′ and 92′ Lollapalooza festivals, the alternative nation showcase that made it a point to have Black Rap artists on the bill.
Ice-T participated in the Gathering of the Tribes tour which was the pre-cursor to the Lollapalooza shows and later put together the all Black Speed Metal band Body Count. Public Enemy, the group who spoke of Louis Farrakhan and told audiences “don’t tell me that you understand until you hear the man” did shows with Alt-Rockers Sonic Youth, Goth rockers The Sisters of Mercy and then shocked many of their hard core fans by going on a full scale tour with the Heavy Metal band Anthrax!!
The tour may not have attracted hard core Metal and Rap fans but it brought together Black, Latino, White and Asian youth who were fans of both genres. Cypress Hill confused many rap fans when their amazing debut disc dropped. Many assumed the three (now four) members of the Hill were African American. Infact two of the members were Latino (one half Mexican, half Cuban and one full Cuban American) and their dj is actually an Italian American who grew up in a majority Latino neighborhood. To add to the confusion the trio was quickly able to capitalize on the fact that they were able to garner an audience that was very multi-ethnic.
They ended up doing Rap shows with Hip-Hop groups but also found themselves on tour with the Beastie Boys and veteran Punk rocker Henry Rollins. They too would do the Lollapalooza tours and take a certain bit of pride in being able to rock the suburbs, the boulevard and the barrio. Cypress Hill now hosts an event called the Cypress Hill Smokeout in San Bernadino California. Every year they bring together their favorite Rap, Rock, Punk and Alternative artists for an all day festival. When looking at these examples many would merely say the whites kids just like the beat.
They could care less about what is being said or just because they like being entertained by Rap artists of color does not mean they respect people of color. From my vantage point, I have to say their have been and will continue to be young Whites who will be influenced by artists of color and depending on the art form and message being handed down, it can play a part in shaping a world view and challenging assumptions. The artists I mentioned had something to say about the issues concerning urban America. Urban America was listening but suburban America took notes also.
To a lesser extent but just as powerful and thought provoking, something “funky” started happening to rock in the late 80’s, early 90’s. As stated before Black artists have always been part of the rock scene but in the 80’s they were merely blips on the radar screen. Albeit important blips, blips nonetheless (Jon Butcher, The Bus Boys, Tony McCalpine, Sound Barrier, Fishbone, Bad Brains).
This changed when the all Black rock band Living Colour hit the scene. Although it took a year for their debut disc and break through single “Cult of Personality” to break big on the mainstream, when it did it completely challenged the way rock audiences perceived what a rock band could look and sound like.
Armed with socio political lyrics, a mixture of jazz, funk, punk, hard rock and gut bucket soul, Living Colour for a brief moment in time turned the rock world on it’s head and paved the way for bands who were part of the Black Rock Coalition, a collective of “alternative” African American musician and artists. Many BRC bands never made as big a splash as Living Colour but as folks were making Grunge the cultural sound of the day with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, I was appreciating the music and multicultural audiences of Follow For Now, Eye and I, Dan Reed Network, 24-7 Spyz, Maggie’s Dream, Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, 311, (hey they may not be African American but 5 white guys from Omaha Nebraska who can effortlessly mix punk, rock, reggae and rap gets my respect so recognize) The Roots, Rage Against the Machine and Meshell N’degeocello. As different as these bands/artists were they had four things in common.
They gave another side and perspective of Black life, they did so in front of amazingly diverse audiences, these artists made it acceptable again for Black musicians to play the guitar and each show by these bands was a sobering celebration of African American dignity. You could be proud of your heritage and still dive head first into the mosh pit. Talk about the best of both worlds!! Whether it was Living Colour challenging audiences on tour with the Rolling Stones or at the first Lollapalooza, PE and Anthrax re-recording the rap classic “Bring The Noise” or Fishbone telling it’s audience to put it’s fists in the air as they play an instrumental version of “Lift Every Voice” (also known as the Negro National Anthem) at the end of the day many lessons about humanity were being taught at these shows during this period in time and audience members of every hue were taking notes. I know I was.
In present time, artists like Eminem, Black Heavy Metalers such as God Forbid and the Latino led Deftones are no longer exceptions to the rule. They are rapidly becoming the rule. For the most part, it isn’t seen as strange or an anomaly anymore to see a person of color taking the stage with a guitar and an amp cranked up to 11, and that in itself is a good thing. In the inner-cities of LA Punk, Rock and Metal bands are playing back yard BBQ’s, parties in empty swimming pools and at pep rallies at big area high schools to the bewilderment and pleasure of their classmates.
These bands, not professors or pundits on the news are challenging their peers on what it means to be suburban and urban. Are you listening? Maybe you should. Are you watching? Something tells me we ought to be. Who knows, Compton could be the next Seattle in terms of an entire new music scene being discovered. Maybe it’s a reach but I am sure folks were skeptical about Seattle before Kurt Cobain became the reluctant spokesperson for a generation.
For now it is true, Suzy is still indeed a punk rocker but so are Juan and Celia, and Shawna and Derrick. And in Huntington Beach Jane is a break dancing B-Girl and Andy is a would be dj and hip-hop artist. And all together they dance subconsciously looking for the ties that bind us together. They say music can soothe the savage beast. I say it can show us who we are, take us to where we want to be and give us insight into the potential tomorrow brings. If we listen with our hearts, minds and souls we just might get there.