Realizing Bambu deliberately released his debut album, self untitled..., 10
years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, it's not exactly surprising
that the LA-bred MC bears political and social views all over his music.
Take the video for 2010's "Old Man Raps," off 'Bu's ...Paper Cuts...
EP, for just one example. The Patricio Ginelsa-directed clip sheds
light on gang violence and its lifestyle so viscerally that even someone
light years away from LA could identify with its images -- ditto for
the song it supports. Political rap has the potential to be very
annoying, yes, but in Bambu's case, it's hard to not want to hear him opine even more than he does on record.
Given all that about him, it's no wonder why Bambu is
such an articulate and insightful interview. Gimme Noise caught up with
the 30-year-old earlier this week to talk about his DJ Muggs-produced
mixtape, volunteering for LA nonprofits, his Soundset debut, and more.
Your debut album was released on the 10-year anniversary of
the LA riots. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the same events.
What are your current thoughts regarding the riots?
I was about 10 years old then, on April 29, 1992, and I
remember realizing that while the Rodney King beating was not too
shocking, it was big because it was on TV. It wasn't until the aftermath
that people realized they should have been more strategic about how
things went down and their reactions. But the riots captured the feeling
of the times in LA. All the rebellion was really a turning point in the
In 2010 you released the Los Angeles, Philippines mixtape
with DJ Muggs, who's worked with everyone from GZA to Depeche Mode to
U2 to Cypress Hill. What did you try to do with that tape, and how was
it working with Muggs?
That project was actually accidental. I was originally
working with a guy from the Soul Assassins, and we wanted to tap into
the ideas of the gang contingent in LA. We just decided to do a quick
collaboration, and then maybe a mixtape to go along with it. But then
Muggs got involved, and he really took me under his wing. He showed me
what his work ethic is like, and it was great to discover his process.
You've done your share of work with nonprofit
organizations, including LA's People's CORE and KmB Pro People Youth.
What have you gained from or tried to do with those experiences?
The goal with my volunteering is not to take kids off
the streets for four hours and then put 'em right back in the streets. I
try to help them build up their ideology, and I've been able to do part
of that through hip-hop, which is great. I like to tell kids they can
actually use hip-hop as a medium for telling their stories.
One of the things I don't do when it comes to the
nonprofits is firefighting. If there's a fire at my house every day at
three in the afternoon, and we put water on it every day to stop it, it
doesn't really do anything, because the problem that's starting the fire
is still going to be there. I like to try to get rid of the problems,
or at least identify the roots of them.
How do you approach your style of "politically aggressive," as you describe it, rap?
draw inspiration from things going on around me. With my next album,
I've been spending more time with my family, so it's more
family-centric. I also like to look for kids who think political rap and
conscious rap is square, lame. I tell the kids that I bang just like
you -- I'm not out of the gang, I'm just an inactive member of the gang
-- and I will say things like, "Fuck the police," because any kid who's
had a run-in with a cop will get that. Then I'll break it down and be
more specific about things later [laughs].
Who are some rappers you think you're like-minded with?
of the Blue Scholars, he and I are real tight. There's Immortal
Technique, because he really goes out with his money and does things
like bring it overseas and put it into orphanages in Afghanistan;
likewise, I do a bunch of organizational work. Killer Mike and I see
almost everything eye-to-eye, ideologically. I Self Divine, Toki
Wright... there's so many.
However, I will say a lot of guys have interesting
things to say, but the music they make just doesn't do much for me. In
that case, I'll respect what they're saying, but I won't be listening to
You've beenreleasing music
for roughly 10 years now without, if we can be honest, much fame or
stardom. What keeps you going and in the rap game?
I grew up rapping, and it's just something I love to be involved in. I
don't plan on stopping anytime soon. And it's great to find out that
people are really appreciating your music.
Soundset's got to be one ofthe
largest, if not the largest, shows you've played. How will you approach
Sunday differently than you would a much smaller show?
I'm just planning to bring all the hardest songs I possibly
can and bring everything I've got. But yeah, Soundset is probably the
biggest show I've done, and that's counting the shows I've done at Paid
Dues and South by Southwest.
Who are some of the artists you're looking forward to seeing at Soundset?
looking forward to seeing everybody, but I'm really excited to see
Atmosphere. The only times I've seen Atmosphere have been in places
outside of Minnesota, and since they put on a strong show everywhere
else, I'm sure it gets crazy when they play at home. It's gotta be like
when Blue Scholars, for example, plays in Seattle.
Anything else to add?
just want to stress how appreciative I am of everything Rhymesayers has
done for me. I do my own booking, and guys including [Atmosphere
MC] Slug have reached out to me personally, taken time out of their day
to show me love and set up shows for me, things like that. And I'll add
that Slug is absolutely the most down-to-earth artist I've ever met, and
I've met a lot of artists.
• General admission tickets $46
• VIP tickets sold out
• 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27
• Canterbury Park Festival Field, Shakopee
Nine hours of music will be spread over two main stages and the Fifth Element stage. The day's events also include
a B-boy/B-girl DJ tent, live painting exhibit, skate demo area, the
Soundset custom car show, and the Last of the Record Buyers live
The Official Soundset 2012 Afterparty. 18+, $10-$15, 10 p.m.
Sunday, May 27, at First Avenue, Minneapolis. Hosted by Brother Ali and
MaLLy and featuring surprise performances by Soundset artists. Beats by
Get Cryphy DJs (Plain Ole Bill, DJ Fundo, Jimmy 2 Times, and Last Word).