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Something with Bambu, Interview

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In anticipation of his west coast tour and re-release of ...exact change... and EP (short changed) LAHHE caught up with L.A.'s own Bambu.

LAHHE: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I know you've been really busy.
Bambu: Yea, ...exact change.../(short changed) is a two disc I'm releasing and I'm working on a tour. We're self-managd so it consumes a lot of our time.

LAHHE: When does the new album drop?
Bambu: April 29th, on the anniversary of the L.A. Uprising.

LAHHE: Your first album dropped on the 10th anniversary (self untitled...(2002)), is that date significant to you?
Bambu: Meaning has accumulated, as time went by and I continued to get asked about it. But I was there at that time and at first the date wasn't symbolic, just a cool date. As time goes on I have a better view and it has more meaming. When the first album dropped it was a confusing time for me. I'm so far removed from that first album now.

LAHHE: Confusing time as an artist, a person?
Bambu: Both. I was married at the time to my childhood sweetheart and around the time I was recording the album the relationship started to sour. When the split happened I distanced myself from the family and I missed it. It was the last time for a while that I had a family until I had one of my own. I'm in the studio right now with my son, his mom is recording.

LAHHE: Does she sing or rhyme?
Bambu: She rhymes under the name Rocky Rivera. We just happen to be on the same label. I was surprised when they picked her up but it's good. We have to make sure we space out release dates and tours. We have a son so it's hard to juggle. It's a tough industry. This industry doesn't care about your family.

LAHHE: Is she on your album?
Bambu: She's on the bonus track, a hidden track, on (short changed). She's also on my second album, [I Scream Bars for the children...(2007)] "Crack Talk."

LAHHE: Will you be on her album?
Bambu: I will be on her mixtape, probably not the album. It's already difficult being a woman in the industry because people will be like, "she's only succeeding because she's with him." So strategically we try not to force each other.

LAHHE: Do you want to stay independent?
Bambu: Absolutely! Of course if a major gave me an artist-friendly deal...but with all these artist signing 360 deals...I have a small team and do it solo dolo and we're doing very well. When I first tried to get out there, there wasn't a place for a conscious Filipino rapper from L.A. The first problem was how do we market him? They needed me to fit a certain mold so I had to build my own mold and marketing scheme. Independent is actually the way to go for any artist.

LAHHE: Any artist?
Bambu: Even artists on major labels are rebranding, trying to do imprints, own their masters, these are all subtle things of indendent artists, backed by majors. Master P/Cash Money flipped the industry on its back. Marginalized black youth telling how they wanted to work their deal, like Ray Charles saying he wanted to own his masters. But then labels started abusing the artists with 360 deals, where every red cent made off of anything, the label gets a cut. And that's wack for lack of a better word.

LAHHE: No, "wack" is the word but if you start out with someone else paying for everything...
Bambu: Exactly! We started budgeting our own money, getting smarter with our money. I tell my youth the same thing. The more time you spend in the sudio, the more money wasted. I used to be in the parking lot practicing so in one or two takes I was done.

LAHHE: What is this youth group you talk to?
Bambu: The Youth Media Arts Project through People's C.O.R.E., it's a writing workshop disguised (not devious) as an after school program with writing, recording, producing. We keep the kids for one year, they put on shows. We let them know they can harness the power of the media on their own, to tell their own story. We talk about how they can use YouTube and Facebook to organzie to create real change, not that Obama change, but real change.

LAHHE: So what can we expect from your new album?
Bambu: The goal of my music is to tell the other side of the story. I consider myself a gangsta rapper but I talk about what happens after. When the gangsta comes home from being locked up to a community that's changed, the community that he fought so hard for is gentrified. ...exact change... is a re-release [2008 project] but a little more personal. (short changed) is a free EP that goes everywhere. It's a bunch of songs, almost stream of consciousness. I have the luxury of recording on the spot. I'll probably do one more solo album then that's it for me.

LAHHE: That's it?
Bambu: I don't think it makes sense to record any more albums when I can record a single tonight and release it in the morning. Albums are hard. Not to diss fans but appreciation for albums has declined. It's not worth the time to be away from my family, up late nights and people buy one or two singles, I love my son too much.

LAHHE: I missed you at Paid Dues, how did that go?
Bambu: You didn't miss much. I was in the octagon and I kinda got to be the guinea pig. The speakers were going out and other sound problems then they problem-solved after my set. But to perform with all those guys Psycho Realm, Soul Assassins in the building, its a good time and a perfect fit for me. I'd feel fortunate to be on stage with them even if I did one song.

LAHHE: Were there any acts you were there to see?
Bambu: I wanted to see Lil B. I wanted to see what it's all about. I embrace the youth movement. Some people my age may be like, "aww that's garbage!" but as an organizer, I look at it and think, "something is going on with this kid and how can I harness what he does?" I work with kids and I come in doing the cooking dance and they see I know what's up. Something can be done if we latch on to that. I also caught Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and I'm disappointed that I missed E-40.

LAHHE: The video for "Something" dropped on April 6th, it's pretty heavy, what's the response like so far?
Bambu: The response has been really, really good. My dj Phatrick, he secretly wants to be an awesome producer and he's into stuff I'm not really into like Adele. He sends me stuff all the time and this time I felt it. I'd just had a conversation with my mom about stuff with her and my dad and when I wrote this I was thinking about my mom. Sorry, I'm choking up a bit. But I didn't think it would go anywhere because of clearance. We got permission to use the song in the video as long as we didn't profit from it and it has been added to the digital version of (short changed) (download single for free).

The crazy thing is one week before my video dropped, E-40 dropped "Me and My Bitch." We were thinking, "we should release "Something" today!"

The young woman in the video ("Something")...some of those tears were very real, the scene was very real. We argued for a bit. We didn't want it to look fake or like glorifying. It took us 3 hours [to get to that point], that choking scene was really difficult, it got to me. Men of color have to deal with so much, we get oppressed on a daily basis as men, then we go home and empower ourselves by bullying our spouses, girlfriends and significant others. The ending is not a resolution, but more her empowering herself.

The Smuggler's Tour starts April 30th in Vegas and will make it back to L.A. in mid-May, stay tuned for date and venue information. For now, check out the dramatic video for "Something" to the left.

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