URB: How did you get into music? When did you realize that you wanted to rap?
Olmeca: Pops was a musician; I used to go to his rehearsals and sometimes gigs when I was a young one.
At 16 years old I realized I was different — I always grew up around brown and black (people). My folks and I moved to North Carolina, where I heard, felt, saw, and encountered racism: the old southern, Confederate “Northern Invasion mentality” type of racism. Hip-hop and what the music depicts became my connecting point with black people in the south. I had no choice but to start rapping to earn points and protection; I didn’t want to rap, I kind of had to — it became a survival tactic.
By the time I was in high school, hip hop was a central part of my identity, accent and all. I went from listening to it, to making songs for my football team in my garage, free styling during lunch and looking for underground parties.
URB: How has your culture and your background influenced your music?
O: I grew up listening to Mexican music. What most people in the US don’t realize is that Mexico is economically poor, but rich in culture. Being the first to be born in the U.S. has provided me a foundation in both cultures: having Mexico at home, and the U.S. in school has created a bi-national experience that is common to most immigrating communities in this country.
Genres like Cumbia, Corridos (the blues of Mexico), etc. were banging each morning and all day on the weekends. I remember being bullied at school for playing Mexican music during lunch and a teacher telling me I should stop being Mexican, so there was this constant struggle of identity that caused me to fight assimilation and maintain a constant search for the richness in my culture.
URB: How has Los Angeles influenced your music?
O: Damn! LA is an amalgamation of all things culture. There’s segregation amongst folks of color though, and it’s a horrible condition that we have to un-learn.
The Mexican culture is also very dominant: it’s the second largest Mexican-populated city and its culture, traditions, indigenous identity and history is ever present. Tupac said, “everyone in LA (has) got a little thug in ’em”; I would add a little Mexican in them, also — anyone from LA can sing at least one Mexican song, believe me. I also grew up learning the art of hip-hop at Leimert Park aka, the “mecca” of African culture in Los Angeles. I’m a “Project Blowed” affiliate and so the culture of Los Angeles hip-hop is part of my identity.
URB: Have you come across any kind of hardships in trying to have your music’s message be heard?
O: Most certainly. It’s part of my struggle and a motivational push to do more. I wake up everyday knowing I’m at war against mass media for the consciousness of our youth. I’m going to make my music undeniably dope, so that even haters are gonna hate the fact they want to buy it.
URB: How did you get involved with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)?
O: NDLON has been an important space for organizations and artists who speak blatant truth to politics. I’ve been involved in various moments through direct action and music for some time, and after I befriended some NDLON members through some of those movements prior to the Not1More (Deportation) campaign. We share analysis, dialogues and discontent and through those discussions and have found a uniform message and projects to engage in. The people there are very humble and sincere. NDLON is a network and have many other outside organizations involved, like the Puente Human Rights Movement in Arizona, who are not only on the front lines of it all, but a group that I draw much inspiration from.
URB: Can you elaborate on how you came up with idea for the “Browning of America” video? What is the significance of the visuals that you chose?
O: It was a really simple idea: the U.S. is becoming more “brown,” the demographics are shifting and with it the culture of the U.S. politicians (or who Obama will tell you are Republicans) have been slow in providing relief to the many undocumented people that live here. My song was a slap to those politics and political commentators who dismiss, disregard or deny the Latino community any basic and fundamental rights. We not only pick your food, make your bed, nurture your children, but, today, we can also put or take you out of office. Believe that.
The idea behind the faces was even more simple. It was basically taking everything I just said and made it visual and real. The most beautiful aspect of it, is that those leading this movement are mujeres (women,) who most would dismiss as submissive or powerless. But no, it’s the nanny (yes, the nanny potentially at John Boehner’s house), the housekeeper at the hotel Ann Coulter stayed at and the cook who made your last meal that is actually putting the scare on these politicians.
URB: Do you feel like music’s influence on societal issues has decreased? Marvin Gaye wrote “What’s Going On” in the 1960s, Black Eyed Peas wrote “Where is the Love” in the 2000s to be a voice against injustices and political discourse, why do you think we see less of that in today’s music and pop culture?
O: This is a difficult question because I don’t necessarily agree. I feel like more and more artists — including pop and more “well-known” artists — have been vocal on current issues and becoming aware and connected to social issues and movements. This is the trend with society — social medias helps us stay informed.
At the same time, without consistent participation in that struggle or without deepening one’s understanding of it, it becomes a momentary action, as opposed to a support base for that struggle. A trend is never good in social movements or social ills. Sometimes, a song is not enough; artists have more than art to give. We have the capacity to connect people physically and through message and that is a powerful tool.
URB: I feel like we didn’t see many celebrities/artists speak out on what went on in Ferguson earlier this year. How much influence do you believe celebrities/artists have if/when they choose to speak on societal issues?
O: Regarding Ferguson, I believe everyone should take part in such injustice. The verdict was as bad as the murder and the exclusive interview by Darren Wilson was a slap in the face to the black community and the family of Mike Brown. We are slowly moving into conspiracy and less into the reality of what happened. This issue is for artists to look at closely.
How can one be apolitical? To be apolitical is to simply avoid reality in the United States; to avoid the obvious issue is to exercise what many of us believe to be white privilege and the idea of having a choice as to whether or not it will affect you.
Yet, I also remember that artists are also workers — as Mos Def said, “we’re no different than coal miners.” Although celebrities are more than coal miners, they still have bosses. One wrong move (in relation to the industry) and it can be your last in your career. Many celebrities care, but are cautious to not put themselves in a hole. For the most part, it’s in the nature of a celebrity or artist to participate (publicly) once the shit is trendy because trendy means safe. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care, but we want them to participate when shit is tough.
And I can understand because I’ve been through it. I’ve been supporting the Zapatista movement in Mexico for many years and feel like I have a life long commitment to them; I believe in what they are fighting for. Today I’m in Mexico on my way to support the disappearance of 43 student teachers and was invited to a concert for the community at the school where these students came from.
I believe firmly in the unity between the black and brown community in the states because they are two marginalized communities with their own set of concerns, but are connected through history and relation to the power structure.
Much love to my crew Acid Reign! Check out the newest video “Learn to Leap.”