Nov 11, 2009 - 12:28 AM
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Listen to "Corazon"
Download: BRWN BFLO - "Corazon"
Listen to "Powerful People"
Composed of Giant, Somos One, Big Dan, and Jacinto, BRWN BFLO has quite convoluted beginnings. Somos had created a reputation as a poet on the demonstration circuit at his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley. At the urging of friends, he linked up with Giant, who was known at the time as DJ Oye. The two started working on projects together. After graduation, Somos began working as a college counselor at a high school when Big Dan walked into his office. He had researched Somos and was determined to record something with him. All three emcees decided they wanted to create a hip-hop crew, but they were in dire need of beats. The trio lucked out during a chance meeting with (then high school student) Jacinto at Emery High School’s African American history celebration where he was performing with the jazz band. Jacinto made them a few beats and the rest of the crew knew they had “something special.”
Roughly a year and a half ago, the newly formed quartet hunkered down to record in Jacinto’s Oakland home. Originally called the Brown Buffalo Project, they built up a strong local following playing community events. After compiling a year’s worth of songs, the group decided to move forward as BRWN BFLO and released their self-titled debut earlier this year.
“We’re not just representing the brown struggle but a multicultural, multigenerational struggle,” says Jacinto, who is also the group’s producer.
The group didn’t always have such a strong sense of purpose and self awareness. Internalizing the divide and conquer mentality, Dan says they got involved with gangs and were in and out of the juvenile justice system.
“Hip-hop is our therapy,” Big Dan explains. “It’s a way for us to express without hurting anybody. Most of us committed violent crimes when we were younger.”
Things are much brighter now. Big Dan, Giant, and Somos One have degrees from University of California, Berkeley and all are heavily involved in their communities. Somos One is a full time high school teacher and the rest work on violence prevention and music workshops for kids. Big Dan has also completed a documentary on his life entitled Bang for Change.
Though hip-hop may provide a creative outlet for the group, they still have to deal with stereotypes within the genre. Unfortunately, Latino hip-hop artists are usually pigeonholed into either gangster rapper or oversexed rico suave roles.
“People are like, ‘You defy every stereotype that should be on you’” Giant says. “Once we begin to pigeonhole ourselves, it’s like a snowball reaction and then it really happens.”
The group’s wide array of musical influences and backgrounds has allowed them to build a pigeonhole force field. They enjoy everything from Mexican folk music to reggae. Their debut is a hodgepodge of genres that is equal parts political and satirical. Jacinto describes the album as a musical potluck.
“We don’t’ approach it like, ‘Oh we’re Chicano hip-hop,’” asserts Jacinto, who also plays the drums and congas. “We’re Chicano musicians. We want to reach more than a hip-hop audience.”
Still, they have run into some obstacles. Some of their peers don’t appreciate their all –inclusiveness. Dan mentions being pushed out of certain circles for the music they make, adding that their fans include active gang members as well as political organizers.
“We try to encompass all of that,” Somos One explains. “Even in the gang struggle. That’s a community organization too, and we try to pay respect to that and reach out to that group.”
At the end of the day, the group realizes that it’s impossible to please everyone. When it comes to making music, this quartet goes with their gut.
“We just stay true to ourselves and ride it ‘till the wheels roll off,” says Giant in regards to BRWN BFLO’s career strategy.
Armed with a mixtape hosted by Zumbi of Zion I and tour dates scheduled for fall, it appears BRWN BFLO have plenty of tread left in their tires.
Kimberly Turner is Oh Dang!'s resident music critic and pastry fiend. And No!, she's not fat.