Aug 12, 2007 - 5:37 PM
Photo of Niko
Maybe it’s the Haight Street setting, or it could be the Nintendo accessory, but combined with his San Francisco Giants cap and his graphic tee, Villamor looks more Bay Area B-boy than southern-fried emcee. But the detectable twang and occasional reference to “Frisco” marks him as an out-of-towner, even though he’s not.
“I may live in Atlanta, but I have San Francisco in blood,” he says.
Born in Berkeley and raised in San Francisco, Villamor still claims the Bay with native pride despite living in Atlanta for the past decade. Today marks day 11 of his trek out west for a series of summer time gigs throughout the region. Representing one-fourth of Atlanta hip-hop collective Ivy Leegue, Villamor returns to his roots charged with a mission. Think of him as a pseudo-ambassador of southern hip-hop to the northern California home of hyphy, promoting the group’s 16-track compilation Thank Us Later, and his own solo material, including his newest single “Out the Shower.” Mission or not, he’s just stoked to be back and gushes like a kid in a candy store when he compares San Francisco to the south.
“There’s things in Frisco that just don’t happen in Atlanta,” says Villamor, referring to the public slip and slides and a generator-run arcade game he caught at Dolores Park. “There are all these acts of randomness. It’s like no other place in the world.”
Since 2005, Villamor and the Ivy Leegue crew—emcee Skuba and producers Brefontaine and Outbreak—have been holding it down in Atlanta as one of the scene’s stand out groups. Performing with notable acts like The Youngbloodz, Three 6 Mafia and Slim from 112, their high-energy shows and universal lyrics draw fans from all over the South. This year, however, the collective branched out, with each member pursuing solo projects.
“We’re like Voltron,” he says. “We’re the arms, legs and head that can come together and be strong, but we can be lions by ourselves.”
On the mike, Villamor spits his laidback, feel good lyrics with a staccato flow akin to more seasoned southern artists like Little Brother and Outkast. He likes to take risks and writes rhymes that reflect his mixed ethnic background (he’s part Filipino, Caucasian and African American) as well as his interest in video games, anime and of course, ladies. Declaring his love for adobo chicken in “Perfect”, he admits that while listeners who aren’t familiar with the popular Filipino dish may not understand the reference, it was an opportunity for him to honor his heritage.
“Since I was taught to be proud of everything that I am, I try to put some of that culture into what I do,” he says. “And whether you’re Filipino or not, adobo chicken is good.”
When he tinkered with lyrics for his latest solo release “Out the Shower”, his anthem to all things fresh and clean, Villamor says he took another risk by writing in a shout out for baby powder as a joke.
“At first I thought the baby powder thing might be too crazy and that some people would hate it,” he says. “But I also thought that some people might dig that I’m crazy enough to do it. So I decided to take a risk and have some fun with it. And it seems to be working out.”
As far as his fans in San Francisco are concerned, his risk paid off. At a late night performance at 111 Minna Gallery, Villamor rallies a crowd of nearly 200 toward the stage like a basketball player working home court advantage. Once the DJ drops the lead-in to “Shower”, hands throughout the room go up and the hoodied and sneakered boys and girls in attendance bounce to the beat. When Villamor jumps to the chorus, calling out for some powder, a cat in the audience answers with a 15-ounce bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s finest, sending a white cloud of talc wafting through the crowd.
“That was the first time that happened,” he says. “I was not expecting it at all.”
Chalk it up to another one of those acts of randomness he’s so fond of. To Niko Villamor, with love from the Bay.
Troy Espera's work has appeared in The Sacramento Bee, Outword Magazine, THE LEGEND, Jane & Jane magazine, here! magazine and Sexualidades Latinas. He likes mangos, Charo and trippin' through Latin America.
Kyle Monk is a freelance photographer. See more of his work at: www.kylemonk.com