Jun 4, 2010 - 7:35 AM
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“I’m a horrible capitalist,” Nomi admits. “So I probably won’t sell hella records.” A community organizer, the 30-year-old emcee uses rap to speak on real issues that affect real people. His songs serve as dedications to the immigrant and working class, delivered with a sincerity and inward honesty rarely shown by his contemporaries. I’m not talking about some lame-ass Rick Ross album when I say Nomi’s music reaches far deeper than rap.
Power Struggle’s latest album, Remittances (Beatrock Music), is a 12-track journey, told from the perspective of a working-class immigrant disillusioned by the American dream. Nomi’s distinct baritone is accentuated by Mister REY and Fatgums’ soulful, funky and evocative production. Together, they make some powerful music that rocks the body, mind and spirit.
We caught up with Nomi to find out more about his art and activism.
Listen to "Blood of My Heart"
Listen to "What Goes Up"
Download: "What Goes Up"
Tell us a little about Remittances. How’s it differ from your previous work?
Remittances solidly captures the last ten years of my life. It's very introspective yet completely relatable. On Hearts and Minds, I was trying to figure out my sound and message. Remittances has a sharper political analysis, as well as puts some old, negative personal shit to rest.
How’d you hook up with Fatgums and Mister REY?
I met Mister REY through the local SF Filipino hip-hop scene. It was dope because REY is hella family oriented, and I used to go over to his crib and record, and his family would steadily feed me Filipino food. He's just a real down-to-earth person that's more community oriented than a lot of community organizers that I know. It was a nice change from working with producers that were all about the music, and not having any connection to the content of the lyrics. Rey is OG Mission/SOMA/DC Pinoy, so he would school me on the history of Frisco's streets.
Met Fatgums at a music festival is Long Beach. I'm one of his favorite rappers (haha). I'll break it down like this: Fatgums worked on this record while juggling medical school; he's going to open a community clinic in the hood. I think that's a good example of the kind of person he is.
I’ve followed your work since you were in Oddjobs. Your music wasn’t as socially and politically charged as it is now. What sparked that change?
In 2007 I had the opportunity to go on tour in Europe with Kill the Vultures, or go on a educational exposé trip to the Philippines. I decided to go to the Philippines. In seeing the concrete conditions of poverty, political killings, human rights violations, exploitation, etc, I decided that I could become a part of something bigger than hip-hop, or I could continue trying to get validation from white people. [See Sounds of the New Hope, a film featuring Kiwi about the National Democratic movement in the Philippines.]
After your last album dropped, you were thinking about leaving music entirely. Why? What kept you in it?
I just don't like a lot of the vibes or attitudes that come with the music industry. I stayed in it because I'm good at it.
You’ve got roots all over the globe: Minneapolis to NY to SF and the Philippines. Songs like “Travelling Man” and “Mr. Sagittarius” speak to your nomadic lifestyle. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze you or anything, but what keeps you moving from place to place?
Without sounding emo, I had some major commitment issues. I also was in my early 20s and I would get hella bored and constantly needed to see new things. I loved being in new places, I found being lost to be very stimulating.
I don't think it's that unique that I have lived in a lot of places, after all, we live in a nation of immigrants. I think I get attention for it because there aren't a lot of rappers that talk about traveling or different places. Rappers are too busy representing their hood and cant step outside of that box, literally.
Should we expect you to leave SF soon?
Maybe. This city is too rich for me. I'm from St. Paul, MN. I grew up around lots of blue collar folk. I think that's why I feel really at home living in the Excelsior District of SF. I'm tired of seeing hipsters and yuppies taking over what were once working class neighborhoods of color. I guess I'd rather stay and fight the good fight to keep this city from becoming another Manhattan.
On that note, what did each city teach you in terms of life, love, politics and music?
Never believe the stereotypes or assumptions that you might hear about a certain city. All cities have a "wrong" side and "right" side of the tracks. Before I moved to SF, I used to come here on tour. The first time I rolled through the Tenderloin or 6th Street, I felt like I was in Cincinnati. Or on the set of a bad 80s vigilante movie. Before coming here, I always thought that SF was a city of Full House, Rice-A-Roni, happy gay people, and hippies. And even though some of those aspect are real, there is so much more to San Francisco.
In terms of love, I think people are more lonely in cities than they are in rural areas. Even though we live in such close quarters, it seems like everyone is so caught up in finding their own path or identity that they isolate themselves from real human connections. We've all become so individualistic, that in the end we end up alone.
Politics: you just have to listen to the record.
What’s your goal as an artist? And do you see rap as your career, or more of an artistic outlet? I mean, rap hasn’t bought you that Bentley just yet…
I'm not sure how to answer this. I guess my immediate artistic goal is to be confident in the music that Power Struggle makes. To not worry so much about following the trends. Sometimes I worry that I'm not being hood enough, or gangsta enough, or revolutionary enough, or soulful enough, or electronic enough, or avant garde enough. Sometimes I worry about the music not being danceable, club worthy, or people thinking it's too radical. I can go on-and-on about my insecurities as a recording artist, but in the end the day I'll keep writing songs that I hope serve a greater purpose. I want to give listens an alternative from the bullshit they are bombarded with their entire lives.
I don't want the Bentley, I'd rather strip it and sell the parts. I want this music to be able to contribute to something greater than self-congratulatory record sales. I'm a horrible capitalist, so I probably won't sell hella records. People keep asking me when I'm gonna make a video to put on the web. My answer: I don't fucking know. I make music, not videos.
I want to: do a project with DJ ET from Mass Movement (Long Beach), learn the cello, train for a cage match, take my lady on a vacation.
Remittances is available for purchase at www.beatrockmusic.com.
Zoneil Maharaj is not the father. He is, however, editor-in-chief of Oh Dang!