Buck the system: Beatrock music celebrates a decade of resistance

By Leo Albea | October 8, 2019

Bambu DePistola, President of Beatrock Music, performing at the Launch in 2009 (left) and at the 10-Year Anniversary Festival in 2019 (right). Left Photo from Beatrock Music | Right Photo by @davidregoso

Bambu DePistola, President of Beatrock Music, performing at the Launch in 2009 (left) and at the 10-Year Anniversary Festival in 2019 (right). Left Photo from Beatrock Music | Right Photo by @davidregoso

Let’s first establish the facts. Hip Hop originates from Black culture in America - specifically in the Bronx where communities of color faced poverty, violence, and oppression. In the 1980’s, we saw Hip Hop on MTV and heard it on the radio; it was political.

Today, Hip Hop - along with streaming - has taken over the music industry. More than half of all recorded-music-industry revenue is generated through streaming platforms, and of that market share, Hip Hop is the top genre; it’s profitable. 

And that brings us to Beatrock Music - a music label born out of a clothing brand in Long Beach, California, back in 2009. In a world where Hip Hop may have traded its soul to corporations in exchange for profits, Beatrock Music has sustained 10 years of authentic, unapologetic, and uncompromising Hip Hop, and if you don’t already know them, you have no idea what’s about to come.

1. Beatrock Music prioritizes Womxn.

We all know it; the womxn of Beatrock carry the label. Their lyrics are raw, and their flows are unparalleled. Just take a listen to Ruby Ibarra’s “Us,” and they’ll have you convinced. Beatrock recognized this talent and reserved their most powerful MC’s to close out the night for their 10-Year Anniversary Festival.

And the best part about this? Beatrock is consistent about giving womxn the stage presence that they deserve. In 2009, Bambu - President of Beatrock Music - described in an excerpt from Empire of Funk, “I recognized early in life that our society is structured by class... that those classes were usually patriarchal - meaning the men dictated the division of classes - and women have been marginalized...not truly being included, but instead being patronized and objectified.” Popular culture has the toxic tendency to exclude womxn - making them to be accessories to be worn or prizes to be won. Not Beatrock.

Ruby Ibarra headlines Beatrock Music’s 10-Year Anniversary Festival | Photo by @davidregoso

Ruby Ibarra headlines Beatrock Music’s 10-Year Anniversary Festival | Photo by @davidregoso

Rocky Rivera performing | Photo by @davidregoso

Rocky Rivera performing | Photo by @davidregoso

2. Beatrock Music’s Artists are both “Historic” and Current.

Historic is a strong word, but once you’ve just scratched the surface of discovering the humble beginnings of Beatrock’s artists - you’d be saying the same thing, too. Again, Hip Hop is a Black art form, but Filipinos have always been present in the movement. On a deeper level, Black and Filipinx culture share some parallels. They have nearly 300 years of slavery under the US, and we have 300 years of colonization by Spain and another 100, by the US. Our respective self-expressions are rooted in oppression, and this is where we can find common ground, especially when it comes to Hip Hop.

The rare event of associating Filipinos with Hip Hop makes recognizing the pioneers that introduced Filipino culture to the Hip Hop scene that much more historic.

Geologic. But if you’re a more recent fan of Beatrock Music, you might only recognize him as Prometheus Brown. Geo grew up during the “golden age of rap,” but he doesn’t attribute his love for Hip Hop to MTV and the radio. “It was at the big Filipino party - debuts, weddings, graduations, christenings, birthdays - that hip-hop music ingrained itself into my musical DNA.”

In 2002, Geo joined Sabzi (who he met at the University of Washington) to create the Blue Scholars - which would eventually lead him to tour throughout North America, often being the first Filipino rapper that crowds have ever seen.

Now let’s talk about Klassy. She is as local as it gets when we are talking about Historic Filipinotown. She immigrated with her family from the Philippines to Echo Park in July of 1999 - 3 years before the government designation of “Historic Filipinotown.” She grew up in this neighborhood, honed her craft on these streets, and witnessed the gentrification of her own community. So when we talk about “historic” and current, Klassy stepping up on stage in Historic Filipinotown, after years of hiatus, to rap about gentrification… it doesn’t get more real than that.

Ok, so that was just 2 of Beatrock’s many artists - and even then, we found ourselves summarizing. If you truly want to know these artists and their stories, check out their discographies on Beatrock’s website. Their songs speak their truth, and once you’ve heard them, it’ll make all the difference when you open up a Google Search to learn more.

Klassy at the Bootleg Theater in Historic Filipinotown | Photo by @davidregoso

Klassy at the Bootleg Theater in Historic Filipinotown | Photo by @davidregoso

Klassy performing on stage with her son, Enok | Photo by @davidregoso

Klassy performing on stage with her son, Enok | Photo by @davidregoso

3. Beatrock Music is Community Empowerment.

There are truly no words to describe the moment you recognize your native tongue being spoken through the mic and amplified by the speakers - shaking the ground with its bass and being echoed loudly back by the Filipinos surrounding you. The words are hitting you, like the thunderous voice of your nanay waking you up from downstairs - calling you down to eat. It is the overwhelming feeling of familiarity, and the best way I can describe it is… community empowerment. 

But scratch the emotions, you’ll have to experience that for yourself. Here are the hard-core facts on how Beatrock Music has been empowering the community for the past 10 years.

They create a safe space. There is absolutely no way a person can attend a Beatrock Music event and not be aware of their explicit intention to create a safe and inclusive community space for all guests. Their artists publicize the Code of Conduct - outlawing any form of racism, sexism, xenophonia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or any kind of toxic bias or behavior at the event, and honestly, their lives. And Bam, who’s running the show, is constantly “checking the temperature” of the crowd to ensure this, while also providing the steps to conflict resolution for both the offender and the offended.

They connect art and activism. Beatrock’s artists are not the kind to rap about an issue and profit off the backs of the community that is hard at work in approaching these issues. Since before the inception of Beatrock Music, the artists have involved themselves in work that calls out oppressive institutions and calls in people of color to be educated and empowered - like Bambu with Kabataang Maka-Bayan (KmB), or Geo with AnakBayan Seattle. Rocky Rivera has done extensive work with youth empowerment in Oakland high schools, and even Klassy’s recent collaboration with Ruby Ibarra on Power Trip calls out the misuse of power against people of color. The music video depicts a story about an undocumented mother being separated from her American-born son. The proceeds generated from the YouTube views are set to be donated to organizations working to keep families together at the border. Hip Hop is historically political, and Beatrock’s artists continue to utilize its influence as a tool for social justice.

All things considered, Beatrock Music has created a movement. They have spent the past decade bringing together artists that speak their unfiltered truth and match it with relentless action. They have given visibility to countless Filipinos across international lines and spoken up for the voices of those have been silenced.

They have redefined what Hip Hop and community can look like in an era where profits dictate circumstances more than the people. Happy 10 years, Beatrock Music - here’s to another decade of changing the game.

Leo Albea is the Creative Director of One Down and has worked with Beatrock Music on several occasions, including social videos for Rocky Rivera and Klassy, and most recently, as Director for Klassy’s Power Trip featuring Ruby Ibarra. For inquiries, he can be reached at leo@one-down.com. Follow him on Instagram!

Editor: Kristine de los Santos, Director of Operations | One Down | kristine@one-down.com