We put PopCon on the cover last week, but our convention-heavy city also hosted another high-profile conference last week. NCORE (The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education) is an annually staged event educating attendees on issues of access and inclusion and a range of other issues affecting minority students.
Included among the ranks of academics presenting at NCORE was L.A.-based hip-hop MC Olmeca. Born David Barragan, Olmeca writes rhymes in both English and Spanish that address the experience of Latinos living in urban centers in the United States.
NUVO: How does your music connect with the agenda of NCORE?
Olmeca: Being a Chicano from L.A. of Mexican descendants, my music directly correlates with that. I feel NCORE needs to have people like myself who are utilizing art to convey some of these messages and finding different ways of connecting with the communities they're discussing.
NUVO: Last night our mutual friend referred to you as a political MC, and you replied that you're a "real MC." Can you define that?
Olmeca: If you ask me what kind of artist I am, I'm not going to say I'm a political MC. When I say I'm a "real MC" I'm halfway joking. You know, back in the day everyone was saying, "keep it real."
I'm a hip-hop MC that talks about social issues. Some people might give me the tag of being a political MC, but for me it's more than that. Politics is circumstantial; humanity is intrinsic. For me the music is about humanity. When we conceptualize our circumstance, it makes more sense. Black and brown artists are addressing what they see every day in their immediate surroundings.
For me, the issue of immigration is a reality I can't escape living in a community of migrant workers. We're part of the cheap urban labor market in the U.S. That's my everyday reality and that's why I talk about those things.
Another example: if we contextualize the issue of education and look deeper into it we realize that the lack of resources for eduction is related to most of the federal budget going towards war. Therefore, I have to talk about the war and speak against the war, if I'm really focusing on education.
As a human being, I've got feelings and emotions, [so] of course I'm going to talk about these things. Growing up as brown men in the U.S. our lives are made political at birth. So even my songs about love have everything to do with that political reality. It's all jumbled-up and interconnected.
NUVO: Your latest album Brown and Beautiful draws a lot of influence from Latin American music traditions. What prompted you to explore those sounds?
Olmeca: In the early days of hip-hop, when people were looking for breakbeats the sources were coming from every direction, including salsa and mambo with groups like the Fania All-Stars. Latin American influence has always been part of hip-hop culture.
When people talk about true hip-hop they reference records by James Brown as the source. But when you look deeper into hip-hop you realize there was a lot more stuff being sampled. If that happened back in the day why shouldn't I dig into the crates I have at home? So that's what we did on this record. We dug out stuff like Los Pasteles Verdes from Peru, and Los Bukis from Mexico. We took that influence and added 808 beats and trap rhythms. Some people are calling it global hip-hop. I don't know how I feel about that, but if it helps you understand my music, it's all right.
This column was written in honor of Emmanuel Cervantes.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting new music from around the globe.
tUnE-yArDs - Real Thing
Helado Negro - Arboles Atras
Zara McFarlane - Move (Atjazz Remix)
Electric Wire Hustle - Bottom Line (Flako Remix)
Sun Ra - India (Mop Mop Rework)
Debruit & Alsarah - Alrahal
Meridian Brothers - El Gran Pájaro de Los Andes
Montien Tienthong - Kor Kai
Quantic - Magnetic
Bixiga 70 - Esquinas
Seun Kuti - Higher Consciousness
Mo Kolours - Afro Quarters
Percussions - Blatant Water Cannon