Realizing Bambu deliberately released his debut album, self untitled..., 10 years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, it's not exactly surprising that the LA-bred MC bears political and social views all over his music. Take the video for 2010's "Old Man Raps," off 'Bu's ...Paper Cuts... EP, for just one example. The Patricio Ginelsa-directed clip sheds light on gang violence and its lifestyle so viscerally that even someone light years away from LA could identify with its images -- ditto for the song it supports. Political rap has the potential to be very annoying, yes, but in Bambu's case, it's hard to not want to hear him opine even more than he does on record.
Given all that about him, it's no wonder why Bambu is such an articulate and insightful interview. Gimme Noise caught up with the 30-year-old earlier this week to talk about his DJ Muggs-produced mixtape, volunteering for LA nonprofits, his Soundset debut, and more.
Your debut album was released on the 10-year anniversary of the LA riots. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the same events. What are your current thoughts regarding the riots?
I was about 10 years old then, on April 29, 1992, and I remember realizing that while the Rodney King beating was not too shocking, it was big because it was on TV. It wasn't until the aftermath that people realized they should have been more strategic about how things went down and their reactions. But the riots captured the feeling of the times in LA. All the rebellion was really a turning point in the city.
In 2010 you released the Los Angeles, Philippines mixtape with DJ Muggs, who's worked with everyone from GZA to Depeche Mode to U2 to Cypress Hill. What did you try to do with that tape, and how was it working with Muggs?
That project was actually accidental. I was originally working with a guy from the Soul Assassins, and we wanted to tap into the ideas of the gang contingent in LA. We just decided to do a quick collaboration, and then maybe a mixtape to go along with it. But then Muggs got involved, and he really took me under his wing. He showed me what his work ethic is like, and it was great to discover his process.
You've done your share of work with nonprofit organizations, including LA's People's CORE and KmB Pro People Youth. What have you gained from or tried to do with those experiences?
The goal with my volunteering is not to take kids off the streets for four hours and then put 'em right back in the streets. I try to help them build up their ideology, and I've been able to do part of that through hip-hop, which is great. I like to tell kids they can actually use hip-hop as a medium for telling their stories.
One of the things I don't do when it comes to the nonprofits is firefighting. If there's a fire at my house every day at three in the afternoon, and we put water on it every day to stop it, it doesn't really do anything, because the problem that's starting the fire is still going to be there. I like to try to get rid of the problems, or at least identify the roots of them.
How do you approach your style of "politically aggressive," as you describe it, rap?
I draw inspiration from things going on around me. With my next album, I've been spending more time with my family, so it's more family-centric. I also like to look for kids who think political rap and conscious rap is square, lame. I tell the kids that I bang just like you -- I'm not out of the gang, I'm just an inactive member of the gang -- and I will say things like, "Fuck the police," because any kid who's had a run-in with a cop will get that. Then I'll break it down and be more specific about things later [laughs].
Who are some rappers you think you're like-minded with?
Geologic of the Blue Scholars, he and I are real tight. There's Immortal Technique, because he really goes out with his money and does things like bring it overseas and put it into orphanages in Afghanistan; likewise, I do a bunch of organizational work. Killer Mike and I see almost everything eye-to-eye, ideologically. I Self Divine, Toki Wright... there's so many.
However, I will say a lot of guys have interesting things to say, but the music they make just doesn't do much for me. In that case, I'll respect what they're saying, but I won't be listening to them.
You've beenreleasing music for roughly 10 years now without, if we can be honest, much fame or stardom. What keeps you going and in the rap game?
I grew up rapping, and it's just something I love to be involved in. I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. And it's great to find out that people are really appreciating your music.
Soundset's got to be one ofthe largest, if not the largest, shows you've played. How will you approach Sunday differently than you would a much smaller show?
I'm just planning to bring all the hardest songs I possibly can and bring everything I've got. But yeah, Soundset is probably the biggest show I've done, and that's counting the shows I've done at Paid Dues and South by Southwest.
Who are some of the artists you're looking forward to seeing at Soundset?
I'm looking forward to seeing everybody, but I'm really excited to see Atmosphere. The only times I've seen Atmosphere have been in places outside of Minnesota, and since they put on a strong show everywhere else, I'm sure it gets crazy when they play at home. It's gotta be like when Blue Scholars, for example, plays in Seattle.
Anything else to add?
I just want to stress how appreciative I am of everything Rhymesayers has done for me. I do my own booking, and guys including [Atmosphere MC] Slug have reached out to me personally, taken time out of their day to show me love and set up shows for me, things like that. And I'll add that Slug is absolutely the most down-to-earth artist I've ever met, and I've met a lot of artists.
• General admission tickets $46 • VIP tickets sold out • 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27 • Canterbury Park Festival Field, Shakopee
Nine hours of music will be spread over two main stages and the Fifth Element stage. The day's events also include a B-boy/B-girl DJ tent, live painting exhibit, skate demo area, the Soundset custom car show, and the Last of the Record Buyers live production showcase.
The Official Soundset 2012 Afterparty. 18+, $10-$15, 10 p.m. Sunday, May 27, at First Avenue, Minneapolis. Hosted by Brother Ali and MaLLy and featuring surprise performances by Soundset artists. Beats by Get Cryphy DJs (Plain Ole Bill, DJ Fundo, Jimmy 2 Times, and Last Word).