I first met Rocky Rivera on paper. In a college course focusing on Filipino-American history channeled through hip-hop, I wrote a piece on women’s clutch role in the genre, and my case example being Rocky herself. Hey, I got a good grade. But that’s not why I’m telling you this. I’m telling you because this is where it starts.
In the classroom, and through Professor Roderick Labrador, stimulating thought bridging music and history, hip-hop and community, came to life. The Ethnic Studies Student Association (ESSA) began to tap hip-hop artists who were not only reaching selective ears but were also providing means to critically disarm and discuss issues at hand with our generation. Such intentional action remains an arrow, directing Hawai‘i’s hip-hop movement forward. Rocky, along with fellow artists Bambu, Blue Scholars and Kiwi, have touched ground in Hawai‘i through ESSA, and true to their roots in community organizing, have picked up the mic to talk to the people, both on stage and off.
Cue: Rocky Rivera. Reflecting on her first time in Hawai‘i several years back (she was born and raised in San Francisco and now calls Los Angeles her home), Rocky explains how Hawai‘i hip-hop has exploded. From opportunities to collaborate with artists like Creed Chameleon, to getting students involved, to mainstream blogs laying down Hawai‘i as breeding grounds for hip-hop, it’s something the female emcee/journalist/proud mama can legitimately see with her all-encompassing scope. The promise of emerging artists eager to deliver and show what Hawai‘i has to offer is undeniable.
As for Rocky, she recently dropped a new mixtape. With so much range and plenty of sass swagger, Pop Killer (2011) will take you to Frisco and back before you can figure out a “Pop Killer” in hypothetical. At first listen, Rocky is undoubtedly intimidating. At second listen, she remains relentless, which moves me to label this as that good ol’ hip-hop. Over 13 tracks, Rocky raps militant bars in tune with the infectious boom bap, only that West Coast flavor can deliver and in the style she champions best: her own.
I asked Rocky what the process of creating the mixtape was like for her. “I treated it like an album, and this album is very much for the people. In the end, I wanted to create something that was true to me but everyone would be down with. Even my mixtape last year, we made it free, and so many people have been downloading it until now. At every little show we would give free mixtapes. It’s really about music for the people.”
Therein lies Rocky’s strength. While never forgetting the people, she is independent and true to self. Initially making headway in journalism, she experienced much success in critiquing the artists whom she has schooled today. You might remember her from MTV’s reality show I’m From Rolling Stone, in which six music writers competed for a contributing editor position at Rolling Stone. She won and eventually went on to work for Rolling Stone, Source, XXL and Vapor. However, she soon realized, “I’m better than them. I’m still writing, but it’s just in a different medium. Now I’m writing musically as opposed to print.” The girl has a lot of story to tell.
“There was a first generation of Pinay emcees in the industry who laid down a foundation. It’s hard because at times I feel like there’s a lot on my shoulders. Myself and a lot of other up-and-coming female emcees are getting so much more exposure with videos and internet blogs. I understand that there is a role placed on me, and at times I have to watch what I say, but really for me it’s about staying true to myself.”
This year Rocky will have performed at numerous Filipino-American festivals, and she’s also stomping down universities throughout the West Coast in conjunction with the fall semester. “It’s at the universities where my music is actually appreciated. It’s cool because a lot of the community folks I used to run with are now professors or doing organizing at schools.” Too cool for school? Not this circle.