Latinos in Taiwan Pt. 3: Chicano hip hop scene
Posted September 22, 2009 2:48 am (about 3558 days ago)
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Doobiest hip hop store
As far as I can tell, Doobiest is one of the first Taiwanese organizations to promote hip hop at any significant level. This is the only English-language article I could find about them.
In a nutshell, Doobiest started out in the late ‘90s and was founded by three high school friends, Goldie, Sam, and DJ Chicano. The group later grew to include the store, which also carries the name Doobiest. At least for me, up until the 2000s, when the internet explosion seemed to have really taken off, it was hard to find good hip hop in Taiwan. I came across a few people here and there, but I mainly came across people whose knowledge didn’t extend beyond P Diddy so a store like Doobiest definitely caught my attention.
One reason was that I associated the term with the hip hop group Funkdoobiest. For starters, they weren’t the most popular group out so I was surprised to find a store with their name. Secondly, the group was composed of Latinos and a Native American so I was curious as to their popularity in Taiwan when most people followed African American rappers. Finally, I don’t know how I became aware of him, but I was intrigued by DJ Chicano. I assumed that he was a Mexican American from California, especially after I first visited the store and it was filled with clothing lines such as Joker and Tribal Gear, which I associated with Chicanos.
During a visit in 2005 I still hadn’t met DJ Chicano, but did find out that he was a local. However, I very briefly spoke with a store employee named Berry, who was still working there, during my 2009 visit. Berry’s quite friendly and bubbly and speaks good English, which was invaluable since my Mandarin and Taiwanese skills are fairly nonexistent. All of my trips to Taiwan feel rushed as I try to squeeze in a lot and this one was no different, although I did stop by Doobiest three times in an effort to finally catch up with Chicano. The third time proved to be the charm, but it was also my last night in town and I had other stops to make before heading out.
Due to our limited time, speaking through translators, and the fact that the store was busy, Chicano and I didn’t get too far past the small talk stage. He had a slight build and glasses, totally in opposition to the image I had built up in my mind of some big, muscle-bound, bald-headed guy wearing a tank-top, low slung khakis, house shoes, and lots of tats. I’m sure a lot was lost in translation, due in no small part to the use of Taiwanese, English, and Spanish slang. It’s hard enough for someone fluent to navigate those respective languages so try multiplying that by three!
Of course I had to ask Chicano where got his name from. I mean, that’s like me calling myself DJ Belize or DJ Jamaican! He said that essentially, he was really into Chicano rappers such as Kid Frost and a Lighter Shade of Brown.
Beyond the aforementioned clothing, the store was filled with Chicano influenced artwork, skateboards, stickers, jewelry, and even a lowrider bike. There was a small selection of used vinyl, but what I found really interesting was the selection of CDs. Although there was some East Coast hip hop and some more conscious West Coast MCs like T-Kash, “gangsta rap,” both African American and Latino dominated. However, Chicano made it clear that he was into all types of urban music. This played itself out in a number of his mix CDs that I had listened to, some of which included the likes of Bobby Brown, Karyn White, and Herb Alpert!
In defense of his street cred, Chicano and his crew only spin vinyl so maybe part of the reason I didn’t hear more of the newer Chicano rap was because vinyl was simply too hard too get, or nonexistent. But in discussion with Berry, she reiterated they were into a variety of genres of music, although the cholo style of dress was attractive. Our interactions, including her knowledge of music, reflected this.
In regards to the more gangster-related Chicano rap, I asked her what attracted her to the lyrics. She said that she didn’t care for a lot of them due to the violence and sexism. She liked the music production style, vocal flows, and imagery, but made it clear that she had her critiques. I also asked her about their gang affiliations. A lot of what I came across in Japan heavily favored particular gangs, including local youth with tattoos. Berry said that they were definitely not gang affiliated, and I explained that I asked because if I saw this store back in the States I would’ve thought it was a Sureño store. For one, I saw some 13s, which represent Sureños. Two, a lot of the CDs being sold were Sureño rappers. Finally, I noticed a lot of blue. Granted, other colors, including the opposing red were there, but blue stood out. Combined with the other elements, my radar went off. I admit I’m a bit more sensitive to this, based on where I work and live, but as I’ve been to gang-related record stores in the States and seeing how hard some Japanese claimed gang affiliations, I was wondering if the same thing was happening in Taiwan. Berry seemed truly bewildered that this was my impression and I explained little things that people do to signify their gangs, including colors, numbers, symbols, and name brands. I asked her about who they got their music from. Maybe Sureños had better distribution networks, maybe their contact was a Sureño, maybe someone in the store identified with them. She said she didn’t order the music so she didn’t know, but I have to point out that there was diversity in their selection and maybe I was being overly sensitive as Sureño music didn’t dominate. Proportionately speaking, there just seemed to be a lot of it. Thankfully, it didn’t seem that the Doobiest crew’s fascination with Chicano rap extended to criminal activity. Was I getting played? I don’t think so, but I certainly hope not!
Over the years Doobiest has hosted Chicano artists such as Psycho Realm and DJ Ralph M of Funkdoobiest. Something I later wondered about was if any of these other visitors had challenged or questioned some of this gang imagery. Maybe they promoted it, maybe they thought it was funny, maybe they’re just not that deep. The next time in L.A. maybe I’ll try to catch up with them and ask myself, as well as their impressions of Taiwan.
In terms of the local Mexican and Chicano community in Taiwan, Berry said that hardly any came down to the store and she wasn’t familiar with the Mexican restaurants I mentioned. During one of my visits I think I saw a Latino guy in the store. He came in, took a picture, but I turned around and he was gone. I asked her about the lowrider car scene, but she said they’re illegal in Taiwan, although she knew of one guy who had one, but he kept it in hiding.
So, one final question I had to ask was if the name Doobiest had any connection to Funkdoobiest, or even weed (for the record, the seventies rock group Doobie Brothers also referenced the herb). Berry said that to her recollection, it wasn’t a reference to weed, but more to the natural high that people get from doing their best at hip hop.
Overall, the crew is out to represent positive vibes through hip hop, but even with the name, it’s open to negative interpretations. The style of dress that some of them took on is more affiliated with gang culture than hip hop or broader Chicano culture. Does their product match up with their ideals? It’s easy to critique or romanticize what they’re doing, but we’re certainly doing a longer, much more extensive interview in the future. This reconnaissance mission was merely about setting up an ongoing dialogue. Isn’t that what all of this music and culture is supposed to do; bring us closer?
I also recognize that it’s unfair to merely focus on Chicano rap with the Doobiest crew. Although it’s a personal interest of mine, their influence on the general hip hop scene of Taiwan can’t be overstated and we’ll explore in much more depth for our proper interview!
As my friend Mike and I departed the store Berry asked me if I knew about Mr. Chino, a local tattoo artist who was near by. We hadn’t, but although we had limited time, again this was my last night in town and I still hadn’t packed for my early morning flight, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up!