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Latinos in Taiwan Pt. 3: Chicano hip hop scene

Posted September 22, 2009 2:48 am (about 3650 days ago)

It’s no secret that people in Asia are fascinated by hip hop, with countries such as Japan cultivating a massive scene including sub-genres such as Chicano rap. Although Taiwan’s scene is not as developed, it’s steadily growing and makes huge strides every time I visit. As far as I can tell, there’s relatively little that’s been written about this scene so I wanted to explore a little bit. But to properly address this issue, I need to set up some personal context.

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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!

Comments

1. Eric said at September 23, 2009 3:53 pm:

I'm going to put it out there...I'm a former Gang Memeber here in Oakland...the reality is that thats not the life style you want to follow it is not a trend, its not whats in this year, its not the best thing to do...yea people wanna look the part, act the part, but when it comes down to actually pulling a trigger, stealing, beating, you see the real person...I've seen incidents where we would be out on "Missions",late night rides around town looking for trouble,and when it came down to doing the actual crime they backed down...the reality is that everybody is fascinated with the Black and Latino scene. Here in the US, you see white boys who are from the suburbs, those who have all they want, and yet they wanna dress "GHETTO", they want to speak "Slang", have the "Phattest" ride. But they have never been to the "Hood", they never had to go for days without food, money, never had to hustle their way in life. But they are fascinated because for them its what's in, they see rappers and they wanna imitate them. To cut it short...when you are little its fun to act parts to "IMAGINE" you are something your not, because you felt you had powers, o you felt unbeatable, you felt the best out there...well its the same now with grown people they wanna act the part, they wanna "IMAGINE" they are something they are not, because it makes them feel they are something, maybe feel important, noticed, powerful, whatever the case is they just wanna imitate, they wont really do time, they really wont kill another human being, they wont steal,they just want what comes with that part, without doing anything...whether it is girls, being noticed, being terrified of, whatever they think they can get from it they want it without actually being a gang member, without the consequences...these are my 2 cents on this topic...

2. Daniel said at September 23, 2009 9:48 pm:

Eric, I think a key thing is understanding why so many are attracted to gangs, while others are not. With your example, I think people are fascinated by "the other," while in general, I think people are looking for purpose, identity, and power. As you said, people want to imagine who they'd like to be. Too many males are tied up in illusions of power...big trucks, muscles, guns, being hyper agressive...What's harder? Dropping out or finishing college? Robbing someone or making your own money? In the long term, that fast "easy" life actually becomes the hard one. I'm sure that anyone who's done time and/or tried to create a life after dropping out can attest to that!

3. hopes4 said at September 25, 2009 2:14 am:

im also a former gangmember from east oakland and its very interesting the way that the sureno culture travels world wide the essense of the pachuco and the dickies or ben davis are a true esential to our chicano culture and as you can see its gone world wide just like in japan and even in iran this culture of old school dressing and baggy pants are truely the essential of a culture who tried to identafy them self diffrently from other cultures even if other people saw it as an act of revelion the true essential for this was to identafy each other by the lingo and the way they dress i see this as a break threw sense alot of people judge from the way they see you dress now they can see that just like hip hop or gangsta rap became a part of history so is the pachuco and gangster aperal i love my culture and the ways that we made a style that suits every one who likes to wear it. and also the way that people mis judge because of what you are wearing i think that having this style world wide is really kool

4. Amado said at September 25, 2009 4:38 pm:

To start off, I think that this whole Chicano/Latino identification to gangs is extremely misleading. I believe that a subject like "Minority-related gangs" is a very complicated matter to discuss, since it involves such a great amount of people coming from all kinds of backgrounds, not only racial, but also related to their family background. I think that even though gangs have a wrong end, we may never judge a gang member or someone that wants to be affiliated, since we don't know where they are coming from, what their life is like, and how it got to that point. On another note, Latino gang "Culture" has well become a very interesting and absorbing matter in so many places in the world. The cars, the clothes, the music, and everything related to the Latino Gang scene is very flashy to the eye, I could say that by experience. However, people sometimes misinterpret the background behind it, simply because of mere ignorance at times. Again, I will say that no one can judge the opinion or the view of others, since we don't know where their interest is coming from. In any case, in places like Taiwan or Japan, although the "style" is becoming very popular, the ignorance about the Latino gangs and the culture behind it make it very misleading when they try to represent such a culture and when referring to the Latino/Mexican/Chicano community as a whole. In any case, it is always to be well informed about this, since it has become a major aspect of all minorities in the United States, that although misleading, is its the sad reality for many of us.

5. Daniel said at October 4, 2009 9:28 pm:

I think you reiterate my point that there's a lot of history and context that goes into gang culture and why so many people are drawn to it. It's very easy to make people into cartoon characters, romanticizing them as Robin Hood characters, or demonizing them as monsters. The truth, of course, is more complicated. I'd also argue that gang life is often times a reflection of what's happening in broader society...people seeking power, jobs, etc and gangs often fill those voids.

6. Chicano Rap said at February 3, 2010 9:44 pm:

Good article. I'm going to Japan next month, Tokyo to be exact so I would like to know if anyone out there is familiar with any type of venues or "hang outs" for this type of music scene. I would like to meet a few locals who know about Chicano Rap.

7. Chicano Rap said at February 3, 2010 9:44 pm:

Good article. I'm going to Japan next month, Tokyo to be exact so I would like to know if anyone out there is familiar with any type of venues or "hang outs" for this type of music scene. I would like to meet a few locals who know about Chicano Rap.

8. CHRISTIAN D said at March 6, 2011 7:31 pm:

ORALE ME DA GUSTA SABER QUE HASTA TAIWAN Y JAPON TIENEN GUSTO POR EL RAP CHICANO-MEXICANO QUE BUENA ONDA UN SALUDO DESDE VERACRUZ PARA TODOS LOS VATOS LOCOS DEL PLANETA

9. big chuco said at June 16, 2011 11:07 pm:

japan has always supported my music, i have a couple contacts that buy cd's from me..always tripd me out..but all good, as long as they enjoy the music..its available on itunes.com and cdbaby.com search big chuco ..also check out the videos on youtube.com VIVA LA RAZA!!

10. Daniel said at June 19, 2011 10:08 pm:

Chuco, it's crazy the ways that culture spreads and the internet has made things explode. It'll be interesting to see how things continute to develop.

11. MONI said at July 16, 2011 3:37 pm:

CONEJO is a RAPPER, from Los Angeles, unarguably one of the most influential artist in Chicano rap. His uncompromising and often controversial urban storytelling depicts the reality of real life gang-members in Los Angeles (and throughout the rest of the world). His lyrics capture not only the toughness and brutality of Gang life, but also the unity and family as well as the emotional hardships of loss and tragedy. A True Master of his Art! Constantly evolving, and getting stronger with each release , undoubtedly his most Impressive LP to date, the hot new album. (“The Puppet Master Curse”) will be in stores from ( July 11th 2011 ) on Felony case entertainment ….https://www.facebook.com/conejo.rapper

12. Chicano Tattoo Art said at August 1, 2011 7:52 pm:

While I sell this stuff online I have come to known and realize that this chicano gang culture is very popular in many other countries, my best customers are from other countrys such as Australia, German, United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Russia, and even once in awhile the middle east, I dont get much buys from Asia due to they dont have to buy online since they have there own stores I would guess? I realize that this is a big thing all over the world, I sell Chicano Rap cds, Chicano Urban Clothing, Chicano Magazines to lots of people in other countries, I even get customers from Bankok, Italy, Ukraine and the list goes on so its not just a thing in asia. Thank you for this article.

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