One flew over a ghetto's nest

Posted May 20 2007

A Spring 2007 interview from France's Hell's Kitchen magazine. There are some stories tied to the techno group Underground Resistance, as well as some thoughts on the Bay Area's hyphy movement. The writer, Fabrice, and I spoke for hours over some good Indian food and he pulled some thoughts from this conversation. Some things were lost in translation (try explaing sideshows in French), but one thing I love about having my own website is I can clarify somethings. Thanks to Marie for helping me translate. This isn't an exact translation, but I tried to word it to make sense and flow smoother in English. The original French version is at the Hell's Kitchen link above. My comments follow this version. Thanks again to Fabrice for hooking this up!

One day all of the French stereotypes about Americans should be counted. To classify them by kind, it’s usually "extremist, Bush, Texas, Christians, and a country of racists." For those progressives on the other side: "country of the 1st Amendment, zero unemployment, and golden land for entrepreneurs. Also, there’s the cliché of "ghetto fabulous, Black exploitation, White devils, and New York as the Mecca of hip hop." Plus, there’s the melting pot, donuts, burritos, Starbucks, NBA, etc.

Domingo Yu, an ambassador of Underground Resistance is a typical American. Listening to him talk about his life and his opinions is like turning those stereotypes upside down as if they were a crepe or a pancake.

He was dragged around from city to city by his parents because his father was in the military. Chino, which is his real name, spent his youth in the Eighties in the South, in particular, in Alabama, where his grandparents were living. His father was Mexican-American and his mother was Taiwanese, so he is not militant about African American identity, which is often central to their identity, such as those who don’t want Barack Obama to speak for them because he is mixed and his father is Kenyan. But, let us return in our little Chino, who like 80% of his age group in this area spent its time listening to Miami Bass, the hip-hop lubricated in the South, and he ended up buying two turntables.

(Note-My grandparents don't live in Alabama, although my mother, sister, and I lived with them for a short Michigan. However, I did live in Alabama. Regarding the
Barack comment, we were talking about identity and authenticity-not easy to do with language barriers, especially when you're trying to summarize.)

Then, he focused on scratching and turntablism for the purists. When he got into the university in Detroit he joined the rest of his family. He read an advertisement from the Native American Student Association seeking a Native American DJ. While he was less Native American than Mexican, he submitted his information.

So, he was able to meet Cornelius Harris (Atlantis or The Unknown Writer). Cornelius was already a part of another type of family, a cultural one, not a genetic one…the family of Underground Resistance (UR), whose boss is the legendary Mad Mike Banks, the artist/theorist of Detroit techno.

Because of his own prejudices he didn’t believe Mike when he told him, at their first meeting, about the UR artists traveling all around the world. "I thought that he was trying to impress me like the guys from the ‘hood who try to make you feel smaller than them." But, when I went to the original Submerger building I started to understand. Mike told me to "go downstairs to look at the stock, take all the records that you want and make a mix CD. "I only took two records, the only two hip hop records because at that time I didn’t like that music (techno)…I was programmed by stereotypes of techno not being soulful music. To give you an example, I didn’t even know who Derrick May was. I was a fan of American football and there was a player with the same name on the Green Bay Packers (his last name was actually Mayes). I thought they were talking about him, then Cornelius and my roommates were talking about him. When I finally understood, I had the feeling that I already know about him because a lot of guys in hip hop had sampled Derrick May and his kind of techno, which I wasn’t aware of before.

(Note-I didn't attend university in Detroit, but rather, in Ann Arbor, which is about 30 miles outside of Detroit-a world away, if you know the area. That quote about "guys in the 'hood trying to make you feel smaller than them," I don't remember saying that, although I remember the sentiment.  I was talking about people exaggerating to make themselves more important than they really are, or to get over on you. Then again, he was tape recording.)

Especially after that moment of awareness Domingo Yu was surrounded by the sounds of Detroit when booty bass dominated. In booty bass, everything is mixed, voices, hot R&B on accelerated techno beats, Miami bass, hip hop, in an orgy of different genres.

As he became more and more linked with UR and having after creating a label with DJ Marquis, he was invited more and more to play in foreign countries. As such, he realized the difference between the explosion of local music trends such as ghettotech compared to its development in Europe or Asia. That’s exactly what, in his opinion, is happening to anther local ghetto music, the hyphy style, the crunk of the Bay, where Domingo Yu now lives., being a teacher at a college in Oakland. He works on the east side of this hard city of the suburbs of San Francisco. Hyphy is starting to get recognized, thanks to E-40, the Federation, and the influence of MTV and the success in particular of "Tell Me When to Go" with E-40 (featuring Lil’ Jon and Keak da Sneak), which was released in 2006. this was mostly because E-40 is the commercial face of the hyphy movement outside of the Bay. E-40 is the one who exports the new slang and hyphy (style). This includes "donuts", cars with loud, bass-heavy, speakers, and pills that get you high…When they watch the video clips that are supposed to represent them on the television, those who built this new culture from the ghetto are already tired of it. They know that real life is not like a script of three and a ½ minutes. "It is only a stereotype. Everyone thinks that these kids only listen to music all day, but they have other things to worry about! Their personal histories are often made of poverty and violence. They are the real youth of Oakland, and they’re not all from the ghetto. Some will die young, some of their families have already died and they perfectly know that education is their way out. They figure this out and I try to help them make sense of all of this." One example is that money is made off of their backs, but their parents on the other hand, still can’t find a job…" " and the funniest thing is that with all of this hype around the cars and all of these things shown on the DVDS makes me think of rednecks and their monster truck shows." If I said that to them, my kids would be upset. Admittedly, they are not the same kind of cars or the same cultural context, but it’s exactly the same kind of energy and expression."

We didn’t think that before meeting Domingo Yu that we were going to end up thinking about the American kaleidoscope.

(Note-I didn't create a label with DJ Marquis. For a period, myself and Tom T worked with Marquis on his already established Mixx Flava records. Those years are a whole book to themselves. Ironically, Cornelius introduced us to collaborate on projects for UR. Marquis and I ended up doing our own thing, although the three of us ended up as good personal friends. Corn and I have often compared the Detroit music scene to one big dysfunctional family. No matter the genre, we're all linked up and connected by the city, even when we leave. After ten years we all end up reconnecting. Someone might blow up, but they're still regular folks in the D. No matter how long you're gone, Detroit'll take you back. I say that from first-hand experience.

I don't teach college in Oakland. I teach high school.

In case it's not clear, the part about stereotypes of hyphy, I was just saying that things are more complex than the videos and that many people are trying to better themselves and their families through education. They're about more than poppin' pills and doing sideshows. Additionally, I was trying to explain why I've been focusing more on education the past few years than DJing. I still love the music, but I have another outlet that's been directly helping out the youth. Also, I was making a point about the kids needing to understand that if they're not careful, localized scenes such as the hyphy movement will benefit everyone but them!)


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