Month: March 2016

Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Hip Hop and Social Justice

Growing up, I never really was exposed to Hip Hop, especially what most called the “Golden Era” of Hip Hop. I had mostly an ear full of early 2000s hip hop which included artists such as Nelly, Ludacris, Chingy, Missy Elliot, and many more. I accepted this as hip hop and took it as “real.” Granted I was a very naive and sheltered child at the time, I took anything and everything for its face value and associated it with various ideas (i.e. stereotypes and biases). It wasn’t until I got into my first year of high school that I started looking into artists such as A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ), KRS-One, Q-Tip, Zion I, and several others. This is what I called “real” hip hop as they spoke to what was their reality. At the same time, I found myself learning simple breaking moves like Top Rock and the “8-step.” I didn’t know that this was part of hip hop at the time. I just thought I would look pretty damn cool if I could do these things. I guess one could say that my hip hop literacy was extremely basic.

Coming to SJSU, I started to broaden my horizon more. I wasn’t really into B-Boying as much anymore, but I still loved hip hop and rap music. I stuck to my mainstay of artists as ATCQ, Q-Tip, and a few others, but I found artists I had never heard of. I came artists such as Blu & Exile, Blue Scholars, Bambu, Rocky Rivera, and many others. One song that I still listen to is Blue Scholars’ “Burnt Offering.” Click on the hyperlink to check it out. The reason I still listen to this song is that it connects to me musically, but also my soul or idea of self. Prometheus Brown (half of Blue Scholars) touches on many different topics in this song, but this song hits me the most because of the idea of consciousness of self. In Hip Hop, there are four main elements which are: breaking, Emceeing tagging (graffiti), and DJing. The fifth element is consciousness of self which plays a role in the four main elements. There’s a mantra that my old youth group, the Filipino Youth Coalition, uses to empower its students: “Know history, know self. No history, no self.” By placing an importance on knowledge of self, we are able to understand why we do the the things we do and have a self image based in our social identities. Utilizing the four elements, one is able to understand how they express themselves through visual art, spoken words/lyrics/writing, making music, or dance/movement. You’re probably wondering at this point, “how does hip hop connect with ideas of social change and social justice?” Hip hop social change, and social justice are very connected as it allows for expression of oppression/plight.

Finding and creating our consciousness of self and how we express ourselves through hip hop is a tool for social change and social justice because it provides an outlet to speak up and out.

Breaking, or dance more generally, uses movements to express one’s self through movement. Putting meaning behind the movement and sharing that with others allows our movement to be seen.

Emceeing puts thoughts into stylized vocals, words that clearly express what one experiences every day.

Tagging puts our experience into a visual masterpiece that conveys ourselves and others onto urban landscapes for others to grasp our lives visually.

DJing mixes emotion and music to express ourselves through the music of others the reality we each face every day of our lives.

One song that resonates with me  and everything I just said is Bambu’s “Books.” This track is mad corny on some levels, but the content behind it is deep. It speaks to ideas of consciousness of self, the meritocracy myth, the education system that is not meant for people of color, and many others.

When looking for your own outlets of expression, come to know yourself first. Understanding ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually begins the process of creating a consciousness of self. By having a concept of “self,” one can put themselves in different outlets and communities that best expresses their thoughts and feelings when fighting for social change and justice. Here are two more songs that I will leave you with: Blue Scholars’s “Motion Movement” and Bambu’s “Welcome to the Party.” Hip hop isn’t for everyone, but it is a tool for social change and justice. I’ve found that hip hop works best for me, but I challenge you to find what works best for you.



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I will always bear some kind of guilt.

I am a non-practicing Catholic by infant baptism, and I have guilt. I am the second child of young Vietnamese immigrant parents who entered parenthood far too prematurely, and I have guilt. I am a college student who is carving out spaces for herself in an education system that was not built for her success, and I have guilt. I am a young woman who aspires to earn a doctoral degree in sociology, essentially studying and learning and growing and producing knowledge in the most privileged position, and I have guilt. I am a child who comes from modest resources, and I have guilt. I am a daughter and a sister who will inevitably choose graduate school far away from home in order to further her career and self-fulfilling interests, and I have guilt. I am a first generation Asian American who struggles with balancing her individual self and her family.

I once read somewhere in a psychology textbook that a distinction in “Western” and “Eastern” cultures is this:

Individualists (Westerners) bring honor to their families by first honoring themselves.

Collectivists (Easterners) bring honor to themselves by first honoring their families.

And I feel this. I feel both of these things. Prior to my arrival in college, I did not have the language to articulate these experiences. For the majority of my life thus far, I felt vaguely off-kilter and alone. There exists within me a bifurcation that has gone unnamed.

A few months ago, I had dinner with a friend from high school who is four years my senior. We never spoke about our first generation Vietnamese American guilt. I think that most of us do not name this fear that we have, the fear of disappointing and hurting our parents, the very people who have and continue to make sacrifices for us. The very ones who guide their parenting decisions according to what they believe is best for us, even if we see that those things may not necessarily be the best for us. They protect us. They want to shield us from the world. They want to minimize our responsibilities even if that means that they must carry the splintered load. They do not know otherwise. How can they? This is their reality. And to shatter their reality would be to shatter their hearts.

But at twenty-one years of age, I am at a cusp of creating my own world. And I have to let myself. I have to let myself in order for them to let go of me. Not completely, but just enough. I will come back.

All of this cuts me deeply, actualizing a core tenet of Vietnamese proverbs that essentially say this: for child to hurt is for parent to hurt. And as the child, I emotionally, physically, and nearly completely feel my parents’ hurt… to the extent that only a child can. It is my turn, and I feel it.* But I will not name it before them, because I understand the role that I must continue to perform. The role that I actively choose to perform as daughter.

*Does this mutuality signal my own coming-of-age?



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