Despite the fact that Asian American rappers in hip-hop are uncommon, there have been a decent number of substantial ones. One time Ruff Ryder Jin, Dumbfoundead, the Mountain Brothers, Lyrics Born, Snacky Chan, Roscoe Umali, Denizen Kane and Geologic (a.k.a. Prometheus Brown) of Blue Scholars to women of the persuasion like Awkwafina, Rocky Rivera, Ruby Ibarra and Hopie (formerly Hopie Spitshard) are big ones, but the most profound and impactful of them all, Filipino American organizer, teacher and conscious emcee Bambu (Jonah Deocampo), from Los Angeles, California, is someone who must be recognized. At various points in his life, he’s been a gang member, juvenile offender and Marine so Bambu has been through his share of struggle and hustle; however, these days, it’s all about living socially responsible for the husband (to Rocky Rivera actually) and father of a son, Kahlil, who makes a special appearance on Bam’s new album, Prey For The Devil (Sept 8, Beatrock Music).
His eighth major, full length, solo studio album (Bambu has also recorded with group Native Guns), Prey For The Devil serves as a musical meditation/seminar on color-reinforced divisions in society and the hierarchy instilled by income and earning potential. It also emphasizes how the police are agents to keep the poor in their place as opposed to innocent neutral entities, “civil workers” who apprehend the victimized instead of the real criminals – the obscenely rich designers of the greater economic order. Over cooled beats and a little drill but also some island sounds from his native Philippines, Bam begins by discussing the difference between white and dark lives and the varying treatments each group receives in “As We Pray” and he delves into homeland nightmares and the potentially isolating experience awaiting immigrants in “Butterfly Knife” with the aggressive suggestive refrain “we gon’ get it open like a butterfly knife.” Later, he’s joined by established emcee and activist-mined Run The Jewels rapper Killer Mike in “Prey’er” to vent frustration on police killing and harassing people.
In “Routine,” the song Kahlil helps his dad with, Bambu tells his son how not to get in trouble with the cops, and its iterated “fuck a cop” line makes you think twice about why police are so hated even when the invisible man tells us that they are there to “help.” Racial profiling and poor folks getting the shaft are the preoccupations of “Powerless” with the power-FUL chorus line that goes, “that devil never gets it, he keeps death in our breath.” The line could have multiple meanings, but it consequently empowers us by saying that we the people are being disempowered through speech curtailment and speech contamination. Moving right along, “Whiteface” remarks how dead wrong it is that we look more favorably on Anglo-Saxon Caucasian imagery than darker skinned peoples. It directly speaks to the main ruling white class at the end when it says, “this ain’t for y’all, this for us.” “For The Prey” then wraps everything up for us very nicely. Bam brings us up to speed on some of his rough history so we can learn from it as well as several little bits of grand wisdom in between. It’s a prayer for the people, real people.
It’s not hard to see that Prey For The Devil is on the level of all of Bambu’s previous LPs. It’s a little more aggressive and abrasive than the others, but its message content is just as rich, and its particular topic focuses are unique for this go-around. They have shifted to stress the most important pressing issues of the current year and time, while also including some close to Bambu’s heart. He also has his own special flow and style of rhyming that is not as technically complex or super fast as some backpacker’s yet his rolling riding undulations of voice are firmly planted in hip-hop poetics still. It should also be noted that like his previous cover arts and very much how BDP designed theirs early on, that for this album displays Bam nestling a shotgun in his lap, but it is only a symbol and metaphor for power and self-defense. Bambu is against gun recklessness, and he says so in “Info Trip” with the line “I tell the young’uns put the guns down and scrap.” Prey For The Devil is hard but also kind.
5 out of 5 stars