One performer in Tucson, Arizona is taking a new approach to the age-old immigration debate. He’s hoping hip-hop will give new breath to the issue. From member station KJZZ, Tony Ganzer reports.
(NATS: fade to “meanwhile in Mexico there’s no water…”)
TG: He’s Swindoe da Roadrunna, or just Swindoe in his songs. He and his brother, Ranson Kennedy own and operate the BLK Boyz record label in Tucson.
(Nats phony people…”house full of immigrants, in that old west flow…”)
TG: Swindoe is part of an evolving southwest hip-hop genre. A group of Arizona-based artists trying to find their identity in a medium that has predominately been either East coast or West coast, or more recently music from the South, or Caribbean.
SWINDOE: “We’re just that close to the border, and everybody’s trying to copy sounds from other places from around the States. That really got our niche, our market.”
TG: Originally from Oakland, Swindoe and Kennedy bring the issues of the Southwest to the forefront of their music. They toured Mexico with their issue-oriented lyrics, discovering their place in the hip-hop community,
KENNEDY: “Really no one is talking about what’s going on today. Everything is ‘Party, party, party.’ Everything is ‘Booty, booty, booty.’ But nothing is really dealing with anything that’s real life situations. You know all the ‘Bling, bling’ that really doesn’t apply to the average Arizonan, and American.”
SWINDOE: “That’s what ‘Phony People’ is about. A lot of people talking about immigration they aren’t originally from the U-S. It’s like you gotta take a step back, and get a new perspective.”
TG: Phony People references immigration and drug trafficking through-out the song. In the music video, Swindoe ushers a group of illegal immigrants across the U-S Mexico border, while evading border patrol agents.
MOOK: “And the notion of a lie is also interesting here.
TG: Richard Mook is a lecturer of Music History at Arizona State University.
MOOK: “The way the camera tends to focus in on the immigration agents says these people are fake. They claim freedom, they claim democracy, they claim liberty, they claim to be American and yet that’s a lie, because that dream only applies to them, and not to these other people.”
TG: Mook says Swindoe’s approach to music and politics reminds him of early movements in social commentary by rappers in the late 80s, and early 90s. Though he’s not sure the issues of Arizona are attractive to a majority of Americans,
MOOK: “Arizona is very much in the shadow of L-A. I’m not sure I see the experience of living in Phoenix, Arizona as being all that romantically interesting for all those white, suburban teenagers who were the primary driving force behind Gangster Rap’s national appeal.”
(NATS: Latino Vibe 95.1 “This is MG’s Morning Madhouse… Los Traviesos del Valle, it’s 8:09, ocho con nueve on Latino Vibe)
TG: Phoenix radio station KVIB is part of a surge of bicultural radio stations throughout the U-S. KVIB general manager Jose Rodiles says his station is appealing to a first or second generation Latino listener,
RODILES: “95-percent of our listeners are Latino.”
TG: Rodiles says one reason the issues of the Latino community, namely immigration, haven’t received more air time, is the lack of a Latino artist with the star-power to provide it.
RODILES: “I don’t think we’ve achieved at least in this genre right now that U2-ish kind of group. The group that can give a positive political message without creating issues. Is that group out there somewhere? I gotta believe they are…
SWINDOE: “They want it, they need it, they’re not getting it so we’re bringing that. And ready or not, we’re coming.”
TG: To Swindoe, and his brother, the music is less about pushing an agenda, and more about provoking dialogue and cooperation. The BLK Boyz record label is an acronym for Black Latino Konnected—a connection that Swindoe and Kennedy think is natural and necessary,
SWINDOE: “The Black-Latino connection is a must–we’re really two in one. BLK Boyz stands for that connection…Latino hip hop is on the rise, but hip hop was created by African rhythms and we bring that.”
KENNEDY: “Instead of fighting one another, we wanted to find common ground: It really tears down a lot of those boundaries and it allows us to have a platform larger than just race, or just class because those are artificial creations.”
TG: The BLK Boyz have taken their “true life” Arizona niche to the big screen as well. They have independently produced a movie called “Product” that deals with drug trafficking in Tucson and Sonora, Mexico.
For Latino USA, I’m Tony Ganzer.