CALIFORNIA - In the hip hop world, Fil-Am rapper Bambu is one of the most well-respected indie musicians in the US.
His fans said he is more talented than many of the popular artists. But Bambu said he is content to where he is now because he has something that mainstream musicians don't have: full creative control.
"It's not very often that Filipino folks get to be in some kind of medium where we can say something. I love performing for folks who relate to my music and obviously as a Filipino man, I make music as a Filipino man. For it to be accepted and appreciated by my own folks is the most important thing to me," Bambu said.
He recently made a big decision to offer his music for free.
"Everything now is just going to be free music because the definition of album has really changed. Everything now, I feel, should be accessible and free," he said.
While some rappers talk about the so-called thug life, Bambu actually lived it. At a young age he became a gang member in Los Angeles and was sent to jail for armed robbery. Upon his release, he joined the military and turned his life around through music.
Bambu is also a community organizer. His songs typically contain social commentary about political and economic issues, as well as his personal struggles.
Talking about social issues in music is something that Bambu has in common with Macklemore, the MTV VMA winner that Bambu shared the stage with back in the days in their underground rap circuit.
Bambu said Macklemore's success have some impact to other socially conscious musicians like him.
"To some extent, again, he's mentioned it in his Rolling Stone interview, he's still got a different privilege than I do as a man of color. Macklemore is a very good friend of mine. I love Ben. He's a good dude. His success is completely independent. It wasn't fabricated," he said.
After music changed his life for the better, Bambu said today he's more focused on the one thing that he loves more than anything: Kahlil Bayani, his 5-year old son.
"I'm a full time dad now. Music is secondary. Even organizing in the community is second now to my son. I spent every waking moment with him," said Bambu.
Khalil's mom, Rocky Rivera, is also a talented rapper who frequently joins Bambu in his shows.