Hip Hop Crossing Borders

UCSB students and their love for Hip Hop

By: Astrid Ramos and Photography by Robert Perez

Laura Lora is an upcoming artist at UCSB. She raps, sings, and writes her own music. Her first musical project “A Kold Beginning” introduces the genres of Dancehall/Reggae, RnB, Hip Hop, Trip Hop and Afro Pop. “To me music has no boundaries, without labels, but if I would have to classify my sound it will be a combination of all the ones listed,” Laura said.

Lora is just one of many students who have turned to Hip Hop into an expression of freedom and self-progression.

Lora got exposed to Hip Hop when she moved from Ghana to the United States. Her brother was a fan of West Coast rap artist Tupac and the old school sensation sparked interest in Lora. She was already writing poetry and slow RnB songs; furthermore, she wanted to combine the essence of poetry with the inspiring beats of rap music. Lora said rap is poetry. To Lora it was a way of expressing feelings, “Rap is like talking, in a creative way. Every song starts with a purpose. It’s about struggles, its materialized thoughts.”

Adapting to the culture and the language of the United States was difficult at first. Lora didn’t feel the freedom she experienced in Ghana. Going to school and then going back home to watch TV became her daily dull routine. It was a tedious environment when compared to the adventurous nature she experienced in her hometown. As a child she was free to explore her surroundings, climb trees, and have neighborhood friends. Feeding her curiosity is what she lived for.

“A Kold Beginning” is an example of the hardships that are core of the experiences of coming-up artists, struggling to put their music out on the radios and gain a fan base. In addition, her music combines her life experiences from both growing up in Ghana and coming to the United States. Her songs consist of lyrics of emotions, life hardships, and politics. “Well, there is nothing original about the things I talk about in my music. As long as humans remains on earth, we are going to experience the same emotions of: betrayal, a sense of loneliness and not belonging… political issues such as capitalism and colonialism, immigration and so many more,” Lora said.

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Hip Hop music that was once thought of as predominantly for African-Americans and their expression of institutional and societal struggles, is now appealing to people like Lora who use this music to express their emotions and feel free.

For decades, scholars have studied the culture of Hip Hop and have come to the conclusion that its roots began in the 1970’s street culture, of the poor and working-class/blacks and Latinos in the city of New York, specifically in the South Bronx. It is an urban movement designed for the critical expression of oppressed people of color.

According to scholar Simon Black, Hip Hop — rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti –“provides us with an imaginative insider’s ethnographic account of these often or hard to see urban lifeworlds.”

That is also the case at UCSB. Students on campus allow people to have an insiders look into their lives through their art.

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Huicho Mata is a Latino UCSB student, a graffiti artist and co-founder of Gusto Supply Co., an urban clothing brand. His love for Hip Hop began as he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. “Hip Hop and graffiti go hand in hand. They can’t separate and I don’t think they ever will,” Mata said.

When asked about how his life revolved around graffiti, Mata said, “Listening to Hip Hop, going to shows, doing graffiti, fucking writing, getting on walls whatever it was you know, everything that graffiti involved.” His life was hectic, going to shows and seeing weekly rap battles was exciting yet wild.

Since coming to UCSB and becoming an art major, Mata and his collaborators for the clothing brand Gusto Supply Co. have taken their talents of graffiti art, which are not typically thought of as valuable, and made them have a value in the market. “We’re all a bunch of graffiti artists from the valley, you know. I don’t think we ever had a chance. But if we feel that we have talent we want to make something with that talent,” Mata said.

Mata’s future goals include art. It is his life and his passion. “I like to do art and work with youth and work with the community, you know, as a way to inspire the kids to be able to think” he said. “I want these kids to think your art is valuable, and it’s going to be a tool for you to fucking get out of the hood, and to get out of this low socioeconomic status, and to be able to just be you.”

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Like Lora and Mata, there are many more individuals who are passionate about the art of Hip Hop and what it represents.

For example, Cameron Hekmatnia is a former UCSB student who focuses on freestyle rap. Throughout his time at UCSB, he has focused on both his film and media studies and his musical career.

Hekmatnia grew up in a Mexican and Persian family in Culver City and Laguna Beach. As part of a middle-class family, getting into Hip Hop was a different experience for him. Hekmatnia was the different one out of his family and his social circle. Hip Hop became a strong outlet for his self-expression and individuality.

He began rapping with a group of friends in the backseat of a van. He learned to project his voice and have the tone and the beats needed for rap.

Since graduating he has focused more on his musical career. He is now known as “Cuervo Jones,” and to him Hip Hop represents part entertainment, money, fame, and inner peace. “Life in general, it is the struggle. Every word has a triple meaning, and you can feel it and apply it into your life. It is poetry. It is beautiful,” he said.

Hekmatnia’s is now working on music centered on chill wave, good vibes, and lyrics that are meaningful. His music expresses his lifestyle. He raps about religion and the questioning of religion; along with his life experiences like partying, his life struggles, inner peace, and personal turmoil. He hopes to reach out to other kids, kids that are like him.

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Although Hip Hop is relevant for kids like Hekmatnia, it has been a part of pop culture for years. One of those who has observed it for years is Byron Hurt, a former professional football player.

Hurt has produced and directed a documentary film “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” it showcases the mainstream world of Hip Hop and it hopes to raise awareness to demolish the masculine nature of Hip Hop that degrades women.

This documentary persuades people to look at Hip Hop through its original value, a social justice movement, that does not degrade women or men who do not fit the Hip Hop stereotype. It serves as a tool of expression for all minorities who are struggling with social inequalities.

At a recent screening of Hurt’s “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” at UCSB’s Pollock Theater the director and Chuck D, founder of the Hip Hop group Public Enemy, shared the stage and answered students questions. For Hip-Hop to regain the sense of activism and profoundness it once had, Chuck D said, “The people playing music in the radio for the masses need to stop the poison that they are giving to the youth and let the youth speak their minds, and give them all the tools to do so.”

Though Hip Hop has detoured from its original purpose, it has crossed borders. It is now applicable to the lives of people like Laura, Huicho, and Cam who are from very different social backgrounds.

Hip Hop still aims to speak to people in a way that brings consciousness. It unites individuals and creates a home for the underprivileged and for people who are seeking a place to express their true identity.