[Editor’s note: 206UP is happy to welcome the voice and perspective of Luke Wigren, a new contributing writer and collaborator. This is his first piece for 206UP. You’ll be able to find all of Luke’s writings at this location. And check out one of his many artistic labors-of-love, Lakehouse Ent., at that crew’s new website, here.]
For anyone who keeps up with Seattle hip-hop it is hard not to admire its multi-ethnic character. In this city, Filipino, Persian, Irish, and East African MCs and DJs form a sort of hip-hop utopia, a slice of “Planet Rock” envisioned four decades ago by Afrika Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation.
Kublakai’s newest song “Mixed Messages,” with Malice and Mario Sweet furthers this dialogue with lyrics and a photo scrapbook of young Kubi embracing his own multiple heritages. The video features a photo of his white mother and black father.
On the surface, “Mixed Messages” is about growing up biracial and self-acceptance in a world constantly forcing us to categorize and choose sides. It is anthemic and hopeful and, much like Seattle’s hip-hop scene, it seems ahead of the curve in its reflections on race.
However, lately, the on the ground reality tends to feel somewhat different. With the ongoing demolition of Yesler Terrace, America’s first integrated public housing development, as well as increased scrutiny on race relations in the hip-hop scene — brought in part by Macklemore’s meteoric rise to fame — Seattle’s “post-race” utopia, a tenuous dream to begin with, looks to be coming apart at the seams.
Raz Simone’s “Same Problems,” highlights this rift, alerting us to a polarity — and yes privilege — among categorized Seattle hip-hop which tends to reward non-black rappers in our very white city. By mentioning Sol and Porter Ray, Raz’s song also suggests such privilege may extend to our city’s artists of mixed African descent as well.
For Kublakai, whose new album is titled Origin Story, a song like “Mixed Messages” may not alleviate criticisms of white or mixed-race privilege, but it will help convey his unique experience with race during upbringing. By placing race in the foreground, it will certainly complicate binary racial distinctions which are, and have always been, misleading.
The fact that Kublakai’s song adds to a growing number of Seattle artists candidly addressing their own mixed race, artists like Gabriel Teodros (“Alien Native”), Sol (“See The End”), and BenadriLL (“Light Skin”), is a good sign. Such songs, when done right, can be far more than badges of belonging and/or dissociation with any one racial group.
How well they address Seattle’s current racial tension, helping the listener interrogate the ways in which race impacts their daily life, preferences, and self-identity, is for you to decide.