Puerto Rican Queens, New York born and Bay Area raised emcee Rico Pabon loves hip-hop and lives hip-hop. He has for years. In fact, I first interviewed him way back in the day-- in 1991, right after he arrived on the Bay Area hip-hop scene with his group the Prophets of Rage. Sixteen years later, the conscious hip-hopper is still diligently putting it down in the Bay -- mainly in the East Bay. When not in Richmond recording or spending time with his family, Rico can be found at his other spot over in the Fruitvale district of Oakland -- Sofrito Authentic Puerto Rican Cuisine at 3451 International Blvd (E 14th St), which he owns and cooks for. As you know, there's no money to be made in conscious hip-hop these days. Besides, Rico treats the restaurant, like his hip-hop, with love. And he loves keeping his Puerto Rican heritage alive through its culinary creations and the concept that food can help create community and foster culture. The restaurant has become a needed gathering space for the East Bay's Boricua community. (14,000 Puerto Ricans in Alameda county alone!)
In the early days when Rico started, the Prophets of Rage consisted of himself, his good friend, known then as "Crazy" and his older brother DJ Park, who used to make most of the beats. By the time Prophets of Rage released the album My Power, the group was just Pabon and had been since then until recently, when he started using his own name on projects such as his recently released Louder than Fiction on Hard Knock Records. Note: Prophets of Rage also appeared on Independent Sounds: Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. III with the track "Make The Most."
AMOEBLOG: What is the exact meaning behind the new album title?
RICO PABON: Louder Than Fiction was my answer to all of the glitter and gold fantasy rap that dominates the mainstream airwaves these days. I feel like there's no balance in our music anymore. Everyone's focused on selling "units" and ringtones and there are very few emcees willing to speak truth from the heart, with consciousness, for fear of being outcast, or maybe folks don't give a shit about the present or future, or don't believe that words and music have power to change people's realities? For whatever reason, we're out of balance. Louder Than Fiction speaks about the state of hip hop, the world, the past, the future, and even has stories from a time when I wasn't so conscious of my own actions. "Gotham City" talks about a high speed chase I had in a stolen car a while back and "Get Down" is about a shoot out we were caught in the middle of during a show back in the days. But it's not being glorified like that shit was cool. It was a part of my journey. It's life. Life is Louder Than Fiction. No bling needed.
AMOEBLOG: How did you hook up with Hard Knock Records and can you tell people a little about them?
RICO PABON: I met Nick Huff, the founder of Hard Knock Records, years ago. He's always shown love, support and true interest in my music, and to conscious hip hop music in general. Over the years I have come to have great respect for him for holding on to his belief in the power of conscious hip hop music and its ability to shape society for the better, while still continuing to be a player in the music industry. I guess you can say that we're brothers from another mother. Hard Knock has released a couple of anti-war compilations, featuring all kinds of folks, underground and commercial. They released an Ise Lyfe album and now my album Louder Than Fiction.
AMOEBLOG: On your new album you address people eating junk food at Mickey D's. Just how important is a good diet?
RICO PABON: I'm no dietician, nor do I always eat what's best for me, but some stuff is just pure crap! A lot of what is pushed on us as "fast food" is barely food at all. And food does affect our energy level and mood, and it's hard to feel positive about life when you're malnourished. So, what I say in that song is "to teach my children to eat from the trees and not from Mickey D's" because I also feel like nowadays we are very disconnected [as far as] where our food comes from. Food doesn't come from the grocery store or a restaurant!
AMOEBLOG: I like that on the new album you also address the prison system ("Hard Times"). How do you think the US prison system has failed?
RICO PABON: Prisons are filled with mostly non-violent drug offenders. These people have a disease called addiction and they need treatment, not incarceration. Everyone knows that drugs are just as accessible on the inside as on the street. Jail does nothing for them but it puts millions of dollars into the pockets of the people who own the prisons. There are also more youths locked up now than ever before. Youth need guidance, not cages. Remember what I said about my song "Gotham City"? I was in a phase that I luckily made it out of. Now I definitely have done more positive for society than negative. In jail are our future Malcolm X's, MLK's, Albizu Campos', Marcus Garvey's, etc. Give the youth a chance to learn and grow.
AMOEBLOG: You've watched firsthand the Bay Area hip-hop scene grow up and go through a lot of changes. Has it reached its peak yet?
RICO PABON: No way. The day hasn't come yet where the Bay is truly represented. Until you can see clearly, not only the commercial stuff (slang, dress, etc.), but the legacy of revolutionary organizing that we have in the Bay reflected in the music, it's not a full representation of us, and the world has yet to hear the heat we really have.
AMOEBLOG: Did anything good come from appearing on the Amoeba compilation a few years ago?
RICO PABON: The Independent Sounds:Amoeba Music Compilation Vol III was great because it reached an audience that I had yet to tap into. There are a lot of folks who checked it out just because it was put together by Amoeba.
AMOEBLOG: As an independent artist in the Bay for many years, how important has Amoeba Music been to you?
RICO PABON: Amoeba has been extremely important to all the indie artists out here. It's one of the few places where you can actually talk directly with the buyer, and make a concrete deal with someone who has love for music. I'm on the shelf right next to all of the other major label artists. That's HUGE!
AMOEBLOG: Would you recommend being a conscious rapper as a way to get rich quick?
RICO PABON: Being a conscious rapper is not the way to get rich, period! It's more important for me to leave a legacy I can be proud of as opposed to leaving some enormous estate or whatever. Words can last forever. Long after I return to the essence, my influence will be alive and growing. And more importantly, as long as common people are suffering injustice at the hands of people with power, all of the world's prophets of rage will be here to speak on it. Puerto Rico is still a colony of the US, so I don't have the luxury to speak as a truly free person yet.