This is the second part of The Feministing Five interview with Rocky Rivera. Don’t miss the first part, which is a special video interview.
Rocky Rivera is a San Francisco born-and-raised rapper and journalist. You might remember her from MTV’s 2006 reality show “I’m from Rolling Stone.” In fact, one of the most memorable moments from the show was when Krishtine (then going by her real name) wowed the VP of Snoop Dogg’s record label and one of the executive editors of Rolling Stone with her hip-hop knowledge at a Snoop Dogg album listening. It was in that moment that audiences began to suspect she would win the competition, which she did. It was only a matter of time before Krishtine became Rocky Rivera, leaping from an observer to a participant in the hip-hop world with the release of her mixtape “Married to the Hustle” in 2009 and her debut album “Rocky Rivera” in 2010.
With catchy tracks like “GRLZ” and shout-outs to revolutionary women like Angela Davis and Gabriela Silang in her performances, she’s an artist that you can not only appreciate, but dance to on a Friday night.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Rocky Rivera.
Anna Sterling: How has your race or gender played into your rap career?
Rocky Rivera: There’s two sides to it. There’s the distraction side and an accessibility side. People think of a stereotype when they think of a rapper. They think of some dude with chains and a hat. I’m definitely not that. People are always intrigued, shocked or repulsed. That’s okay with me because that means the attention is on me and I have the opportunity to talk to them. I really like to seize that moment and let them know it’s good ‘ole fashioned hip-hop [I'm bringing]. There’s no gimmick. There’s no rubbing my novelty in your face. I understand that it’s easier for me to do that because of what people might expect of me, but I’m the anti-novelty rapper. I hate when girls try to capitalize on their cuteness and the fact that they have extra attention on them when they’re on stage. I despise when women fall back on those shortcuts because I have to fight harder for the other women that want to be taken seriously. I don’t hate on any women’s hustle, but I do wish they understood how their actions affect other women who want to be taken seriously as an artist.
AS: Do you consider Nicki Minaj to be a novelty rapper?
RR: I think she knows how to play the game. I’m the kind of emcee that doesn’t want to play the game because the game is not meant for me to win and I’m not willing to compromise. She’s willing to compromise. She didn’t say she wanted to be every women’s rapper or a role model. She wanted to be a mogul. The problem is that when other young women emulate her, they don’t understand she is being strategic. They just want to be a Barbie, get ass implants and throw dollar bills in their videos too. It’s problematic because she’s not explaining that this is something that’s part of a giant act. On the other hand, as an artist the things she’s done in the past two years have been unprecedented and amazing. How can I not respect that? At the same time, she’s providing a space for people like me because if you don’t like what she has to say, you have other options.
AS: How do your San Francisco Bay Area roots influence your music?
RR: There would be no Rocky Rivera without Bay Area music! I used to be so gung ho–all Bay Area music is good! Now I’m starting to be like, okay, that song is dumb, that’s making us look bad. [Laughs] But there’s a certain acquired taste for Bay Area music that you must understand. We’re a rare breed of people who have grew up in the Bay listening to E-40, Keak Da Sneak and San Quinn. I’ve embraced that, but I don’t shove it down people’s throats anymore. I consider myself a citizen of the world.
AS: What about your Filipino roots?
RR: Well its 50/50. It’s Bay Area and Filipino. Those are the two identities that influence my music the most. For a long time, I felt that the rules were that I didn’t belong so I tried to make myself fit in. But I realized those rules were bullshit so I made my own rules up. I started finding my own space to be Filipino in hip-hop. At the time, there were only a couple of artists gaining respect outside the Filipino community. People like Prometheus Brown of Blue Schlars and Bambu of Native Guns–those were the guys that blazed trails and said: We’re not just Filipino rappers. We’re rappers. But we speak on our issues, organize and uplift our community at the same time. It’s one thing to be a Filipino rapper superficially, but if you’re a politically aware and conscious Filipino, you don’t have to be from the bay. You can be from anywhere. We all have the same message. The Philippines is in a dire situation right now. Our people are struggling. Even the Filipinos here have trouble understanding how fucked up our country is and why. This is a responsibility to communicate for every Filipino in whatever art form.
AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
RR: I’m not going to be ashamed to say I like The Hunger Games. I think Katniss is awesome.
A lot of my real life heroines are the women I shout out in my performances like Gabriela Silang, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, Ella Baker and a lot of the young Muslim women activists that are coming out of Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan. I get inspired by women activists everywhere. I don’t get starstruck off rappers, but I do get starstruck off women revolutionaries.
AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one drink, one food and one feminist. What do you pick?
RR: The drink would be Arizona Sweet Tea. That’s my weakness. The food? An In-N-Out burger. One feminist? bell hooks. She’d be able to tell me about love, life, and all the other things women revolutionaries think about.