UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) has continued to provide students with diverse voices of empowerment and inspiration through the remote quarter. On April 17, Rebel Diaz and DJ Illanoiz joined the MCC to host their first virtual workshop: “Self Determination and Resistance through Hip-Hop.”
Rebel Diaz is a political hip-hop duo based in the Bronx, New York, founded by Chilean brothers Rodrigo (RodStarz) and Gonzalo Venegas (G1) in 2006. The duo primarily speaks on issues concerning identity, police brutality, and the necessity for socioeconomic change. Their most popular song on YouTube, “Which Side Are You On?”, criticizes a number of issues including political hypocrisy, workers’ rights, and the gentrification of urban communities.
Some of their other top songs include “I’m an Alien,” which discusses how the U.S. otherizes ethnic minorities regardless of citizenship status, and “Y Va Caer” (“It Will Fall”), which calls for change in how the government exploits marginalized groups without regard for their hardships.
The workshop, held via Zoom, began with a stream of unreleased beats by DJ Illanoiz. MCC Event Coordinator Abire Sabbagh encouraged viewers to turn on their cameras to better facilitate a real-time audience experience. The workshop certainly started on an interesting note; the first thing I noticed was the cardboard cutout of Karl Marx standing in the background of RodStarz’s frame.
RodStarz and G1 kicked off the workshop by thanking everyone joining the call. After fixing a few technical difficulties in the beginning, they began their presentation, which started with historical context of their political vision. They outlined our political system as a byproduct of European colonialism, even showing time lapse maps which demonstrated the movement of slaves across the Atlantic and the seizures of Native American land over the decades.
The brothers continued the workshop with a discussion of hip-hop’s origins, tracing its roots back to their city of the Bronx, New York. They specifically discussed how musical forms in minority cultures — from the drum in Borinquen and Jamaican communities to Pawnee Sun Dances — have been infiltrated, appropriated, and stifled by the American government. In their words, hip-hop exists not only as a musical genre, but also a culture.
“Culture is a form of resistance,” explained the brothers during the seminar. “Culture is the weapon with which we fight against [injustice].”
Rebel Diaz reaches out to youth specifically to provide an alternative platform of expression. The brothers acknowledge the problematic “death culture” towards which many individuals in their community have been misdirected. To mitigate issues like gang violence, Rebel Diaz releases empowering and informative messages to inspire youth in their hometown to affect change.
The brothers also opened the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective (RDAC) in 2009. This center, located in an abandoned candy warehouse in the South Bronx, provided a space for expression in music, dance, and art. Some of their art designs have appeared on T-shirts and murals around the city. Their work garnered positive reception throughout the Bronx and beyond. Unfortunately, the studio was shut down by the brothers’ landlord in 2013 after a “FREE MUMIA 2012” mural was displayed in response to Abu-Jamal Mumia’s life imprisonment sentence.
“The community had our back,” said the duo on the stream. “We repped them and they supported us.”
The workshop concluded with a performance from Rodstarz, G1, and DJ Illanoiz. They reprised “Which Side Are You On?” along with a few other songs in their discography. Towards the end, RodStarz even did a freestyle rap titled “Bigote” (“Mustache”). The stream went on until 8 p.m., when the duo thanked the audience and even asked for everyone to drop their Instagram handles for them to follow.
The brothers engaged the audience with questions, even asking for viewers to say what they noticed from a photograph from the Bronx, New York in the 1970s. Some viewers responded with single-word observations, while others responded with lengthy, impassioned analyses of the picture. During both the workshop and the rap performance, viewers interjected with supportive “amens” and asked for more.
For more content from Rebel Diaz and DJ Illanoiz, follow @rebeldiaz and @djillanoiz on Instagram.