You may know the man of many names, Lukumi aka Luke Giant via his involvement with the dope ass Hip Hop crew, BRWN BFLO. Anybody who has had the pleasure of meeting the members of Brwn Bflo know that they’re all muses, amusing, and amazing in their own way. Funny story: I met each member on separate occasions. When I first moved to the Bay, Big Dan showed me a different side of East Oakland—the spectacular views of the entire Bay via Skyline. Julio was always down to Salsa dance whenever I’d run into him at local shindigs. I didn’t meet Lukumi until more recently. He may be a bit shyer than the others, but one thing is for certain: he’s an intellectual. His rhymes are accessible yet challenge listeners to think outside the box. Lukumi always makes sure to add a bit of humor to any story he’s got up his sleeve too. We’ve collaborated on a couple projects and I’m always inspired by Luke’s grind. He never ceases to hustle musically OR for Oakland youth—plus, his free-styling skills are unmatched! So, when I found out he recently dropped a FREE ALBUM, I sat down with him to hear a bit more about his musical background, philosophy and plans for the future.
What artists or bands were your musical muses growing up?
Hmmm…folks like Miles Davis, Santana, Fania All Stars, Hector Lavoe, Richie Vallens, Art Laboe, War, Bob Marley…
Pretty much the whole roster of Oldies…Sunday night cruising and Mexican ballad style music like Pedro Infante, Vincente Hernandez…
And then more updated I’d say The Roots, Outkast, Black Starr, Tha Mexicanz from Long Beach, Snoop and the whole Dog Pound. The G Funk Era, DJ Quick, Queen Latifah, Tribe, De La Soul, Native Tongues, Wu-tang, …grew up on them too!! Shit this era, I’d have to say…lost of Bay Area artists like Celly Cell, RBL Posse from Frisco, Spice One, Too Short, E-40, Conscious Daughters, The Luniz, 3xs Crazy, Brother Lynch singing: “tonight it’s going down…it’s going down tonight.”
Actually, one of my first interactions with music was going to see a movie written and directed by Luis Valdez called La Bamba. My first love was singing, I’ll never forget being so inspired…this brown dude who was seventeen years old and touring the United States. At that time, I was short and pudgy and I was like “he kinda looks like me.” And I was like: “it’s possible!” That experience and movie really stayed with me. Plus, the director of the movie and his family grew up about twenty minutes away from Salinas, in San Juan Bautista. My family knew his family, so it was that much more real to for me. Watching the movie made me feel like my dreams were attainable.
Also, I remember Saturday mornings listening to War and Santana as my mom cleaned the house. She would play it and I would memorize it. I’d learn the words and run around signing through the house. I remember my mom bought me a Mickey Mouse guitar and I would play it so much that my sister would get annoyed with me. And she would send me out to the garage. I would wail away until I got tired.
I listened to artists like Gato Barbieri, an Argentinean jazz tenor saxophonist and composer. He played this song called Europa, that I loved and later I did use it for a track on my Peanut Butter Dreams album…I tried to play the sax but I didn’t have the commitment. As I got older, I started listening to Hip Hop more and more and one of the first cassette tapes I bought was Tone Loc After Dark. I bought it at the airport before getting onto a flight. I was like wow! I must have been ten or eleven.
Then I got introduced to 2 Live crew, and I would get in trouble all the time for that. I would get my cassette tape taken away but I always got another one somehow.
First record I bought was De La Soul Ego Trippin. First one I put the needle to too. I actually played that song just the other day at lunchtime for the students at the high school were I work. I should definitely mention that I started off as a DJ, so my music taste goes all over the place. I started DJing at fifteen. I have tons of records at the house. I still have my tables. Like I said, I still DJ when I can at lunch at the school where I work.
Again, another dope muse was this crew from Longbeach called The Mexicans. That was one of the moments when I made a cultural connection with Hip Hop. We all used to bump their shit all the time in Salinas.
BRWN BFLO reached underground folk hero status in Oakland. What’s your favorite part about having started out in a dope ass crew?
In order to tell the story of Brwn Bflo I have to start with the crew I was in before that. So, before I came across Brwn Bflo I was in this live band called Ghost. It was drums, bass, guitar and a female singer. And I was singing too. I was learning how to use my vocal voice and sing more. We played all over UC Berkeley and the Bay Area. The Spoken Word tour was called the End-Dependence Tour, which ended up doing a West and East Coast tour—with super talented folks like Mark Gonzales, Cesar Cruz, Maya Chinchilla, and a bunch of other folks that interestingly enough went on to be well known artists and activists.
I made my bones with these fools. We went all over and played all kinds of events…before I joined Brwn Bflo, we had already played at the Xicana Moratorium a handful of times. That was the training ground to prep me for Brwn Bflo…cuz once I got out of that I was like: “I wanna emcee.” I was meeting more and more people that were into Hip Hop like me. Because of my DJing background, my first love, I didn’t jump into emceeing right out. That stuff died out for a bit…but they remained my family: The Ghosts (ghosts between the Speakers—back in the day we went by Entre Musicos).
Then I picked up emceeing because I was yearning to do something else.
I was going to UC Berkeley at the time. I was like
“I wanna start a Hip Hop group.”
And as soon as I got to Cal, my roomie Monica Hernandez was like
“You have to meet this guy named Julio!”
We met soon after that and started talking. He had the same vision as me…he wanted to start a group with folks that were down and willing to push the envelope culturally and politically. But also have fun with it. So we started it up! It was literally one day and we was chillin. I had a book in my hand and it was “The Autobiography of a Brwn Bflo” by Zeta Acsta. And that was it. From then on it was like aight that’s tight, lets run with it! It started with Brown Buffalo Project. Everybody involved was super ambitious and hungry—that was 2006-07. We put our first album out in 2009.
My favorite part about being in the group is really learning and growing from the relationships we have with one another. We all were coming from a different place, but we had a similar thread. Julio came from a Spoken Word background, Danny was fresh outta East Oakland, and wouldn’t talk to nobody. We was like:
“why don’t you ever talk fool?!”
Who is this cat? And then Jacinto came through and once we connected with Jay it was meant to be. The best part of it is doing music with somebody…sharing a like-minded vision—other people helping to carry it out to completion. When we packed Uptown in downtown Oakland, I knew we had something special. And we did it all on our own! We literally sat in a circle and put down ten goals and completed all of them. We’re doers like that!
Who is Gigante? or is it Giant, Luke, Lukumi? Who the heck are you? Lol What do you want people to know about you since you’re stepping out as a solo artist.
Ima keep it real. Forget all that flashing lights shit. I was born and raised in Salinas, California but have always had strong ties in San Diego and border town living. When I was a kid, me my family would cross the border to Tijuana and would go to a supermarket called Gigante. And we would go with the intention to buy three fat bags of fresh mangos. And we’d sit in the car and eat them. My grandmother’s shirt would be all sticky and stuff from eating the sweet, juicy mangos. So it was this childhood memory that was super beautiful—to me, grubbing mangos with the family.
The point is that that was the beginning of my identity, my artistry, the story of Gigante. I’d always think about where we’d go to eat those mangos…how important it is for me to connect my music with my own personal cultural experience.
To continue the thread, when I was a kid, there was also a show called “Sabado Gigante.” The whole family would watch it. Somehow, the name “Gigante” kept recurring. Once I got old enough—6‘4, big ass brown man, the homies said
“fool what about Giant? Gigante, the name fits you.”
As I went through my process…it connected me back to the person I was, where I came from… those days eating mangos and having fun.
Lately, I’ve added Gigante Lukumi cuz my first name is so amazing, super unique and it speaks to my ancestry.
Lukumi is my grandmother’s maiden name. It’s from Africa, from the Yoruba tribe. Yoruba is a religion and a language that’s practiced daily. However, there’s way more to it. And there’s a whole lot I still don’t know about my Afro-Peruvian side. My family on my Peruvian side is Afro-Peruvian, my grandfather is extremely light skinned Spanish, and my grandmother was of African decent and had a dark complexion. Standing next to each other I wonder how they came to love each…anyways that’s where the name comes from.
Wow, that’s beautiful…next question: your album, Peanut Butter Dreams, covers a range of topics such as immigration, police brutality—but it’s also funny at times. How do you do that? Why do you do that?
Peanut Butter Dreams is my take on the American dream. We used to joke about it. It didn’t turn out to be the cover, but imagine this dude surrounded by jars of peanut butter. But as he’s eating it he can’t really talk. But he still continues to eat because peanut butter is so good, yet super thick. The action of eating peanut butter is silencing or censoring him—becoming an obstacle to speak his voice or be his own person. He is so busy consuming the American dream. He’s so caught up eating the good that’s he’s lost track of what’s really important.
I couple that image with the American dream because I feel like my grandparents came here to find a better life, and I think they realized that it would have been fine in Mexico. They realized that the American dream isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. And this ‘dream’ should be looked at closely. Be careful how you ingest the American dream. It’s not all what it seems.
So on the first joint is called “Moody” because my grandfather would come home hella moody from work. You could tell he was working his ass off in that daily grind, walking miles to work, lifting heavy sacks of produce packing trucks.
The voice at the end of the first track…it’s actually a student of mine mimicking the voice of Dave Chappell…when he did that I was laughing for days. Humor is super important. I think people register hard material through humor in a better way. It keeps it light and it keeps it fun. That’s the only way I would do it. I love Immortal Technique, but he’s so hard and he comes so raw. At some point, I have to listen to something else because I need a balance. I need a little bit of laughter, a little bit of romance because that’s a true reflection of what life is really about.
Ok so what’s your personal favorite song on Peanut Butter Dreams?
I would say that all the songs that have to do with relationships are my favorite on the album. I think when I’m able to translate my feelings about moments or people into music—that’s my best work. My best songs come from pain or challenges that I have gone through. “Siapo” is probably one of my favorites because it reps a part of my life when I was in love. I wrote it fresh off a break up, it’s raw that’s what I went through. I’m proud it’s got an old school Tribe feel. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from DJs and producers on that song.
I would say “Phx RyZing” is dope. That’s one of the first songs I made. It was me in transition, coming from a singing standpoint, but now wanting to rap. It’s a cool blend of both. I’m proud of that song. It shows my potential. What notes I can hit and what notes I can’t hit.
“Letter to Planet J” is a song is about the demise of a friendship between two musicians over some bullshit. That song took a lot time to put out because I was going through an experience with a close musical friend. It was one of those relationships where the music was awesome, it came out dope, but the friendship, trust, and follow through didn’t pan out.
You juggle your musician-ship with being a teacher. How does empowering youth in Oakland inform your art?
It is a juggling act because a part of me didn’t want to tell people that I was an artist or musician, or that I was involved in the Bay Area Hip Hop scene because of the stereotypes, all the caveats, violence, and stigmatism. Apart from that, everyone and they baby daddy want to be a rapper—when we all know that’s a loosing battle.
It’s frowned upon in professional spaces and circles. I went very intentionally into circles saying that I was an educator. I’m a professional, and I’m very passionate about putting youth first. When I first started going to UC Berkeley, I worked at an elementary school on the waterfront. Right away I was like
“ I like this! I’m good at this!”
So, I was working and going to the school at the same time.
Once I finished school I started at a non-profit, running a music studio. I was like
“dude! how lucky am I right now?”
I like teaching, working with kids, so I had successfully combined my loves and passions. I did that for a while. We did projects and were successful then I became more intentional about my work—at that point I was in Alameda.
I wanted to contribute my knowledge and experience, so I hooked up with EBAYC (East Bay Asian Youth Center) based out of East Oakland. I began my work in the San Antonio District, where almost 50 different languages are spoken everyday…right away I was like “I love this!”
At EBAYC I was still able to continue the music program, run a studio out of Oakland High. The twist was I was working at a studio and also out of a clinic, a Wellness Center. It was interesting…on campus, in a clinic, and we are serving students daily, providing them with vital resources and info about their health—how it connects to their education. We were and are doing our best to bridge the gap.
That’s where I still am present day. Going back to the artist-educator thing. It’s taken me some time to open up to the high school & health educator community. But now, I’m realizing it helps inform my work and it helps me connect deeper with students by sharing that part of myself. Sometimes kids come up to me and say
“Yo I saw your video! You a thug! You were with all these crazy Latino dudes.”
The students come to this understanding that you are someone else outside of the world of education and teaching. It’s tight because they love the music and culture and now they like “can I be in your video? Can I get on a song?”
At this point, I have successfully found a way to marry the two. I just went to a conference the other day and my brother Big Dan was there—this was outside the world of music. It was in the world of education. It’s a good feeling to be able to merge the two. Because it is so important to be advocating for equal rights for the young people and it’s awesome that we are truly doing what we say we’re doing. We’re not just rapping about issues in the hood…we’re at the schools. You’ll find us at community events as participants! That’s the merging of the two communities. That’s why I love the Bay.
What’s in store?
I want people to know that for one, go get Peanut Butter Dreams online IT’S FREE that’s how much I love doing this.
Look forward to more releases in 2014…at least three big projects are gonna be put out. Look out for Asthmaddict the EP, with a homie producer by the name of Monsrock of the Cash Dreed Crew. That’s coming out this summer, SHOUT OUT to the Cold Twelvers.
Look out for a project, coming after that with some fellow crazy talented musicians from Salinas and East side San Jose…that is going to be fucking timeless, and very personal for me. Even further in the future BRWN BFLO is coming back and we’re grown and we got some shit we got to get off our chests.
You know…you grow up and you’re angry, you wanna scream at the world but then a couple years go by and you have a kid, find a good job, or the love of a good person and perspectives shift. Stay tuned BRWN BFLO will be at it again, doing what we do best.
I’m grown. I feel good. There are some things I need to talk about. Just like…process. Here we are now grown Buffalos, with some really well thought out concepts. Big Dan had a baby girl, now a family. I know that changed his world and his perception. I look forward to how its gonna reflect. I sent that Nas song to him “ Daughters” and he was like “damn I totally understand that shit.”
Me, I came from sleeping on the couch to having my own crib, my own car, paying my own bills. Growing musically with Peanut Butter Dreams. Being an artist ain’t easy…you got to learn how to speak for yourself, sustain yourself.
And Julio is getting his Masters’ from UCLA…who turns down Harvard to go to UCLA? We’re all really successful in a lot of different ways. Something I’ve been talking about in terms of Chicano and Chicana rap is that we need new names, new identities, new ideas, concepts, and new energy to move us forward as a community. That’s that freshness and the dopeness that I look forward to. We was talking and we were like “You know what? Let’s start something new. Maybe we even change the name.” Who knows, but we’ll see lots of exciting things to come from BRWN FBLO.
Special thanks and appreciation to the whole Bay Area, especially the Oakland community and fans that have continually had our backs, held us down, and routed for us. We appreciate you. It is an honor to make music for the people. Shot out to Davey D, for all the great stories and advice. Learning first-hand from Bay Area legends has been an amazing and eye opening experience.
Ultimately, folks can look forward to a lot of excitement…we’ve made connections with a lot of influential, real down to earth, powerful people and those connections will be highlighted and celebrated as we move forward.