comscore Rocky Rivera rejects 'shallowness' by focusing on message of equality | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Rocky Rivera rejects ‘shallowness’ by focusing on message of equality

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    Rocky Rivera (Kristine De Leon) is kicking off her label’s fifth anniversary with the “Left Coast” tour. The five-city tour concludes at NextDoor on Saturday.

“Beef,” as defined in the urban dictionary, is a grudge or a fight with another person. They’ve never been rare in hip-hop, and they’ve been especially well-done over the last few weeks.

Action Bronson disrespected Ghostface Killah on ESPN, and Meek Mill took shots at Drake’s songwriting credibility on Twitter. Nicki Minaj took out her frustrations on MTV after feeling slighted by the MTV Video Music Awards.

Instead of getting into silly debates over egocentric nonsense, Bay Area emcee Rocky Rivera, real name Kristine De Leon, has always had a beef with the dysfunctions of society. She airs out her displeasure with oppression, human suffering and inequality through hard-hitting, stylized rhymes.

The headliner of the Beatrock Music camp, activist and mother answered a few questions from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week from Seattle as she helped kick-start the label’s fifth-anniversary “Left Coast” tour and celebrated the release of her new EP, “Nom de Guerre.” The five-city tour concludes Saturday at NextDoor.

Star-Advertiser: Tell us about your development as an artist.

Rocky Rivera: Music and hip-hop have been culturally ingrained in me since I was born. Now that I look back, it was a natural progression, but there are so many moments where I think I’m not good enough or that I’ll never be successful. When you see the shallowness of the industry and what sells, you either learn to play the game or reject the game completely. As an artist, the message was always more important than the package, and my message is constantly evolving, therefore I will always continue to grow.

Q: What is the meaning of the title of your latest EP?

A: Nom de guerre means a pseudonym, or name that you take in times of war. It’s different from a nom de plume or other aliases because it is specific to a reason as to why you are changing your name. You are changing your name because you are considered a threat and must conceal your identity. Many of my heroes took on a nom de guerre because they were considered dangerous and also integral to the movement. Simply delivering the message was enough to rally up the troops and dictate the beginning or end of a war. I believe that my music and my moniker mean that much, that things must and will change and we will be at the forefront.

Q: When you are not doing music, what is the day to day like for you?

A: I am a youth organizer in East Oakland for Oakland Kids First. It’s another love of mine, working with youth, relating to their struggles and organizing for change. … My youth keep me on point and keep me young! They taught me all the new slang and songs, too.

Q: You seem to be a born leader, unafraid to stand up and speak up. Where do you think you developed that?

A: No one is a born leader! This is what I tell my youth all the time, that leaders must recognize it within themselves first, then be developed by those around them who also believe in their leadership. I like to stand up for the little guy, the underdog. … When your conviction is so strong, nothing else matters. I am used to fighting for what I deserve because people are always going to give you reasons why you didn’t earn it.

Q: It seems that college really helped shape your identity as an artist while sparking your interest in social issues. What were you like prior to college?

A: I was definitely undeveloped and rough around the edges, like many high school girls are. I was a bookworm at a public school that did not push me intellectually. But I had a strong sense of justice and purpose; I just didn’t know what it was. College helped me find that direction to focus my energy, to be constructive and critical of things that did not sit right with me. I was unlearning my oppressions. But before that I learned how to survive in a city that would break you down if you weren’t tough and had a mouthpiece.


When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: NextDoor, 43 N. Hotel St.
Cost: $12-20
Info:, 18+

Q: You got a chance to speak to University of Hawaii students, during, I believe it was your last visit to Honolulu. What are your main objectives when you are asked to do speaking engagements and what was your overall impression of the real, nontouristy side of Hawaii?

A: Many of the times when I am booked by a University, I’m asked to speak alongside the department that is sponsoring the event, so it’s a package deal. Because of this, and because of the nature of my content, I fully expect to engage in conversations – academic or otherwise – about my music. I actually crave those kind of conversations because writing and recording is an isolating process. Only when I share my music can I hear feedback and constructive criticisms, which make me a better artist.

About Hawaii, I feel close to the indigenous struggle for recognition and sovereignty and I am very careful not to harm or appropriate the culture. I have a lot of friends from Kalihi, I’ll tell you that!

Q: You visited the Philippines earlier this year. What were some of the highlights of that trip?

A: When you are part of a diaspora, a child of immigrant parents, the concept of “home” is just a concept. It’s a weird feeling to have an idea of home and to feel like you never really belong or that you will never be accepted fully in one culture. But it’s also amazing to come back to your origins with your child and say, “This is where we come from, this is who we are.” I was able to bring my own family back to meet my maternal relatives and see the barangay (where) they were raised. At the end I was able to rock a show where I was so concerned about the language barrier, but they knew my words.

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