Every young Filipino can recount that time as a kid being at a family party with the karaoke machine out. The Aunties and Uncles singing their favorite songs from their youth, while you and your cousins patiently watch before getting pressured to sing as well. Faced with a decision, you either pick up the mic and sing for your family or beg to not embarrass yourself.
Most had cousins who would go up with us and make us feel comfortable. All it took was one moment to kickstart the light that karaoke fuels for performing. Whether it’s singing NSYNC’s “ Bye Bye Bye” or MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” and making a whole routine from it. We reflect on these moments and think of the fun and family that was involved.
For Bay Area rapper, P-LO, those moments ignited a fire that would burn for the rest of his life.
“Karaoke is huge in Filipino culture. My cousin and I would make dance routines and lip sing Nsync songs at the party and we would perform in front of the family,” P-LO said. “That was my first introduction to performing, those were my first steps as a performer.”
It was the spring semester at Contra Costa College, His basketball season had just come to a close. P-Lo, scared of what his future would entail, needed to make a choice. Would he conform to the norms of his culture? In his corner of the Filipino community, the expectation is to do well in school, graduate from college and carve the career that provides a successful life. But P-Lo had a different tune in his head. The second-choice: divert from the plan ingrained in his psyche and pursue his music career. He wanted to express himself on the mic.
In tradition comes expectations and it’s not easy to stray away from them. He knew what he wanted for his life, and that it had always been different from the rest of his family. His brother, who attended Contra Costa College, as well as his sister, followed that traditional route.
Education was always put first by his parents and they were difficult with their kids growing up to make sure they followed that norm.
It was in high school where P-Lo focused on his own path to greatness, other than playing basketball, he found his path in music. He met Iamsu and Chief in his freshman year where they would go on and create Heartbreak Gang.
Things weren’t easy between everyone to start off as Iamsu and P-Lo had some chemistry to work on.
“Once all the initial tension was gone, we became great friends and it was great fun making music with my friends in High school because at the time not everyone could. Said P-Lo. ”
The chemistry and kinship would continue to rise for the young group as P-Lo graduated High School and started at Contra Costa College. For P-Lo this was his early 20’s of figuring his path out.
He entered Contra Costa College to play basketball on the JUCO level to hopefully stay within his traditional roots of staying in school. However, life always had a different plan in mind for a young Paulo Rodriguez.
From then on it was juggling performing in nightclubs to dribbling on the court the next morning for practice, It became increasingly clear P-Lo couldn’t dedicate a double life.
“There would be times when we would have a performance at a club and we wouldn’t get back till 2 am. I would have practice at 5 am and I would just park up in front of the gym and just wait,” he said. “In anything like this, it’s important to know there’s sacrifices that have to be made said P -Lo”
In time with Heartbreak Gang and Iamsu’s popularity starting to gain traction, he knew putting tradition on the bench and putting his music path in the starting spot was the right rotation.
“In doing anything in life there comes sacrifice at any phase, and knowing that type of sacrifice will happen. That’s what’s important,” P-LO said.
Just like any college student who dropped out in their 20’s, he was scared. Not by failure, but of his parents reaction.
Sacrificing his parents’ vision of success is what scared him the most at this time. His parents had sacrificed a lot to come here to the states and provide and have a better life.
It was a lot of pressure. He knew that when he dropped out of school there would be pushback about it from his parents.
During this time his brother stepped in to hold P-Lo up and get his parents to ease pressure off of him. His brother had been the unsung hero to the P-Lo that everyone knows now.
“I had to deal with what my parents had to say and I’m living with them as well at the time,” P-Lo said. “I’m so thankful for my brother because he shielded me. He’s always been that guardian for me, and he talked them (his parents) off the ledge.”
P-Lo found his situation unique as he entered what was uncharted territory of leaving school and pursuing his dream of music. Understanding what the stakes were if it didn’t work out, he held his head high and never once put an ounce of doubt out there.
He was a young adult going through the motions of life and figuring out who he really was besides Paulo Rodriguez, first generation Filipino american, a son, a brother and a product of the bay.
“As much as living up to my parents’ expectations or anyone else’s is one thing, I wanted to live up to the expectations of myself, the only way I knew how to do that was through music. I’m still figuring it out,” P-LO said.
His leap off the ledge ultimately led to his success in a difficult music industry. All that sacrifice came into fruition when his hit single “Put me on something” spread like fire in the bay. It now stands at No. 83 as one of the best West Coast songs ever made, stated by the Rolling Stones magazine. He amounted past any expectations his parents had envisioned at the time or even his own.
He had broken free of the traditional structure for minorities and broke though the charts on the Billboard Hot 100. P-Lo, who was a young filipino from Pinole looking for a chance to put on for the bay, is now an icon for his community. In life, sacrifices aren’t always appreciated when you first take them.
“I never thought music wouldn’t work out. I knew it would work out at some point. I had to figure it out and no one has life predicted. Life is so unexpected and it’s about figuring it out everyday,” P-LO said.
C.J. Flores is a freelance writer for the Express.