When I was a volunteer of the I-Hotel Manilatown Center a few years ago, I met many students from around the world and I had the privilege of teaching them Manilatown history, as well as collaborating with local student organizations. Out of these many collaborations and events, I met a young Rocky Garcia, who was invited to perform at an open mic. Rocky was killing us softly with his saxophone and east coast style delivered raps. Although he humbly identified himself as a rapper, it was obvious that rapping and performing wasn’t new to him. At the time, I believe Rocky had recently moved to the Bay Area from Washington, D.C, and didn’t show an interest yet in community or student organizing. Nevertheless, everyone was eager to know who he was and how to get more of his music, myself included.
“If I keep my struggles close to my heart,
I’ll never forget where I came from.”
— Rocky G.
Soon after this event, Rocky became immersed in student organizing and performance arts at San Francisco State University, through the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor and through Pilipino Cultural Night. As a fan of Rocky G’s performance, I was especially excited to learn of his multifaceted talents; Rocky wrote and composed a handful of original music for SF State’s 2017 45th annual PCN, a musical titled Ingat. My friends and I were blown away at the musicality, the originality, and the fiery spirit in the performers. We left the show feeling inspired, moved, and ready for more. As alumni, it reminded us of the care, creativity, and love that goes into a PCN, and Ingat took it a step further with the Broadway style compositions and choreography. (I heard that a cast member of Hamilton attended this show!) After this, I would soon begin to see more of Rocky’s presence in community spaces and learn where Rocky’s talent and affinity for music comes from.
* * *
Rocky’s catalog of shared music as a producer and rapper is at least ten-years deep, with multiple projects exploring sounds across genres, as well as short EPs and albums. From his earlier works, 2014 “500 Dungeons,” is a six-track project that shows his chops as an already-experienced rapper with a steady flow and rhythm. Moving forward to his 2016 seven-track project, Rocky worked closely with producer NugLife, for the making of The Other Side. I personally enjoy projects that can carry a specific style from beginning to end, rather than as compilation or collection of different tracks; The Other Side beautifully merged great bass-heavy beats with Rocky’s distinct voice, altogether forming a very D.C Hip Hop album with Rocky’s jazzy saxophone woven in.
What I enjoy most about watching Rocky grow as an artist and activist is his equal parts in drive for music and community. Of his performances, I loved his politically charged song, “Dogeater.” Although the song doesn’t seem to be available on his platforms, here is a short documentary shot by students of Asian American Studies, in which Rocky breaks down his beliefs as a Filipino American in music, art, activism, and the positive impacts that can come from creating:
* * *
At the beginning of 2018, Rocky G’s apartment was unfortunately robbed. Of the stolen items, including his laptop, camera lens, and other personal belongings, the most heartbreaking to learn was the theft of his saxophone.
“.. they also took the one thing that has been with me a long time- my saxophone… What is more painful is that my sax was given to me in 2009 by my late father. It was the only thing that kept me me physically close to him.”
Through a humble gofundme campaign, and a huge community response, Rocky was able to quickly raise the funds to find a replacement for his beloved and priceless saxophone. In a few messages exchanged with Rocky during this time, he had so much appreciation for the community that came through for him in a time of need, and expressed eagerness to give back by hosting a charity event, at none other than the I-Hotel. In March 2018, Rocky not only organized, but hosted and performed for his curated event, “Manilatown Mic Drop,” with proceeds going to Pin@y Educational Partnership, and a line up featuring local visual artists and emcees, including Tone Oliver, Jo Marie, and Ruby Ibarra. The second installment of Manilatown Mic Drop came in December 2018, with a recap from TFCU:
In August, Rocky returned to the east coast, where he performed in New York at the Green Room 42 for “Soul Wound: The Heart of The Filipinx American.” During this time— as I would later learn— Rocky was also rehearsing alongside a number of Filipinx American musicians with Ruby Ibarra for her one year anniversary of Circa 91, altogether forming a bigger band, called the Balikbayans. There’s no greater performance than when the musicians are having fun, and it was an absolute joy to watch him rock the saxophone and keys, giving the music his everything. (Full essay with event recap coming soon).
Since Rocky grew up on the east coast, he’s shared that he initially wasn’t familiar with Beatrock Music or west coast artists. But within his time here in the Bay Area and through growing relationships with Filipino American musicians and educators, Rocky got the opportunity to open for the legendary Filipino American rap duo, Native Guns, for a reunion show in December 2018 at Bindlestiff Studio, as a benefit for Little Manila Rising in honor of the late warrior-scholar, Dawn Mabalon.
As a film major, Rocky also produced a number of short films and music videos:
“Guilt” with original beat by LUSTBASS:
* * *
It’s been an incredible 2018 for Rocky, so what’s next? Rocky will once again join Ruby Ibarra onstage as the Balikbayans, performing Circa 91 in its entirety, on January 19th at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. (Get your tickets here). Rocky’s five-track mixtape, simply titled, “The Mixtape,” also drops today, and will be available on Apple Music and Spotify.
Additionally, Rocky will be working towards graduation this May 2019, and as he finishes his academic journey, he plans to release a full album, launching him forward into the next chapter. Rocky’s musicianship is one that continues to absorb and transform all his experiences and skills into storied songs. I know that Rocky will continue to move us deeply, as he continues to grow as an artist— rapper, saxophonist, filmmaker— alongside his journey as an advocate for the Filipino American community.
* * *
Follow Rocky G: