It’s hard enough aging gracefully as a rock star. But when it comes to hip-hop—a genre obsessed with the hustle of youth and the hardscrabble realities of urban life—it can seem downright impossible.
Relevancy and authenticity have been at the front of Rey Resurreccion’s mind of late. At 35, the Filipino-American rapper and San Jose native feels he is at a crossroads in his career. He has given the bulk of his life to rap music and he has plenty to show for it.
Since 2009, Resurreccion has dropped three full-length albums, five EPs and a laundry list of mixtapes, loosies and collaborations too lengthy for him to easily account for. The liner notes of his official releases serve as a cheat sheet for the most talented producers and emcees in the region. Chexmex, Goldenchyld, Dirtbag Dan and Andrew Bigs have all worked with Res.
Resurreccion’s paean to San Jose, “The Hometown,” from his 2014 Sleeping Giants LP, stands as one of the best songs about this city ever written. Supported by DJ Cutso’s triumphant banda-sampling beat, it is gritty and genuine. In it, Resurreccion effortlessly name-checks the East Side, Monterey Boulevard, Music in the Park, pho, tacos and many more cultural touchstones that San Jose denizens will recognize. Its accompanying music video celebrates the diverse faces of San Jose and helps to polish the gleaming diamonds of hope that glimmer in Res’ rough, gravelly flow.
Over the course of his last two EPs—2016’s Sweet Tooth Tony and his latest, Bricktop Jimmy, released on streaming services last week—Resurreccion has continued to demonstrate growth, both as a lyricist and as a producer. Bricktop marks the first release on which he has handled all of the production and mixing, in addition to the writing.
It was difficult, but it was something he felt he had to do in order to prove to himself and his listeners what he is capable of. “For me to produce the whole project was me making a statement,” Resurreccion says.
And yet, while Res considers Bricktop Jimmy a “milestone” in his career, it also contains one of the bleakest lyrics he’s ever penned: “My city forgot me. My city forgot me,” he spits on EP closer, “No Way,” which features The Grouch.
The lyric carries a double meaning, Res explains. On the one hand, it refers to the fear that he lost momentum and fans during the brief hiatus he took after releasing his last EP. On the other, it refers to the fact that, increasingly, he can’t even recognize the town where he was born.
“The San Jose I know is going way,” Res says.
Double meanings and calculated nuance are plentiful on Bricktop Jimmy. The EP’s opening track, “Live Dat,” sets the scene with memories of growing up wanting—splitting bowls of Top Ramen with his sister and sleeping on the couch—before fast-forwarding to the present.
“I’m in the Silicon Valley / small-ass house for a milli / they livin’ in tents around the city / really,” he rhymes over burbling trap trills and an a capella chord progression reminiscent of Dirty Projectors’ “No Trigger.”
Gentrification is just one of the many subjects Resurreccion tackles here.
On “Window,” Res and Andrew Bigs expand on the pain of being close enough to see the good life, but unable to attain it. “My brother got a smart phone in prison,” Resurreccion intones. Even with one of humanity’s most powerful tools in hand, his brother is still a prisoner of a system that is stacked against the least fortunate.
“Checkmate” finds Res taking aim at many familiar hip-hop targets—including haters and the police—before unfurling a new beef with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “I-C-E,” he rhymes, is just as likely to “run up on ya” as a jealous rival or a crooked cop.
And yet, on that same track, Resurreccion gives the listener a big slice of optimism. “Checkmate” closes with an audio snippet of Res’ young chess students cheering as one of them beats their teacher.
“They’ve been trying to beat me week after week for years,” Resurreccion says, explaining the clip. When they finally amass the skills needed to put their instructor in checkmate, it is very exciting for them. It is a victory they know they have earned.
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