The Bar is a West Coast duo consisting of rappers Prometheus Brown (of Seattle’s Blue Scholars) and Bambu (former member of Los Angeles outfit Native Guns and now primarily a solo artist affiliated with DJ Muggs’ Soul Assassins collective). Brown and Bam are celebrated hip-hop artists in their respective corners of the map and their teaming up as The Bar was seemingly a foregone conclusion based on previous musical collaborations and the rappers’ Instagram feeds. The Bar is a pair of brothers – musically, socially and ethnically (they are both Filipino) – but not of the insufferable variety you might find at your town’s local college watering hole.
The duo’s second full-length album, Barkada, doesn’t pivot on lowest common denominator rap tropes. Sure, considerable talk of women, weed and weather accumulates, but only as it pertains to progressive value systems and tongue-in-cheek musings on our most basic human instincts. The Bar — just as Blue Scholars and Native Guns before it — essentially serves as a creative extension of Prometheus Brown and Bambu’s real world lives as social activists. They are rappers, yes, but only because their natural proclivities demand it.
The one area where Barkada deviates slightly from the rappers’ past work is on tracks like “Mits” (featuring guest MCs La and Kixxie Siete), where Brown and Bam stretch out their lyrical chops simply for the sake of spitting hard over a classic breakbeat. Generally, though, the social commentary never wavers even when the beat veers into capriciousness; Take “Tuts”, for example, a this-is-so-fucked-up-it’s-borderline-funny rap about misbehaving cops over an unapologetically heirloom production.
The word “barkada” is Tagalog and means “a group of friends or family.” The rap group, The Bar, was formed a few years ago when Prometheus Brown and Bambu were on tour together in Hawaii: They literally walked into a bar and decided to record a grip of songs together – a simple genesis that has meaningful consequences when it comes to the notion of barkada. Brown has roots in Hawaii (he lived there when he was young) and, like Bambu, aligns himself with people and places that have endured the wreck of colonialism. Hawaii, with its natural beauty and turbulent history, is a place where you’re likely to find instances of ebullient celebration and deep cultural pride. Barkada reflects the spirit of both (“Live From Hawaii”, “Locals Only Remix”) and extends to similarly-minded communities elsewhere in the world. It’s a testament to Brown and Bam’s willingness to find levity in fucked-up scenarios and still turn rap phrases that expose everything in context: “Cockfight” becomes an extended dick joke because it has to, just as the jockeys of the brutal sport in question are participants because they have to.
The men of The Bar are both scholarly, jocular, nice guys who’ve come to possess a dangerous understanding of their place in the world. Dangerous, at least, to those who would prefer the barkada remain tempered subsets of people content with handouts and limited opportunity. Barkada can seem insular at times — there are raps in Tagalog and a quick joke about subverting white people’s “how can we be down” earnestness into strict financial gain — but one of the worst things you could do is mistake Prometheus Brown and Bambu for isolationists. A hearty “we’re all in this together” call for solidarity underlies everything The Bar does. Now it’s just up to the people to come around to the cause.