The social unrest that erupted last summer in Anaheim took more than a few by surprise. But for Sacred Blasphemy, a hip-hop group from that city, all the warning signs were in their rhymes. A few months before the fatal officer-involved shootings in July and subsequent protest clashes, Skandalouz, Rinoe and Chuco dropped their prophetically titled debut, The Radical Era. The streetwise lyrics of the three young Latino rappers focused on police brutality, profiling and the living conditions in Anaheim's neighborhoods of neglect. It was everything everyone was talking about after the fact, but no one was listening at the time.
"When we did that album, we spoke on everything we experienced through our whole life. We couldn't stay quiet," Skandalouz says.
"It was just years and years built up of us being harassed out in the streets and seeing certain things," adds Rinoe. "But we couldn't go up to somebody and be like, 'Hey, I think this is wrong.' Through the music, we found our way." Beats and rhymes served as an outlet for self-expression in a city where alternatives for youth are few and far between. "We learned a lot of our knowledge through hip-hop," Chuco says.
The members of Sacred Blasphemy grew up in the same neighborhood on the west side of town. "At some point, the music came into play. Before that, we were just cool homies, and that's what helped the group to start because you need that chemistry," Chuco says.
Though they all shared similar experiences being young and brown in A-town, everybody brought something unique to the table. Skandalouz was influenced by '90s hip-hop and funk. Rinoe started out as a hype man for the group until being encouraged to develop his skills as a rapper. Chuco had a love for the gritty street tales of Psycho Realm. All of it coalesced to form a compelling sonic landscape. And as they rallied during the Anaheim protests, the music they created gave an immediate voice to the frustrations their neighborhood was facing.
"We went [to the protest] 20 deep. For once, it proved it was possible for the people to unite because I saw people who would never get along," Chuco recounts. "I saw people there look at one another and usually would trip on one another, but that day, it wasn't about that."
Moving forward, the group is planning a new album with the goal of making their lyrical storytelling more personal and experimenting with live instruments. "We want people not to just think of us as angry-ass motherfuckers," Chuco says. "You got to show people to have fun, too. No matter how bad it is, it's all right."
The core message will always be there. For Rinoe, he rhymed song lyrics from the back seat of an Anaheim patrol car earlier this year after being arrested. "I'm not the typical gangbanger that you see," he told the officers, pointing them to an Al Jazeera documentary on the city that featured Sacred Blasphemy.
"You're from that one video," a female officer later said while fingerprinting him. "Yup, that's me!" Rinoe replied. Instead of six months locked away, he spent half a week in jail before being let out on a work-release program.
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Though Rinoe caught a break this time, have things really eased up in Anaheim? "It's going to go back to the way it has always been," Chuco says.
"Who is out in the streets with the kids? Who is really living what they're living? District elections? These kids ain't thinking about that shit when they're hungry or when a fucking cop is on their nuts," Skandalouz adds.
Whatever the future brings, the group sees themselves as street reporters with a mic in hand. "This is all we have," Rinoe says, "Anaheim and one another."