Many hip-hop artists describe themselves as activists, but Southeast San Diego native Bennie Herron fits that bill more than most. With a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor of arts in psychology from SDSU, Herron is committed to working in the Voz Alta project, a local nonprofit volunteer group whose outreach programs are geared toward teaching African-American and Hispanic youths about social and cultural solidarity and self-respect. In addition, Herron created and coordinates From a Boy to a Man, described online as “an emotional and academic awareness program for African-American males between the ages of 12 to 17.”
In his younger days, Herron was all about street dancing, an urban art form that — in the days of breakdancing — could often be a revolutionary stepladder out of ghetto life and poverty. In the mid-’90s, he joined the spoken-word/performance-art collective the Taco Shop Poets, described as “dedicated to community empowerment through the arts. The Taco Shop Poets seek to bring poetry to the people of San Diego who often gather in taco shops, not cafés.”
“Art is all about the truth,” says the self-described “’70s soul child.” Herron’s politicized Taco Shop performances have often included elements of guerilla theater, intended to foster a sense of community with his audience by emulating the same sort of education-entertainment as contemporary children’s television. He would whisper a “secret” to an audience member and have patrons pass it along in “whisper waves.” Sometimes Herron would tear pages from books and pass them to attendees to read aloud in short segments, composing a spontaneous “collage poem.”
Herron’s recording career began in 1997 with a self-released vinyl EP Low Cal, followed by several other “underground releases,” as he calls them. A full-length album, Churches and Liquor Stores, was released in 2001 on the indie label On 1 Entertainment.
WHAT’S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?
1. J Dilla, Donuts (“His production was so progressive; he filled a void that hip-hop needed.”)
2. Match’d Frantic, self-titled (“The lyrics and beats are crazy.”)
3. Kanye West, mix tape (“It’s old, but I love the raw feel.”)
4. Prodigy, Return of the Mac (“His lyrics and the beats are so vintage; it reminds me of the Kool G Rap era.”)
5. Freestyle Fellowship, Innercity Griots (“It’s old, but it’s timeless.”)
1. Grease (“I must be honest, Grease is my favorite movie, damn it.”)
2. The Wiz (“So soulful and nostalgic, it reminds me of my family good vibes, man.”)
3. Beat Street (“A classic…need I say more?”)
4. Requiem for a Dream (“This movie is dope, and the artistic style is crazy.”)
5. Angel Rodriguez (“An indie flick with a real simple story that draws you in…it reminds me of my childhood.”)
MOST ADMIRED ENTERTAINER?
“Richard Pryor. To watch a man evolve and grow under the limelight is amazing to me. He overcame so much and opened so many doors for artists today.”
BEST CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER?
“I met Burt Ward, the real Robin from the original Batman TV show, at a comic convention here in San Diego. It was the best, because at the time I was really into Batman and the new movie was being made during that time.”
SEXIEST LOCAL PERFORMER?
“Tanya Johnson is a theater actress in San Diego…she really does it for me.”
MOST VISITED WEBSITE?
“BBC World News. Just the facts, man.”
TOP FIVE GUILTY PLEASURES?
3. More shoes
4. Cheesy food
BEST THING YOU EVER WON?
“I won $200 in a writing contest while I was attending Cal State Northridge during my undergraduate studies. It was right on time…I was able to buy some real food.”
TWO THINGS YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
“Two things I could not live without are my wife-to-be Tanya Johnson and my family’s love.”
FAVORITE POST-MILLENNIUM HOBBY?
“I don’t play video games, but I am an Internet-head.”
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED?
“My mother, Pat Herron, told me, ‘You meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.’”