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“Frak,” the hip hop moniker of Alex Fraknoi, grew up in the Mission and has seen it change – particularly when he returns on visits from Southern California, where he’s studying writing and media studies.

That change inspired a rap song and music video set in the Mission, in which Frak walks the neighborhood hidden behind a fixed plastic emoji smile and apps appear superimposed on the real world.

We talked with the artist about his new piece and the changes it critiques:

Some of the references in the video aren’t around anymore – the mural you shot in front of at 18th and Lex is painted over, Lost Weekend Video was clearly on its way out at the time…

So you’re saying some of the murals are gone? That’s just a testament to how fast the city’s changing.

I’ve been at college for the last four years. Every time I come back it’s palpably tangibly different, not only in the physical buildings but also in the people.

Do you mean that Latinos are being forced out or something more about how people feel, their energy?

I mean more directly the races of people and the look of the people and the whiteness of the people.

Tell me about this verse: “When I graduate will I become the man that I am blaming?”

I did just graduate and moved back. I haven’t gentrified anyone yet, I’m living with my parents.

It’s important for me to reflect on that as a white guy tackling this issue… My mom worked in the Mission at the Bethany Center. Growing up, seeing people be affected by [this] but actually not facing the effects myself, I think it was important to acknowledge in that song that I am a white guy with an education and to be aware of that even though I grew up in this city, to be aware of myself in that sense.

The first thing I want to do with songs like this is spreading the message in a way that would be artistically interesting and then on my own probably moving in a place that’s not the Mission and not hunter’s point and not Oakland

What do you do outside of making music?

I’m still figuring it out. I’m working for an organization called youth speaks a social justice hip hop poetry organization and doing hip hop and poetry workshops in oakland and in the city working with kids teaching the poetry of rap and making music and directing videos.

[About halfway through the video, Frak walks down Mission Street near 18th Street with his smiley-face mask on. A woman walks by and taps him on the nose, through the mask, as she passes.] Do you know the girl who bops you in the mask when you walk down Mission?

That was completely candid as well as some of the looks I got from homeless people. That was a real testament to the feeling of tech in that neighborhood. That was my genuine reaction when I reacted and jumped up like that.

That’s a testament to the neighborhood and the way that people feel about tech right now. People definitely looked at the smiley face [and wondered,] “What are you doing here?”

It was a social experiment just making the video.

Mostly this seems like an indictment of social media.

I wrote the song because I think I’m the one that’s very guilty of tech addiction, particularly as a rapper. Rappers and poets will tell you we’re egotistical people we need a lot of people to appreciate our art and be externally motivated to make our art

Social media is a trap for rappers in particular but all people of my generation in that it’s tough to separate those worlds

I don’t know I think it’s such a part of our reality now that it’s almost a subconscious thing I’d hope that the distinction happens, in distinguishing between the real world and the virtual world, so that consequences of our technology addiction are only in over-posting on instagram hopefully the consequences those are the most intense they get and they don’t slide down to the range of gentrification, of people being moved out of their homes, and all the real effects that are more intense than the ways that tech should be helping us connect rather than making us creatures of addiction and habit.

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  1. “white guy… moving in a place that’s not the Mission and not hunter’s point and not Oakland”

    It’s unbelievable to me that people genuinely think the progressive, correct thing to do is to segregate themselves by race. ClickHole did a good spoof on this, but it’s almost literally what this guy is saying, and he’s serious.–4964

    I guess this is where you end up when people spread the false belief that displacement is inevitable and building housing makes things worse. Segregation starts to seem like the lesser evil. It’s absurd.

  2. Cool visually and conceptually. Yeah, people and places change, but not randomly. Let’s preserve the character of the City while changes happen.

  3. nice video… cute rapper. get off the tech-trashin’ bandwagon re: gentrification. places change, people change. blah blah blah