Buddhakai: The rapper as spiritual warrior

Denver-based creative Bernard Quisumbing came to the United States from Cebu at age 5.

Hip hop is not exactly the route to model minority status for some Asian Americans but it gave direction to the once-turbulent life of Bernard Quisumbing. Born in Cebu, and raised in New Jersey since age 5, he is now a recognized name in Denver’s hip hop music scene as the rap artist and songwriter “Buddhakai.”

Now 43, a family man, a graphic artist and a rapper with multiple albums and a style garnering him comparisons to fan favorite Wu-Tang Clan, there was a time Bernard did not see a light at the end of his dismal future. He dropped out of school and for almost 15 years surrendered to coke and meth. “I was trying to find myself and fit in,” he said in an interview with The FilAm.

A website confession told it like it is: “With money raised from selling cocaine, weed, and ecstasy, I built an awesome recording studio in my mom’s basement. This became everybody’s go-to spot. By the year of 2000, we independently launched an album called, ‘Trinity, the Second Coming,’ which gave us a ton of street cred and heavy local celeb status…Unfortunately, the drug dealing and the music business opened the doors to the dark side for me. I became a cocaine / meth addict and ended up using my music as a draw for fans and artists to fund my addiction instead of focusing on all of the amazing opportunities that came my way.”

Substance abuse became a disruption to the family and his parents’ costume jewelry business based out of New York. Remarkably, he did not come up on the radar of law enforcement. His family moved to Denver where a cousin, a pastor, offered to help Bernard with his recovery. Through Faith, his family’s “devotion and encouragement,” and hip hop, he found his salvation. He applied his talents to mentor others and became a music teacher to inner-city youth.  

His music tells how he overcame his addiction through Faith, family and rap.

Rap was his weapon of choice, he said. It’s how he shares his trials and what it means to overcome and be a survivor. His music is meant to tell his life story.

In the single “It Was You,” Buddhakai raps as if in prayer:

Dying inside counting all the tears that I’ve cried

People getting locked up and people have died

I can’t explain my deranged way of feeling inside

But if I can bet they’re feeling like I am, I’m all in

Eighty percent of drug addicts wanna quit

The other twenty of em just haven’t seen it yet

But for the few that have, this stands true

Dear Lord, Only You can do it!

His singles “Are You Even There? and “Take Me Back,” reflect his artistry. The single “Are You Even There?” begs the perpetual question is there a god out there? He mixes messages of hope and rap intellectualism while still managing to satisfy the streets’ hunger for lyricism.

He has a new album coming out in March 2022, entitled “Take Off,” and a similarly titled single coming out mid-January. His musical talent earned him a spot on the album D&D Project II, a compilation of various artists which features hip hop heavyweights like Big Daddy Kane and DJ Premier, among many others.

“It all came from my love for poetry,” he recalled on how he knew he had a talent for rap. “I was a hopeless romantic growing up, didn’t know how to talk to girls. I used to speak through my poetry… I had always wanted to be able to sing, so I can turn my poetry into love songs like Boyz II Men and Shai (did), but I can’t sing to save myself. That’s when I realized I can turn them into raps!”

He just celebrated 15 years of sobriety and continues to write about overcoming struggles, choosing love over everything, and finding God. It’s what his rap name is about: Buddhakai, a “spiritual warrior.”

“What I’ve come to realize is that it’s sort of guided my life by its meaning,” he said.  – Cristina DC Pastor

Follow Buddhakai on Instagram @buddhakai13

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