Curtismith is redefining the confessional aspect of rap

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Mito Fabie, aka Curtismith, doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal, but with his songs, through which he’s always attempting to document specific parts of his life, he also wants to set an example. Photo by PATRICK DIOKNO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Anyone who’s ever set out to take a creative path has heard it: Write what you know. Draw what you see. It’s a philosophy that’s in full force for the 22-year-old rap artist Mito Fabie, better known as Curtismith.

A member of Logiclub, a music-based collective in Manila, Curtismith dropped his debut mixtape, “Ideal,” in 2015 — a collaborative effort with fellow artists like CRWN, Beat Sampras, and Similar Objects. The mixtape introduced a style that’s quite distinct coming from a Filipino rapper, and not because he was mouthing off in English over striking and minimalist but meticulous beats. The words are clearly enunciated — but never exaggerated — which makes them compulsively listenable, and because of this, his ideas and emotions really get across. 

Hip-hop has a long history with protest and desire for change, but you won’t find any outright political agendas on any of Curtismith’s songs, which have more of a “middle-class” instead of “street” vibe to them. This isn’t to say, of course, that such songs lack strong resolve. In fact, there’s a sense of urgency and purpose to them that comes off in waves, with the conviction that there’s got to be more than this: ambition, frustration, hopes, dreams.

Consequently, his body of work has taken on a pseudo-confessional quality, a collection of anthems about coming to a head, coming to terms, and coming of age. Nowhere is this more evident than in his latest release, the EP “Failing Forward,” also a collaborative effort with numerous artists, including the writer Jam Pascual and the producer Frank Savage. On the EP, Curtismith speaks about the naiveté that accompanies youth and the epiphanies that come with growing up — mistakes and all.

Curtismith was recently announced as one of the new brand ambassadors for the clothing brand Human. In an online exchange, he talks to CNN Philippines Life about, among others, the distinction between his “real” and “rap” personas, and how an audience has changed the way he writes. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Would you say that it’s been clear early on that you would find yourself on the path you’re on now? What factors led you to rap?

Never would I have thought I’d be able to do what I’m doing now when I was growing up. I didn’t really have a consistent father figure growing up, so I guess I was just trying to fill that void, and rap music was an outlet.

How closely do you identify with the local hip-hop scene as a whole? Did it play a part in your development as a rapper, or has it always been more of a case of doing your own thing for you?

Growing up, I was never immersed in the local hip-hop culture and I was mainly influenced by Western music. I don’t necessarily see myself as a part of the scene, as I don’t reach their “standards,” but there are definitely artists from the scene that I really look up to.

For you, what is the state of Philippine hip-hop at the moment?

I think the whole idea of hip-hop is spreading further — not just musically, but the global mentality of what it entails has been more noticeable in the millennial generation. Hopefully it keeps growing from here on out.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have particular influences when it comes to your words?

Usually I have to hear the beat in order to feel something and I move forward from there. I try to approach each beat differently so I look at how I can work on it from different angles. I think any music that you like will inspire you one way or another.

Do you find that there are particular themes or experiences that you always come back to and have a hand in how you make music?

Recently I’ve been going back to my ideals, but I always try to express my situation at the given point in time when I’m writing a song. I like to capture the moment in that time of my life, so when I listen back to the track after a long time, I remember that particular point in my life.

That said, has your writing changed in any way out of a consciousness regarding the existence of an audience?

I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t. There are two sides of the spectrum. On one side are critics who have certain standards they expect me to live up to — which is not my job. Then there are younger people who listen to me. I now try to keep that in mind when I mention past experiences with vices because of how it could affect them. For example, when I was younger, Lil Wayne would talk about “sizzurp” [a drink that combines soda, strong cough syrup, and candy that causes an instant high], and he never explicitly told people to try it, but because I looked up to him I did it a couple of times. I don’t want to be that type of artist for my listeners. If I’m to get them to do anything, it’d be to follow their passion.

You’ve said that you’ve started letting your Curtismith persona become an identity of its own. How do you distinguish between who you “really” are and who you are when you create or perform?

I have a lot more interests other than making music, so when I’m doing all these other things I see myself as I always have. More than anything, Curtismith symbolizes an idea I had that I was passionate about and followed through. There’s still a lot more work to be done, but when I’m onstage, I’m Curtismith, and the rest of the time I feel no obligation to live up to anybody’s expectation as to who Curtismith is.

Your EP, “Failing Forward,” is heavily themed around mistakes and what you make of them. Can you talk about the conceptualization behind it?

I was simply trying to capture a moment in my life as well as show people a bit of my past mistakes and worries that creep around my mind.

You’re one of the newest faces of Human, which proclaims itself an alternative lifestyle brand. How do you think Human complements or speaks to your identity? If you’re living an alternative lifestyle, what is it an alternative to?

It keeps me from having the mindset that I’m on any type of pedestal. I respect how they’re not another company that’s trying to sell you the idea that you’re not good enough. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we’re meant to be just the way we are.

What do you imagine you’ll be rapping about 10 years from now?

Same thing — my life.

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Curtismith is appearing at Digital Riot, the reopening of Human’s store in Glorietta 4, alongside Mau Schrijvers and with a performance from Legit Status. The event will take place on Saturday, June 25, at 4 p.m.