Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Rap music has an immediate quality about it; at its best, it is both direct and complex, producing numerous visceral effects that announce themselves on the body. The kick and the snare reverberate and displace the atmosphere, aggressive bass lines feel like punches in the gut, and voices almost feel like your own, acrobatically articulating emotions with confidence and an unabashed wit.
The forefront of contemporary Filipino rap is dominated by technically skilled, English-speaking emcees that have recently received mainstream media coverage, but grittier music from the margins is currently setting the blogosphere ablaze in keeping with the underground spirit that haunts and hovers over hip-hop. Here are five Filipino hip-hop artists who demand your attention.
Calix has released two celebrated albums under his belt (2016’s “Breakout Satirist” and his most recent effort “The Lesser of Your Greater Friends”) that frame the world as a place populated by legions of snakes forming networks of deceit and greed, afflicting the public and private spheres. Calix and his rotating cast of collaborators lace up their boots and rage against propaganda machines, the gatekeepers of the music scene, and the government itself, subjecting a variety forms of institutional violence to pitiless critique. In “The Lesser of Your Greater Friends” standouts such as “Nasusuka” and “Di Matitinag,” all guilty parties are mentioned explicitly rather than merely alluded to, bringing icons down and crushing monuments with a series of acerbic, unflinching verses.
Even the figure of the infamously foul-mouthed president finds no immunity from Calix’s potent strain of venom; in “Executive Order,” the rapper gives the rhetoric of the president a dose of its own medicine, sampling clips of the president’s most frequently used curse words against him, using the vocabulary of the oppressor against the oppressor himself. The language of Calix is sharp and teeming with an infectious omni-directional anger that appears to be one of the most appropriate responses to the current political climate.
BLKD’s delivery is cool and collected, similar to that of a savvy social realist poet of the streets, detailing lucid episodes of the people’s everyday struggles. Yet there is a scalding rage that bubbles beneath the surface. His phenomenal effort “Gatilyo” (2015) sounds like a veritable call-to-arms, imbuing the audience with theoretical knowledge and a historical sense to urge them into action with eloquent and expertly-produced tracks such as “Gastador” and “Bente.” BLKD fights the good fight, masterfully painting all his targets with restraint and calm, never losing himself to flights of abstraction.
In spite of the current political climate, “Gatilyo” refuses to surrender the self-defeating fatalism of the age, bursting with hope and energy. The music of BLKD reminds us of the possibility of resistance and affirms our right to imagine a better system despite the odds being stacked against us.
The music of Emar Industriya is dark and brooding, suffused with dizzying, vivid imagery and spectral, narcotic beats that echo the death rattle of industry, and the absurd, disorienting sound of an urban space. His effortless flow soars above the grimy backdrop of delirious sampling, drawing routes that lead to potential exits from an imposed geographic sketch of Luzon.
2016’s “Industriyalismo” is a map of an imagined, alternative landscape, a line of flight from a conflicted, dystopian condition, containing music that feels both of and beyond its time, a product of a specific setting and a reconfiguration of it. It is a tightly wound and challenging collection of tracks that jolt complacent audiences out of their stupor with allusive and erudite lyricism and a fresh take on hip-hop. Emar Industriya makes us reconsider an ailing environment with a style that is genuinely imaginative, classically dope, of the moment, and undeniably electrifying.
Den Sy Ty
Den Sy Ty dons a mask and filters his vocals through a series of digital pitch-shift effects, but alterity in the music and the persona of Den Sy Ty is not an act of subterfuge; it amplifies an identity, elevating his oddball jabs against the machinery of music in Manila to the level of symbol. He does not exonerate himself of blame; he makes us all accountable by generating a faceless image upon which one can project their own.
This makes his 2016 mixtape, “#MANILACIRCLEJERK,” feel a lot less like a series of pointed diss tracks to bolster an individual’s ego, but more a biting declaration of war against the unconscious tyranny of “good vibes.” His rhymes are volatile, jagged, and (forgive the pun) dense, expressing the sentiments of the disenchanted and disenfranchised enveloped in a shroud of mystery, working against the system from within, making the fight all the more potent, for it feels like it could be led by anyone.
suchdumb / Jon the Man
suchdumb may be the best bedroom hip-hop duo without an album to their name. The majority of rap music projects itself outward, battling menacing foes that are indifferent to the individual, but the music of suchdumb — comprised of Jan Dabao and Mark Belardo — relies on the smallest of gestures, pulling inward with introspective lyrics that scale the heights of an interior, lovelorn despair.
Eschewing outmoded, action-packed posturing, suchdumb looks in the mirror, confronting a fractured reflection and finds representation in cracking voices drenched in reverb, recorded in a dimly lit bedroom in the wee hours of the morning, sleepily stumbling through confessional lyrics woven into a fabric of layered, lo-fi production.
Their work is enriched by the concomitant efforts of Belardo as Jon the Man, a complementary project that appears to expose its own methodology, revealing wounds and imperfections in production and spitting intertextual lyrics that seem to be in the process of collecting an identity to be confronted, questioned, and confounded.