Pinoy Rap is alive and well in the Philippines

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  • The phenomenon of FlipTop has recently grown by leaps and bounds in the Philippines. It is very popular in almost every part of the country where there is access to the Internet and importantly where there is a culture of collectivism, like in the air-conditioned confines of a computer shop.

    In freestyle rap, hurling an insult back at your opponent is called a “flip.” FlipTop held the first Filipino Rap Battle League back in February 6, 2010 at Quantum Cafe in Makati City where popular Pinoy rappers or MCs like Cameltoe, Datu, Fuego and Protege entertained the audience with their verbal skills onstage.

    FlipTop is an events and artist managing organization that was founded by Alaric Riam Yuson who also goes by the name Anygma. FlipTop members include BLKD a.k.a. Allen Enriquez, Boy Pick-Up a.k.a. Ogie Alcasid, Smugglaz a.k.a. Bryan Lao, Abra a.k.a. Raymond Mikael and Loonie a.k.a. Marlon Peroramae. Today FlipTop has divisions in the National Capital Region (NCR), Calabarzon, Central Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao where rap battle events are held at least once a year.

    It is easy for anyone who isn’t familiar with hip hop and alternative rap to acknowledge FlipTop as the modern-day version of Balagtasan mainly because of two elements present: verbal jousts and the seeming rhyme and meter when rappers, emcees or MCs drop their bars and verses.

    Some Pinoy MCs even consider themselves as being a “makata”—not just the usual “mambeberso” who writes poetry for a hobby, but someone approaching the much respected rank of poet laureate.

    A “makata” is familiar with the rules when it comes to rhyme and meter. At least, with the basics of Filipino poetry like the first rank tugmaang karaniwan or general rhyme, rhyme schemes and caesura. In Filipino poetry, words that end with the same vowel do not necessarily rhyme. Glottal stress matters the most.

    There are liberal rules set in hip hop rap called internal and off-beat rhymes. There is a style called multisyllabic rhyme which the popular American hip hop artist Eminem uses. In the Philippines it is popularly known as “multi” and many Pinoy MCs are already skilled in using the style of rap.

    Though battle rap is a verbal joust, it is far from being considered as the modern version of the Balagtasan. Literary critic Virgilio Almario stressed that Balagtasan poets are “expected to entertain their audience with bits of humor, with witticisms, with the spice of sarcasm, and moreover, with theatrics like stage actors in dramatic presentations.”

    BLKD (pronounced Balakid) said that “through both feature the nuances of poetry, there is a distinction between their sensitivities. They belong to different historical and cultural channels and we have to recognize these attributes.”

    People might not know him or if they bumped into him on the street they wouldn’t think he is one of the reigning champions of FlipTop rap battles with an avid following worthy of rock stars. From the trash- talking battle ground of freestyle rap, BLKD a.k.a. Allen Enriquez is bringing the poetry of protest into his brand of rap. For BLKD, wordplay comes effortlessly.

    After all he is a writer first and rapper second, stitching words into hip hop beats to weave his political messages to the masses.

    “Sa pagaaral ng college sa U.P. naging student ako ng Community Development. At iyon na mismo yung kurso namin yung pagunawa doon sa kalagayan ng kaunlaran ng isang bayan o isang lipunan. Nakapunta ako sa mga communities, sa picket lines at iba pa. At dahil doon namulat ako sa katotohanan ng underground,” said BLKD.

    When he is not busy at work you will find BLKD furiously battling it out in FlipTop and as an active player of the local rap subculture, it is a scene he wants to see flourish and thrive.

    “Hip hop as a culture ay kalat naman siya sa Pilipinas particularly sa urban poor communities at sa kabataan. Pero sa mainstream kaunti lang ang naririnig natin actually ng produkto ng local hip hop scene. So ang mga signed artists and nakikita o naririnig natin kadalasan. Pero marami ang hip hop artists sa Pilipinas at marami rin mga gawang pieces na hindi naririnig ng masa,” said BLKD.

    Rap music is said to have a bad reputation and many critics say it is the music of juvenile gangs and urban hoodlums. What are the MCs of FlipTop and BLKD doing so that this negative image of hip hop culture will change?

    “Kami at kasama yung mga kagrupo ko sa Bahay Kultura ng Kalye, inuugat naming yung hip hop bilang kultura ng oppressed o mga inaapi sa lipunan natin. Ang origin naman talaga ng hip hop music and culture ay sa mga New York Projects kung saan ang mga minorities doon ay nakagawa sila ng musika at kultura na tinawag nilang hip hop. At ang rinarap ng mga unang rapper ay ang mga nakikita nila sa kanilang paligid at ito ang tinatawag na conscious rap. So basically pag-describe ng kahirapan, struggle at iba pa,” explained BLKD.

    “Sobra inspiring ngayon ang eksena lalo na sa tulong ng internet at madali na maglabas ng saloobin at mga inahing kahit mula sa margins ng society. Dito rin sa Pilipinas sa tingin ko ganoon rin ang nangyayari pero hindi lang ka-accessible ang pag-record o pagpalabas ng mga na-record na kanta o rap kaya hindi tayo ganoon ka-aware. Pero definitely for better or for worse kapag lumalala ang krisis sa lipunan lumalabas ang ganitong matatalim na hip hop,” said BLKD.

    “Yung isang rap persa na pinamagatan kong Bente inattempt ko ito na maikewnto yung cycle of poverty sa lipunan natin. Nag highlight ako ng mga characters mula sa ibat-ibang sectors ng lipunan tulad ng magsasaka, manggagawa, worker sa service sector, tsuper at urban poor na nagiging kriminal. Inattempt ko na ma-discuss doon yung paikot-ikot na kahirapan sa bansa natin at saan ka nagmula naghanap buhay,” said BLKD.

    Through his writings and rap music, BLKD hopes to spark genuine awareness and change through sharp words that take harsh realities and tell it like it is, a message he wants to come across loud and clear to his young Pinoy hip hop fans.

    By Jose K. Lirios

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