Article by Katrina Tan
I’m a music lover. I grew up surrounded by music because my dad worked with speakers and my mom and sister liked to blast their music in the car on the way to school. It wasn’t just this, though. In the Philippines, music is widely loved, in general, be it OPM songs like Tadhana by Up Dharma Down, or foreign songs like Fantastic Baby by K-pop group Big Bang. It’s part of who we are to fall in love with the music and culture of different countries.
I’d like to say that this is going to be about my road to fame and how these experiences have allowed me to grow into the musician that I am today; but I’m not a musician and this article has nothing to do with my musical ability or lack thereof. No, instead, this article is about me discovering a new culture and falling in love with it through music.
What culture is that you ask? Hip hop.
Unconventional, I know. I’m an Asian girl attending an all-girls Catholic school. Hip hop isn’t really the first thing you’ll think of when you look at my background. And I’m not going to lie: as a kid, I never would have thought of myself as one for fast raps and steady beats. I was that kid that listened to pop-punk bands like Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, and Simple Plan. Angsty, sure, but nothing as lyrically driven as some rap songs were.
I’m not going to tell you that I woke up one day and realized that there was this whole other side to music I was missing out on, either. Nor am I going to tell you that I googled “hip hop” and it was love at first sight. I will tell you, though, that I was led down this rabbit hole by another music genre: Kpop.
I’d been listening to BTS, a South Korean K-pop group, for a little over a year and I was in love.
I knew all the members’ names, followed their Twitter accounts and checked all of them nearly everyday for updates and selcas (self-cams, or selfies), and even knew the words to some of their songs. Now, keep in mind that BTS debuted as a hip hop group, releasing rap-heavy songs like Bulletproof Pt. 2 and Danger. These songs, however, were not the songs that I fell in love with. I fell in love with their emotional songs like Run and Spring Day. So, how did I get into hip hop?
I was watching an interview and the interviewer asked the members who their musical influences were, and, being the obsessed fan that I was, I started listening to the artists they had mentioned. Among them (the influences of my biases or favorite group members) were Eminem and Drake. Now, yeah, I’d heard those names before (who hadn’t?); I’d probably even listened to a few of their songs at some point, but I’d never really gotten into it. But I figured that if those artists were the basis of some of my favorite songs, it couldn’t hurt to hear them out, right?
It took a while until I got into the genre; until I found myself trying to memorize lyrics and rap like Busta Rhymes (which is impossible, by the way, unless you’ve got serious skills). But as I got more and more into it, and I was listening to songs other than Slim Shady and Rap God, I found myself searching more about the era. When did rap start? Who started it? I found myself on Wikipedia and YouTube a lot, just searching songs by old rappers and new rappers, and rappers who’d passed away during the gang wars that went on in the late 90s.
It wasn’t all sunshine and gold chains, though. There were a few bumps on the road. On several occasions, I wondered if I was just being pa-cool or pretentious, if I was genuinely interested in the genre, or if I just wanted to be like the members of BTS.
As time passed and I felt more endearment towards the genre, though, I realized that it wasn’t just the fact that I listened to hip hop and liked it nor was it the beats and lyrical poetry that I was falling in love with. It was the flaws; the history of how rap came to be. How it started off as MCing or chanting over a beat in the Bronx in the 70s, and developed into what it is today: something of an art form – direct and delivered with a sharp tongue, shaped to fit the cracks in the world, point them out, and fill them up.
At first, hip hop was just a genre, just a bunch of people talking quickly over a simple beat, boasting about gold chains and big cars. Now, though, it’s so much more than that: it’s music, and poetry, and emotion, and art but above all, it’s a culture – one that I have come to appreciate and love, despite my origins, and one that I hope more people look into and associate with more than just loud music and gang signs because that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I think this kind of acceptance is one we should take and run with. Aside from keeping an open mind in relation to just music, it’s an even more important thing to be able to take this and be able to apply it everywhere, in how we treat people and their beliefs and opinions because it’s the kind of people we should be to influence the generations to come.