Words by Kelly Punzalan
I don’t care what anyone says, “Kabet” and “S2pid Love” are the greatest songs of all time. I’m half-kidding but they are my go-to karaoke numbers. I’m sure you’ve heard them at least once in your life. Or if you’re a youngin, “Pauwi Na ‘Ko” and “Nadarang,” might be more familiar. All of these tracks fall under the criminally underappreciated genre of Pinoy Rap. We’ve become more supportive of OPM and local artists in recent years but for some reason, Pinoy Rap is still lagging behind. Many rap songs have made it to the top of the charts, are beloved by almost everyone, and have become trademarks of Filipino pop culture. Even so, there’s still that lingering association of Pinoy Rap with being “jejemon” or “jologs.”
Perceived Inferiority of Filipino Rap to Western Rap
Don’t lie. Even if you’ve never actually said it out loud, I know that it’s in the back of your mind. Though it’s not really your fault, so don’t feel too bad. I mean, Western pop culture and media have been shoved down our throats ever since… well, ever since we were colonized by them. It’s no surprise that we subconsciously prefer it over our own or even consider it superior. It’s understandable, but it shouldn’t be normalized.
Let’s be real, thinking that Pinoy rap music is “baduy” is an elitist opinion. That line of thinking is mostly attributed to the usage of Tagalog in these songs, and the fact that the most prominent consumers of this genre are “masa.” Sure, you could argue that the reason it’s considered “baduy” is that there are trashy songs with nonsense lyrics and misogynistic undertones, but let’s not pretend that American hip-hop isn’t saturated with those kinds of songs as well. Hello, do Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” and “Famous” by Kanye West ring a bell? The two genres are in fact very similar, and they only differ in the social implications.
Universal Themes in Hip-Hop
If you look at the lyrics of American rap songs, the most common themes are racism, love, sex, “the streets,” boasting wealth, “hoes and bitches,” politics and current events, and of course, incoherent drivel. Well, you can find the same themes in Filipino rap. One song in particular that I personally love is “Norem” by Shanti Dope, Gloc 9, Abaddon, and Jkris. This takes on the perspective of drug pushers and tackles their struggles as well as their personal motivations for engaging in this line of work. The words are socially relevant, powerful, and cut to the bone in a good way. Its catchiness is just an added bonus. The message may be controversial and hard to swallow, but is this not the true essence of hip-hop? To give the oppressed a platform and expose injustice? The best rap songs are the ones that have substance, evoke emotion, and challenge the status quo.
Removing the Negative Connotation
With any genre of music, there are songs that are bad, downright terrible, average, good, and brilliant. It just isn’t fair to judge the entirety of Filipino hip-hop based on a couple of cringeworthy songs. Besides, it’s 2019, guys. I thought judging people’s music taste wasn’t cool anymore?
If you keep an open mind, you’ll find that the Philippines has several talented artists in the industry who have great content: Shanti Dope, Al James, BLKD, Calix, Emar Industriya, etc. And if it still isn’t your thing? Move along and let other people enjoy it.
We also need to stop regarding things that are very Filipino or “pang-masa” as lesser or embarrassing. Just because you listen to Drake and A$AP Rocky, that does not mean you’re cooler or better than those who sing along to Dalagang Pilipina, yeah. Filipino pop culture is just as good as American pop culture, and it’s about time we truly recognize that.
What do you think of Pinoy rap?