Last July 22, I attended Cipher of Styles: Exploring the Filipino Hip Hop Diaspora. The talk was led by Mark V, the blogger behind Hip Hop Lives: Traditions of Filipino Performance. Mark V has made films that investigate and document the intimacies of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans with the hiphop culture.
Mark V raised a interesting point I found interesting as a mainstream music listener with no deep connections to the local hiphop culture. To him, it is easy to connect FilAms and the hiphop culture. It is almost a part of the FilAm identity. But when you talk about Filipinos here in the Philippines, there tends to be a disconnect. Hiphop in the Philippines in mainly seen as “jologs”, as a kind of low art. The talk went on to investigate why this is so.
There have been points thrown around regarding this. My head tried to keep up, but a question insisted at the back of my mind. Where is Filipino hiphop in the mainstream scene right now? It seems that after the 90s when hiphop became mainstream, there have been fewer hiphop artists in the hit charts.
The 90s was when hiphop became a part of mainstream culture in the Philippines. Mainstream radio played hits from the likes of MastaPlann, Kulay, Legit Misfitz, Urban Flow, Sun Valley Crew, and Death Threat. This was also the decade when Andrew E became a household name along with Francis Magalona.
Now compare that to the current situation. Gloc 9 seems to be the most successful in crossing over to the mainstream by far. Granted, there’s still current acts like Q-York and DiCE and K9 aka Mobbstarr, but it seems the mainstream radar isn’t picking them up as much.
The only reason I can think of was this. We know that American music has always made it big here in the Philippines. During the 90s, big artists like Mariah Carey and other pop artists during the 90s collaborating with hiphop artists like Missy Elliot, Jermaine Dupri, and Sean “Puffy” Combs. This was also the time when artists like Usher, TLC, and Aaliyah rose. Hiphop was almost a fad. In fact, during those times pop was mostly a mixture of soul, R&B and rap. And with this increase of mainstream music infused with hiphop elements, Filipino hiphop songs also crossed over to the mainstream scene.
So why did Filipino hiphop not stay that big in the mainstream scene when international acts like the Black Eyed Peas can still make it to the top of the charts? I think it’s because of change and how flexible the native hiphop artists are willing to be.
Dance-pop seems to be the craze now for the mainstream market. Hiphop acts who are able to infuse this into their music are still able to conquer the charts. The Black Eyed Peas is an example of this. Even Kanye West is playing with electro elements.
I am not saying that hiphop artists SHOULD go dance-pop, after all, Gloc 9 is still successful even if he didn’t go all Lady Gaga on us. But he has a distinct and a mature style that goes well with mainstream audiences. And it does help that his lyrics speak of universal themes.
Someone in the talk whom I failed to get the name mentioned that hiphop in the Philippines rose too early and was pushed into the mainstream before it had matured. I think he may have a point. Musicians don’t need to change their brand of music; the more important thing is that they find and hold on to their own artistic voice.
I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comment box below.