The beginnings of hip-hop culture in the Philippines can be attributed to several main factors; the innate of them being the heavy influx of American musical styles in that country as reflected in the widespread popularity during the 1960s of Motown artists The Temptations, The Supremes and The Jackson Five and later in the 1970s of Funk, Soul and Disco music. Bands such as The Commodores, The Gap Band, James Brown, Con Funk Shun, The Bar-Kays and Earth, Wind and Fire among many others received heavy rotation on Manila airwaves. The future importation of hip hop culture and music, similar to the previous genres mentioned can be credited to the direct contact Filipinos received with both Americans and Filipino Americans, or as they are commonly called balikbayans, stemming from the root words “balik” meaning to come back and “bayan” loosely translating into hometown or homeland.
The intimate relationship between hip-hop culture and the large Filipino American community along the United States West Coast naturally resulted in the exportation of rap music back to the Philippines. Numerous cassette tapes, videos, books and magazines concerning hip hop issues and popular rap artists would be sent out by Filipinos to family members back in the islands.
The towns and barrios surrounding the numerous American military bases that were scattered throughout that country such as Clark Air Base in Angeles City and Subic Bay Naval Base in Olongapo were among the earliest to be exposed to the culture; as contact with African-American, Filipino American and Latino servicemen resulted in some of the earliest exposure the locals had to the new musical genre.
Groundbreaking hip hop films such as Wild Style (1982), Breakin’ (1984) and Krush Groove (1985) were also major influences; and as early as 1982 local breakdancing crews like the Angeles City based Whooze Co. International, with members consisting primarily from Clark Air Base, The Eclipse (whose former members included Francis Magalona, Dance 10′s Darwin Tuason and current Federation Sounds’ Glenn “Kico” Lelay), Info-Clash Breakers and Ground Control (members included Rap Master Fordy, later to be known as Andrew E. and Jay “Smooth” MC of Bass Rhyme Posse) became mainstays in local parks and malls in and around the Metro Manila area such as Glorietta Mall, which was an early hotspot for breakers. Several mobile DJ crews of the era included such names as the Rock All Parties Crew which emerged onto the scene only to produce such future Pinoy rap pioneers as Andrew E. and Norman B.
1980s: Seeds of a movement, from the South Bronx to Metro Manila
The birth of Filipino hip hop music (commonly called Pinoy Rap and its emcees Rapistas) came in the early 1980s, with early records from Dyords Javier (Na Onseng Delight) and Vincent Dafalong (Nunal), both records released in 1980. Early influences on the genre included American hip-hop icons Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Run-D.M.C., Ice T, KRS-ONE & Boogie Down Productions and Eric B. and Rakim among many others.
The genre developed an underground following in Metro Manila during the 1980s. In late 1989, former DJ and breakdancer Andrew E., or, as he was then called, Rap Master Fordy, introduced two of his friends from the mobile DJ group Rock All Parties Crew, Norman B. and Andy “Luv” MD, to J “Smooth” MC, an acquaintance from Andrew’s breakdancing days. The trio would go on to form the group Pine Rhyme (for Las Piñas City, the area from which they hailed), later to be renamed the Bass Rhyme Posse. The pioneering act was Pinoy hip hop’s first rap group and would release their self-titled debut album on VIVA Records in 1991 which spawned the cult hits Let the Beat Flow, Buhay Estudyante (Student Life) and Juan T. becoming the genre’s first rap group to release a record.
The genre soon entered the mainstream with Francis Magalona’s debut album, Yo!, which included the nationalistic hit “Mga Kababayan (My Countrymen)”. Magalona (widely known by the aliases Francis M., The Man from Manila, and Master Rapper), a former breakdancer from The Eclipse crew who rapped in both English and Tagalog, became an instant superstar and the first rap icon in the Philippines as a result.
More stars followed in Magalona’s footsteps, including Pia Arroyo whose (Loving You) duet track with Francis M. marked the first time a female had rapped on record in the country, Lady Diane (The First Lady of Rap), Andrew E. (Humanap Ka Ng Pangit) (Look For Someone Ugly), Bass Rhyme Posse (The Bass Rhyme Posse), Denmark (I’m Markie D.!), Michael V. (Maganda Ang Piliin) (Pick Someone Pretty), Rapasia (Hoy! Tsismosa), Marcelo (Di Ka Ba Marunong Umayaw), M.C.M.C. aka The Triggerman (Ayoko Na Ng Panget) Rapi Boys, and MC Lara, who released a self-titled album.
1990s: The Golden Age
Known as the “Golden Age” of Pinoy Hip Hop,the 1990s marked the beginning of many rapid stylistic innovations beginning in 1991 with the establishment of the Disco Mix Club Philippines which was one of the earliest platforms for Philippine DJ mixing battles. Early innovators of the style included DJs Carlo Yalo, Noel Macanaya, Rod “DVS” Torres and Omar Lacap among others.
Following the path set forth by their Bass Rhyme predecessors, the tri-lingual rap group Rapasia released their self-titled debut record in 1991, garnering the hit “Hoy! Tsismosa”. One of the earliest Filipino hip hop groups to embrace such an abstract format, the album’s lyrical content often contained a mixture of various Philippine languages (including Tagalog and Chavacano) along with English. Rapasia’s innovative style would later be built upon years later by other Pinoy rap groups such as Zamboanga’s Ghost 13. Rapasia’s members included Martin “Bronx” Magalona, brother of Pinoy rap entrepreneur Francis Magalona.
MastaPlann was also another group that did all their music in English. The group had 3 deejays and 2 mcs. The mcs were known as Type (Johnny Luna) and Tracer One (Butch Velez brother of famous actor Vivian Velez). MastaPlann released 3 albums that went multi-platinum. Mastaplann is an all-Filipino Hip Hop group that was formed in 1992 in the Philippines, with original group members Butch Velez aka Tracer One, Johnny Luna aka Type Slickk, Disco Mix Competition DJs Sonny Abad, Noel Macanaya aka DJ MOD, Lopi Guzman aka DJ Lopi, and managed by Jesse Gonzales. Butch and Johnny were balikbayans from the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, CA, Sonny a balikbayan from Hercules, CA, near the San Francisco Bay Area and Noel and Lopi native Filipinos. In 1992, Mastaplann was signed by Universal Records, where they released two records; in 1993, their debut eponymous release, and in 1994, The Way of tha Plann. These albums eventually obtained platinum status and are still selling worldwide.
1992 marked a turning point for Pinoy rap with the release of Francis M.’s influential second album, Rap Is Francis M, which is highly regarded as one of the greatest Pinoy Rap albums ever. Ushering in a socially-awoken wave not seen in the Philippine music industry since the heyday of Juan De La Cruz, Sampaguita and 1970s Pinoy rock; Magalona’s tracks dissected the various cultural, social & political problems that plagued his country such as drug addiction in “Mga Praining” (The Addicts), political corruption and instability in “Halalan” (Election) as well as the detrimental effects of a colonial mentality to Filipino culture in “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy” (We Are Filipinos), the record’s complexity and socially sentient message quickly earned it its classic status and became the standard by which future albums of the genre were to be compared to. Magalona’s enduring contributions to the genre would later be recognized in the All Music Guide to Hip-Hop: The Definitive Guide to Rap and Hip-Hop (2003) published by Backbeat Books; as well as in the U.S.-based hip hop publication The Source (magazine) (May 2004).
Another Filipino hip hop artist who achieved prominence during the 1990s is the formerly Los Angeles-based DJ Andrew E. (born Andrew Espiritu), whose tracks “Humanap Ka Ng Panget” and “Makati Girl” (as done by Norman B. of Bass Rhyme Posse; was the first Pinoy rap track recorded to contain beatboxing) became monster hits in the Philippines, rivaling even Francis M.’s previously untouchable reign on top Pinoy rap’s throne. Prior to landing a recording contract, the rapper had competed in various rap contests around the Philippines; the likes of which also produced Pinoy rap stars Michael V., Denmark and Martin “Bronx” Magalona. Andrew E.’s 1991 hit “Humanap Ka Ng Pangit” (Look For Someone Ugly) was the first to spawn a plethora of response records from other rappers in the country, such as Michael V.’s “Maganda Ang Piliin” (Pick Someone Pretty). The rapper’s ability to combine unique storytelling with raunchy and humorous wordplay laced with catchy beats made Andrew the first of his kind in the genre. He then went on to release a movie entitled Andrew Ford Medina: Huwag Kang Gamol in 1991 which was the first film in the Philippines to include a full-on freestyle battle on screen. By the mid-1990s he had established his own record label, the controversial Dongalo Wreckords, as well as many successful rap groups, including Cebuano rappers The Anthill Mobb, Madd Poets and Bicolano rappers Salbakuta. The former, known for their complex and versatile lyrical ability achieved fame with their debut album Ikatlong Mundo. In 1997, Andrew E. produced and hosted the first Pinoy rap television show, Rap 13. Other popular rap artists and groups included Razzamanazz, Cirkulo Pugantes, El Latino, Mastaplann, Verbal Sativa, Kulay, Legit Misfitz, Pariente, Urban Flow, Sun Valley Crew, and Mega Force Crew (*formerly known as Grand Assault Tribe).
1994 saw the emergence of another rap group, headed by a female balikbayan from New York. The group called 4 East Flava consisted of 3 homegrown rapistas – Von ” Mack” Padua (Who was molded by Martin “the Bronxman” Magalona and now with the group Pinoy Republic), Bernard “P-Slick” Santiago and Paul “Shorty” Navarro- 2 DJs (Dj Edge and Dj Mec) and Jug “Honeyluv” Ramos, hailing from New York and was known as “the rose among the thorns.” They brought out the hit “Check the Hood” (used for a shoe commercial) which was misunderstood as a diss towards MastaPlann.
The same year, going against the wave of radio-friendly rap tracks that dominated at the time, the group Death Threat, founded by rappers Beware and Genezide, released the first Filipino gangsta rap album which told tales of the daily lives and struggles impoverished Filipino youth faced growing up in the slums of Metro Manila’s barrios entitled Gusto Kong Bumaet (I Want To Be Good).
In 1997, the underground Pinoy rap group Pamilia Dimagiba released their groundbreaking album Broke-N-Unsigned on Tenement Records, marking the re-emergence of the conscious emcee in Pinoy rap. A coalition of sorts, Pamilia Dimagiba composed itself of several underground Pinoy rappers and crews such as 8th Messenger, Shadowblyde, Spoon, Murder-1 of Khan’s Assassins and Young Galaxy of Iron Triangle among others. The raw seven-track, politically minded album was a breath of fresh air at the time; as Pinoy rap during the era had taken a more hardcore, gangster persona. Known for their coarse lyrics, serious subject matter complemented by heavy beats fused within traditional Filipino folk music; the camp’s records by the names of “Duelo”, “Manila’s Finest”, “Reality Hurtz” and “Brainstorming” among others were largely in essence a throwback to the early, nationalistic Francis M. inspired days of the genre.
The widespread popularity of Pinoy rap in and around the islands has resulted in the spawning of a new breed of Pinoy emcees: Junior Rapistas. Far from being a new trend, Jaymie “Baby” Magtoto and her 1991 hit single “Eh! Kasi Bata” (‘Cause I’m a Kid) was an early example of Pinoy kiddie rappers. The single was also included in the soundtrack for Jaymie’s motion picture debut of the same name released later that year.
The 2000s saw the resurgence of grade school rappers in Filipino Hip Hop. 2005 was a breakthrough for kid rappers in the Philippines as Aikee, through the Madd World/Circulo Pugantes Camp released his debut Ang Bawat Bata (Every Child) on Alpha Music and at eleven years of age, became the youngest Filipino rapper to release a full rap album
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