I first met Fil-Am rapper Kiwi back in 1998 during an exposure trip with the League of Filipino Students. I vividly remember one video footage where he had both fists raised while a flag was burning near an embassy protest.
Kiwi came back to the Philippines nine years later to do another exposure trip, this time with music as his main vehicle. Kiwi is one half of the now disbanded duo Native Guns which released the socio-political rap album Barrel Men. He has done campaigns with Filipinos in the US, most notably his support for the Stop the Killings Campaign. He does community work too for the Filipino Center in San Francisco.
First time I saw Kiwi take to the stage was on July 21 when he jammed with Brownman Revival on the songs Roots Rock Reggae and Get Up, Stand Up. The performance brought down the house, stirring the Xaymaca crowd in an awesome frenzy.
Next time I saw Kiwi perform was during the State of the Nation Address protest along Commonwealth Avenue. The stage was a flatbed truck, the venue was outdoors and the audience numbering in the thousands under the nootime sun. Kiwi came up with an electrifying performance together with New York-based Pinay rapper Valerie (whose MC name I forgot). Even the punks in the crowd were bouncing to the beat.
These performances were a sneak preview of what was in store in Kiwi’s July 25 gig at Freedom Bar. The mini hip-hop concert entitled Kiwi, Ka Bel @ Kalayaan sponsored by Anakbayan and Anakpawis featured an array of Pinoy hip-hop acts many of whom I have not seen perform.
Having only explored hip-hop just this year, thanks to a friend in the US, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. My generation was weaned on punk, new wave, grunge and 70’s classic rock. Hip-hop was basically uncharted territory for me. Thanks to my friend, I have been recently exposed to the more political stuff such as Dead Prez, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, NWA, Public Enemy, Native Guns and Blue Scholars. But when it comes to Pinoy hip-hop, I was clueless.
So it was a pleasant surprise that on July 25, I got to meet some of Pinoy hip-hop’s finest.
Let’s start with the Stick Figgas, composed of Looney and Xplizit. The duo has released an album entitled Critical Condition. They are definitely worth watching and hearing and deserve as much exposure as possible. Why? Their scathing lyrics resonate with both sincerity and raw anger. The politically charged “Liham sa Pangulo” (which I first heard during a rally in Liwasang Bonifacio) and “Dukha” are in-your-face commentaries on the rotten social system. The young duo has the potential to be to hip-hop as what Yano was to Pinoy rock. Also, mabait sila. Walang ere.
The rapper Syke, who was reportedly an Anakbayan member in Iligan, also delivered nationalistic verses that night. For an uneducated listener like me, Syke sounded like Busta Rhymes, at least his vocal style. His lyrics were more straight up, politically conscious in their meanings.
The group known as Machine Gun, I have known way back in UP. Vocalist Reynold is a lawyer who raps and is, unbeknownst to many, the original vocalist of Slapshock. Guitarist Jon Corsiga from the UP College of Music, is also an activist. The band now has a DJ. The combination of funky guitar riffs and turntable scratching is hard to pull off but I must say that Machine Gun unloaded a volley of armor-piercing lines that night. Their performance was solid. The DJ kicked ass.
Jay Flava got my attention when I saw him going around Freedom Bar giving out demo CD’s in his Motorhead t-shirt. Weird, I thought. Motorhead is metal. Jay Flava is supposed to be hip-hop. Only when he performed did I understand. In his myspace, he calls himself the missing link between metal and hip-hop. True enough, his rapping style is laced with heavy and crushing guitar riffs and bass lines you usually hear from metal acts. Check out his demo CD Obsolete. The guy is quick with words.
When Gloc 9 took to the stage, we were surprised to see him in just a t-shirt and jeans. His image is so far from the stereotypical rap artist (at least for us newbies). He was the most ordinary-looking of all the artists who performed that night. He could walk inside Freedom Bar and you wouldn’t notice it was him. The man is big in the hip-hop scene (winning the best rapper award in the first Philippine Hip-Hop Awards) but his apparent simplicity is probably what endears him to many.
Gloc 9 fired away with such tracks as Liwanag, Diploma and the tragic Lando. Our only regret was that he only performed three songs. In Diploma, Gloc 9 (Aristotle Pollisco in real life), says that he may not have graduated with a college degree but his poems are his diploma. He is what Gary Granada would call, a graduate of the pamantasan ng buhay (university of life). He worked hard, taking on menial jobs on his way to becoming one of Pinoy hip-hop’s best.
The last performance I caught (because I had to leave) was that of Kiwi of course. His rap style was influenced by the West Coast scene, the gangs in the ‘hood, social activism and his being Pinoy. Kiwi was tired, coming from gigs and rallies and events, but his energy was unparalleled. And he infected everyone with that same energy. The audience raised their fists, bounced to the beats, and hollered back to Kiwi’s rhymes. He did a track in what seemed to be based on
Mos Def’s “The Rape Over” Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” which had him shouting out the names of the different progressive organizations present in the gig in the chorus “We’re here to take back this…”.
Kiwi said he would like to learn to rap in Filipino/Tagalog. He did an exposure with community youth in Caloocan and recorded a piece with them.
Pinoy hip hop has the immense potential of being more than just novelty and comedy. It can and will be taken seriously because it takes on serious topics. From what I heard that night in Freedom Bar, there is a future here for social commentaries, progressive views and raw outrage. Check it out.