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Sky’s the limit for these radical wordsmiths JILSON SECKLER TIU/INQUIRER FlipTop gave local rappers a face,” Bassilyo adds. “Before, people only knew our lyrics, but now people also recognize our faces everywhere we go.” “Sometimes you get nervous when you get up to sing, more so when there’s an opponent waiting to get back at you,” he says. “Sometimes you choke and you are forced to freestyle, you turn your opponent’s words against him. It keeps you from being lazy.” “As Bassilyo I combine everything I have learned about making poems and rapping. I put in melodies, and variations. I tell a story, often with a twist, and 90 percent of what I write is based on my life experiences.” Apart from his solo work, Bassilyo also performs with his cohorts Crispin and Sisa as Crazy As Pinoy. Having grown up in Marikina among natives of Bulacan and Binangonan, Bassilyo has an ear for pure Tagalog idiom, which he injects into his rhymes. “I want to bring out the real Pinoy flavor in my work,” he says. “A rapper’s first aim is to reach as many people as possible with his words. The more people hear my words, the better. I want to reach young and old alike, that’s why personally I prefer the mass audience. It would be a waste if we kept our lyrics for just the hip hop audience.” Thanks to the crossover success of “Lord, Patawad”, it would seem that Bassilyo has realized his wish; his mall tours now see entire families in the audience. For Loonie, the Internet has been critical to new school Flip Hop’s success. “Kids in the Philippines are tech-savvy, and there are internet cafes everywhere you go,” he says. “That probably explains why FlipTop gets millions of views on YouTube. The battle leagues in other countries are wondering how we can get so many hits, they think we’re padding the figures. Where they’re from, one million hits is a lot, but in the Philippines, it’s commonplace to get 10, 15, 20 million views. So you could say that it’s the Internet that has made Pinoy hip hop mainstream.” Coming up in Pasig City, where Ron Henley was a year behind him in high school, Loonie gives props to Francis M. “Without him there would be no Pinoy hip hop culture,” he says. “The man was an artist.” Loonie cut his MC teeth backing up Francis M., while juggling an IT course and a succession of call center jobs. All the dues-paying have made him a formidable wordsmith, and he gets props from other MCs. “I use conversational Tagalog in my rhymes,” he says. “It’s more freestyle. I used to practice composing lines in my head, without writing them down. I started with eight lines, and worked up to 16 lines, straight to the mike, without putting them down on paper. That was how I wrote ‘Ang Bagong Ako’ which I recorded with the Greyhoundz.” Although he prefers to keep the language simple, one line can have two or even three interpretations. A good MC can compose verses with many layers of meaning, he says. “Sobrang free,” he continues. “This is the most open genre, and you can inject it into any other genre. For me rap is the most versatile style of music, and one of the most extreme forms of public performance or performance art, because it’s spontaneous, it’s raw, because whatever you’re feeling you can express on the fly, on the spot. It’s like poetry, sports and music rolled up into a single entity. That’s why battle rap is so interesting to the youth, it’s like drama to them. You can learn about the state of society through listening to battle rap. You can find universal truths in it that you won’t find in today’s sugar-coated media. You’re going straight to the source.” Much has been made in the press of Abra’s suburban origins (he came up in the mean streets of Valle Verde, and went to Colegio de San Agustin, not exactly a hotbed of hip hop). “It’s not really my choice, and I can’t exactly deny it just for the sake of being ‘street,’” he says. “It’s hard being an artist these days, because of widespread piracy, and also because there’s a lot of hate within the community, and outside the community. But I’m glad because OPM artists are so supportive of each other, regardless of genre. They’re more open now, just like the Internet which is open to everything.” From a young age, he recalls, he roamed around freely, being an adventurous sort, gathering material for future rhymes. “My rhymes incorporate what it’s like to be me, how I grew up as Raymond Abracosa in an environment without hip hop around me.” By his own account, Abra was a late bloomer as far as hip hop was concerned. He was already in third year high school when he discovered Pinoy hip hop via Gloc 9 and the Stick Figgas, and found himself enamored by these artists’ lyrical gift.
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