At the beginning of the week, over 22,000 music fans flocked to the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park to watch local and international hip-hop acts live on stage for the inaugural MTV Music Evolution Manila.
The highly successful free outdoor concert was a landmark event for the Philippine music scene, as it will have a global broadcast in over 160 countries for the MTV World Stage series at the end of May.
The lineup included the Philippines’ very own rappers Gloc-9 and Abra, and the Black Eyed Peas’ Filipino-born member Apl.de.ap. Meanwhile, foreign hip-hop artists YG, DJ Cash Money, and Naughty by Nature flew in from the US for the first of its kind musical event in Manila.
Opening act Gloc-9 fired up the stage with his popular rap songs that touch on socially relevant issues, like the hit “Upuan.” He also paid tribute to the late Filipino Master Rapper Francis Magalona by performing “Stars and Sun” and “Kaleidoscope World” to a highly participative audience.
The 24-year-old hit maker Abra performed next alongside Loonie and Ron Henley. He also brought his group Lyrically Deranged Poets to the stage, and entertained the crowd with a medley of six songs intensified by a pyrotechnic display.
Apl.de.Ap kept the party going with the biggest Black Eyed Peas hits. As one of The Voice PH judges, he generously invited Team Apl finalist Jessica Reynoso to sing with him in the live rendition of “Be” and “Where is The Love?” Loonie and Abra also returned to the stage to inject their rap verses in the highly applauded number.
The three international acts subsequently took the stage led by DJ Cash Money. As he promised during a pre-concert press conference, the DJ from Philadelphia took the Manila crowd on a journey of hip-hip history with a mix of fresh and old school tracks.
Rapper YG, meanwhile, represented the West Coast hiphop scene with songs like “Who Do You Love,” which peaked at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. He performed a 15-song medley alongside DJ Goofy 500 and Slim 400.
Donning a “Filipino by Nature” shirt, Vin Rock and the rest of Naughty by Nature crew concluded the high-powered concert with a dose of nostalgia. The Grammy-award winning group, which was formed way back in the ‘90s, performed their iconic song “Hip Hop Hooray,” among a string of well-loved hits. To the audience’s delight, they even rendered a short version of Francis M’s “Kaleidoscope World.”
The night ended with a bang as the complete roster of performers returned to the stage for a final bow. An explosion of confetti rained down the screaming crowds as Naughty by Nature declared, “This is history in the making!”
The event aimed to highlight the evolution of hip-hop as a genre of music in the global music scene. And despite differences in culture and history, the local and international artists had similar views on issues that have affected hip-hop’s evolution through the years.
At a press conference at Sofitel Philippine Plaza, the artists were asked about the social relevance of the genre, the rise of Electronic Dance Music (EDM), new technologies, and their thought on the future of hip hop.
Borne out of the struggles of the ghetto, Filipino rappers felt right at home with hip hop and found it easy to create original material out of the adopted style.
“The fact that we incorporate the Filipino culture [in our music]is already a big thing. We have a different kind of humor; we have different issues that only we can relate to as a people and as a nation,” Abra, who was born Raymond Abracosa, explained.
Gloc-9, Aristotle Pollisco in real life, shared this view as he said, “One thing about Pinoy hip-hop, kahit na kinuha natin ito sa west, dahil sa richness ng mga kwento at mga storya ng mga Pilipino, [even if we borrowed the music genre from the west, the rich stories of the Filipino]tend to make them sound very original.”
Asked what the US hip-hop scene can learn from Filipino hip hop artists if any, Apl.de.Ap replied, “I like how Filipino hip-hop is old school, rapping, free-styling and it’s not all about materials. It’s about styles. Like all the tongue twisting in Tagalog. I’m like, ‘Damn, I wish I could write like that’.”
While local hip-hop music largely stays true to the roots of the genre, Western hip-hop, on the other hand, has taken a turn with the surge of EDM. Despite this, the American rappers believe that the change was not intended by the artists themselves, but the doing corporations and the commercialization of music.
Naughty by Nature’s Vin Rock explained that lyrics nowadays are created for party and club music—a result of “the spoiled kids” wanting to hear the same things over again.
“In a sense, if you take the foundations of hip-hop, talking the struggle in the streets, I believe that the music is still out there. But now that the corporations are fully- invested in hip-hop, you only hear five or six artists on the radio so you think that’s all that’s out there. But if you’re really a music lover—if you really dig through the interne—there are tons of talented, socially conscious artists. And if you leave it to the corporations, you’d think hip hop is dead,” he said.
His group mate DJ Kay Gee echoed the sentiment and said, “When we came out, you couldn’t sound like anyone else. You have to have a different style, a different song. Right now, they’re looking for you to sound like what’s on the radio now… so I don’t blame the artists. They’re doing what they have to do to eat for one.”
Treach, the third member of the group, reiterated the importance of social relevance when asked about the recent unrest in Baltimore over the death of black American Freddie Gray due to alleged police brutality.
“Personally, I was down on the front lines,” he revealed. The artist then recalled how back in the day, hip-hop artists would write about struggles like this and get the chance for airplay on the radio. “Bt now, the powers that be will not give [such music]a chance if they’re not fit for the club.”
Moreover, the foreign artists agreed that it is so much harder upstart hip-hop acts to break through to the music scene since technology and social media have made popularity an exact competition of statistics. According to Treach, labels nowadays rely on an upcoming artist’s social media popularity as the main criteria for signing them instead of looking for real talents.
As a message for artists who are “trapped under the bottleneck” of commercialized music consumption, Vin Rock said, “Do it from the heart, do it as a hobby and stay consistent.” He further advised musicians to aspire beyond making TV appearances because he believes that being a popular face is not the end all and be of a career in the music industry. He still has faith that musicians can make it big through sheer hard work.
Besides the seemingly high saturation of club music in hip-hop, Naughty by Nature also set the record straight on the perceived notion that the genre promotes violence.
“Hip hop is like the voice from the streets. We tell them the story that we see. I don’t think any hip-hop album is any more violent than CNN,” Treach said, drawing laughter from his audience.
MTV Music Evolution Manila Hip Hop premieres on Saturday, May 30 at 7 p.m. on MTV Philippines.