Besides Francis M., personally, I think the real reason why hip-hop is still prominent in the Philippines is because of the existence of FlipTop – the first Filipino rap battle league.
FlipTop started in early February of 2010. Upon uploading their first batch of rap battle videos, they’ve become an instant hit in the internet, averaging about 5 million hits per video on YouTube, making it the most watched rap battle of the world.
I was able to attend their latest event last May 5, 2012 and it was held at The Collective at Malugay Street, Makati City. The experience was very different in a positive way. As I was walking down Malugay Street (because there were no jeepneys in Malugay Street) going to the actual venue, I could already see people with caps and chains, smoking a cigarette, loitering around the alleys. I was quite nervous because it was my first time going to events like these. The thought of people from the alleys smoking cigarettes (… or whatever they were actually smoking…) and I am going to be in one place was very nerve wracking.
As I was close to the actual venue, there were A LOT of people loitering by the gate, again, all wearing caps. I even recognized some of them because I, myself, am a big fan of this FlipTop rap battle movement and I recognized notable battle MCs that I have watched on YouTube. Upon entering the gates, loud beats were already audible. There were also A LOT bouncers with gigantic biceps lurking around the venue to assure safety and security through the event. These made me less scared and more excited.
I also learned from a friend I met there that it was natural for sketchy looking people in the alleys to be there because they were only ‘mga tambay‘ who can’t afford to buy tickets and just loiter there to get a peek of what was happening inside the gates.
Moving on… Upon entering the center of the venue where the stage for the battle MCs was fixed, I had this very distinct feeling of appreciation for hip-hop, itself. Honestly at first, hip-hop for me was just simply artists who rhyme and wear baggy bottoms and over sized tops, wearing different caps and escorted by numerous half-naked women. When I was standing at the middle of everything, the appreciation of real hip-hop came to me when I saw people spraying the walls with sick graffiti arts, DJs (the real ones that DJ for the music and not for the hype and the parties) doing their thing with the turntables and legit beatboxers doing what they do best. In addition to that, there were a lot of battle MCs that literally just form a circle out of nowhere and do ciphers (freestyle sessions where rappers randomly pass the turn to rap to other rappers in the circle, thus, building up to an impromptu verse out of nowhere) just for the heck of it. I realized that these people really do it for the culture and love of hip-hop and not for the money. I guess this is why these brilliant people chose to stay in the underground scene and not in the mainstream.
By the time the first battle was about to start, people rushed around the stage and was all hyped up and excited. It was also awesome to encounter in person the familiar pre-battle ritual always being done as in the YouTube videos. This ritual involves Anygma, the president and founder of Fliptop and also an underground rapper, orders the people to make some noise and then introduces the battle MCs individually, all done while he is being recorded by a cameraman. I had goose bumps and was in total awe when this was occurring because obviously, I finally am seeing a battle LIVE!
Battle rappers were given 3 minutes a round to let them deliver their verses to their opponent. The audience, including me, were really at the edge of our seats (ironically, we were standing up while watching) as we cheer and laugh for every punch line the battle MCs throw to their opponents. It was really like watching a boxing match where you won’t know who the winner is until Anygma, after consulting the handpicked judges, announces it. Well, in other cases, audiences would know who the winner is if it is already obvious. They call these cases ‘body bag’ or simply, in Filipino ‘kain’. This is when one battle MC choked and froze there on the spot sitting like a duck or when one MC just simply delivers killer bars (lines that are said until there is a slight pause matched with another line rhyming with it). It was also nice that at the end of every battle, no matter how offensive and personal the bars the battle MCs said to each other, they always shake hands and laugh about it, all for the love of hip-hop and rap battling.
What was really enjoyable in the event was having the chance to interact with my idols in rap battling. It was so epic to know how they are off the camera. Well, they were very friendly and they treat you as if you’re one of their actual friends. An example was when Batas (THE Batas), who was famous for his hardcore persona in rap battling and also his notable baldhead and long goatee (hehe), greeted me and toasted a beer with me and was all like ‘oy pare, ayos ba?’. There was no denying it; I was really star struck then.
The overall experience I had in this FlipTop event was very awesome. I would definitely attend future Fliptop events because I really had a blast last May 5. I would really recommend this for people who are fans of hip-hop and what it is really all about.
-Nathaniel Juan SA21-J