published in POC.
“Sinugal ko na. Lalakarin na lang namin mula Freedom Bar hanggang UP (University of the Philippines) kapag natalo.” He did not win. Fortunately, his companion won second place and more than enough cash to afford their ride back to UP.
He told me the story as we crouched in a low-ceilinged room, with me waiting for him to warm up to the interview through the pounding of percussion music from down downstairs. The setting was a Friday the 13th bash, in a venue that was perhaps not his usual turf. At first he seemed non-plussed, albeit pleasantly overwhelmed by all the attention he was getting. When we were scouting for a private place to chat, we would now and then be held up by fans who wanted to have their photos taken with him. In the program, his name was being put on blast every so often to the delight and anticipation of the crowd. People were waiting for him to make an appearance.
Not bad for someone who “almost” did not make it as FlipTop MC, yes? He eventually got in. After the auditions, he was called back as a “special pick” by the organizers. “Ewan ko. Baka may nakita silang something. Baka nagustuhan nila ‘yung lyrics ko.” “Tapos?” I asked. “Tapos, ‘yun na.”
“I started out as a fan,” BLKD recounts. His interest in rap battles started in 2006, through YouTube. “Pang-enjoy lang. Naghahanap lang ako ng pagkakatuwaan sa Internet.”
“2006 ko rin natuklasan ‘yung Grind Time. Natuwa ako kasi ginawa nang liga ang rap battle, parang sport na siya or competitive art. Ang porma kasi ng original rap battle, free style na may beats, on-the-spot lang yung lyrics. Ang bago sa Grind Time, ‘modern’ ang format, walang beat, acapella, openly written o openly prepared ang mga laban. Pinaghahandaan talaga ng mga MCs (master of ceremonies) ang mga battles nila.”
BLKD said he preferred the modern genre because it allows MCs to focus more on lyricism. “Kasi sa free style na format, kahit gaano ka kagaling, limitado rin ang magagawa mo in terms of lyricism. Sa Grind Time, tinanggal ‘yung beat para pwede mong paglaruan ‘yung flow.”
By 2010, he was already, in his own terms, “an avid fan”. “Naubusan na ako ng papanooring battles, napanood ko na lahat. Sinubukan kong mag-search ng Filipino rap battles at nakita ko ‘yung FlipTop.”
What was his first impression of FlipTop? “I was disappointed. Sa US kasi, bastusan din naman, pero magaganda ang figures of speech, maganda ‘yung flow. ‘Yung dito, parang nakulong na sa basta makapanlait lang ‘yun na. I felt I had something to offer kaya sumali ako.”
BLKD admits that he is “a writer first, an MC next.” “Hindi talaga ako marunong mag-free style, writer talaga ang background ko. Naiinis ako kapag ‘may masabi lang’, parang gusto ko pang i-revise.”
His self-imposed discipline as a writer is fairly impressive. It takes him at least two weeks to a month to prepare for a battle. His lines, or more aptly his poetry, stem from meticulous brainstorming, research, editing and re-editing to achieve his own strict standards. “Ang default, alam mo na kung sino ang kalaban mo a month before the battle. You’re given a month to prepare kaya hindi pwedeng ganon-ganon lang.”
“Maraming nagsasabing loyal sila sa free style, I have nothing against that. Sa FlipTop naman pwede kang maghamon ng free style battle. Pero kung maghahamon sila ng nagsusulat tapos babatuhan ka ng, ‘Bakit ka nagsusulat?’, ang labo. Para kang sumali sa kickboxing pero suntok ka lang tapos magrereklamo ka kapag sumisipa ang kalaban mo.”
BLKD is an activist, inside and outside of the rap battle grounds. Aside from being a social work and community development major in UP Diliman, he is also currently the secretary-general of activist artist group Sinagbayan.
How does he feel when his activism is being portrayed as a “liability” by his opponents? “Okay lang, ” he shrugs. “Ganoon naman talaga sa battle, tailored na sa iyo kung ano ang sasabihin ng kalaban mo. Kung pangit ka iyon na ang paulit-ulit na sasabihin, kung addict ka iyon at iyon na. Ako, aktibista ako.”
Does he see it as a liaibility? “Not at all.” He adds, “Saka sa battle lang iyon, kapag harapan na, may respeto. Lalo na dahil hindi naman lingid sa kanila ang history and progressive roots ng hiphop. Alam din nila kung ano ang pinanggalingan ng hiphop, na kilusan itong nagmula sa kultura ng mahihirap, marginalized at oppressed.”
He has been dubbed as “The Future of Hiphop”, an image that he humbly refuses to indulge in. “Nakaka-pressure din. Actually, hindi rin ako naniniwala. Mas ituturing ko pa ‘yung mga tulad ni K-Jah na future of hiphop, kasi siya, wala pang FlipTop, rapper na talaga. Mula umpisa hiphop na talaga. Ako ngayon lang.”
BLKD may not perceive himself as “the future” but he most certainly is “the present”. His entry into FlipTop “revolutionized” the genre – reminiscent of the traditional Balagtasan, a popular form of debate through metered poetry and witticism that tackled political and socially relevant themes during the 1920s – and ushered in other emerging MCs who now dare to explore topics beyond the otherwise usual personality-based mud-slinging and derogatory exchanges.
He realizes though that FlipTop, and rap in general, still has a long way to go in terms of “unifying form and content”. “Sa ngayon, dominant pa at hindi pa nababasag ‘yung kaisipan sa form na ‘basta nag-rhyme ok na’, kahit walang figures of speech, walang syllabic rhymes, walang flow, walang word play. On the other hand, mayroon na rin namang iba na socially-relevant na ang content pero hindi naman sila talaga naniniwala sa sinasabi nila, o kaya naman ay walang disiplina sa form.”
To this end, he excitedly told me about a new project in the works. BLKD, together with like-minded MCs, is currently in the process of forming a “hiphop collective” with the objective of bringing together rappers, deejays, graffiti artists and dancers who want to share their art and talents to advance socially-relevant causes.
“Maraming mga hiphop na progresibo o mga aktibista na nga pero kalat-kalat pa sila, kami. Bukod sa dapat magkaroon ng venue para ma-showcase ang mga likhang-sining nila, mas higit pa, pwede ring magamit ang hiphop bilang tool for organizing. Kahit sa FlipTop, marami nang mga nagtatanong kung saan pwedeng makipagtalakayan tungkol sa socially-relevant issues.”
His enthusiasm on the prospects of “hiphop organizing” was contagious. “Hindi lang lupon ng mga porma ng sining ang hiphop. Ibalik natin ito sa ugat nitong pagiging cultural movement para sa pagsusulong ng pagbabagong panlipunan. Walang mali sa paglaban, may mali kaya lumaban.” Word. ###