How Pinoy rap addresses the Duterte administration

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Homegrown rappers such as BLKD, Calix (pictured), and Tito Uncle have used their body of work to address the administration's bloody drug war. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Hip-hop has been the language of dissidents ever since its early days. To rap is to express outrage, a scream of catharsis against the backdrop of widespread grief. “There’s nothing else to feel but grief and anger. The killings are still continuing. Four years of bloodshed, it’s about time we begin acting and moving.” says BLKD, who was instrumental in the creation of Kolateral, a 12-track hip-hop album chronicling the devastating effects of President Rodrigo Duterte’s longstanding “war on drugs”. Preparations for the project began as early as 2017 as a collaborative effort between researchers and musicians. Several families who have lost their members to the drug war were interviewed, and their stories are reflected throughout the album.

“One of the things that we were hoping to achieve in Kolateral was to combat disinformation. Personally, I believe the families that were left behind deserved to have their stories heard.” Factual accuracy and adherence to the truth were essential in the creation of the album. Here, numbers and data help paint the picture of a larger narrative.

The opening track, “Makinarya”, sums up the current status-quo. BLKD delivers the hook, “Bala ang batas, bala ang pitaka/ Bala ang balitang di makilala/ Ito'y digmaan, ito ang pasinaya/ Mga anak, kayo ang makinarya!” The tone is set to the sound of knocking, an allusion to the infamous tokhang M.O. Atmosphere and storytelling are important tools here, as the album zeroes in on the specific families affected. “Distansya” outlines the struggles of an Overseas Filipino Worker, Luzviminda Siapo, who lost her son after he was accused of selling marijuana. In “Papag”, Calix narrates the hardships of a family trying to get by, losing their father because of a false accusation in the end. Another track, “Hawak,” tells the tale of a young couple who also become casualties of the drug war.

Kolateral also serves as a showcase for the Philippines’ flourishing hip-hop scene. Both BLKD and Calix have a number of albums and mixtapes already under their belts, and neither are strangers to collaborative efforts. Several tracks have been co-signed by other rappers and collectives such as 1Kiao, Kartell’em, and TAO, and all of the album was produced by Serena_DC of Noface Records and Calix.

This isn’t the first Filipino record to address the Duterte administration either. In 2017, the rap group One Pro Exclusive released “Hustisya” in response to the death of their friend Michael Siaron. It was testified that Siaron had no involvement with drug pushing, and yet in July 2016, he was shot dead by an unidentified gunman. The image of the crime scene showing Siaron’s widow, Jennilyn Olayres, holding his body in an embrace spread across the news cycle. Taken by photojournalist Raffy Lerma, the photo was noted for being reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s “La Pieta.” The image still remains symbolic of the loss of thousands of innocent lives.

Recently, up-and-coming rapper Tito Uncle also released the track “Louis XVI” as a collaboration with the producer IZE!. His lyrics are a condemnation of state fascism and widespread police brutality. “I was really frustrated with everything just piling on top of each other. I felt like the government was fucking up and making a mess in every possible way. I was really anxious that day, I think I wrote the verse in 10 minutes.”

A testament to the power of research and collaboration, bodies of work made in response to the Duterte administration remain as relevant as ever. However, BLKD admits that protest art is empty without action, “Alone? It is weak. Materialistically? Useless. But it is still a tool, nonetheless. And if it’s a piece, whether intended or not, that can be used by the masses? Then it is important.”