Uncovering battle rap with FlipTop’s Anygma
© Nina Sandejas
Emcee Anygma talks about Manila’s popular rap battle competition.
Founded by 26-year-old Alaric Riam Yuson (better known as Anygma) along with two others, FlipTop - to the perennial frustation of the league - has become a widely-used (erroneous) term for a rap battle. Perhaps it's an indication of its extensive reach - that even among the most avid of fans, FlipTop now stands for anything and everything hiphop locally.
Having faced accusations of rigging for more than four years now, Anygma points out that while there may have been "questionable decisions" made by judges in determining battle winners, it's to be expected in a field that "involves subjectivity and/or art". He explains,
Viewers' displeasure with the battles' outcome can also be reflective of the sad, undeniable reality that our country is rife with many forms of corruption, so much so that they even accuse battle rap decisions of being corrupted.
Such astute observations and political consciousness have aided the young emcee not only in explaining his way out of potentially tense situations with incensed live audiences or online followers, but also in battling his way to the forefront of the local hiphop scene. Check out any of his battle videos and, while the lines and rhymes are different, the same awareness of socio-political realities is present in every single one. It’s not just his performances that vary in depth, other rappers featured by FlipTop are similarly conscious of some of life’s harsher truths.
More than their spirited deliveries, rappers lend credibility to such statements because most come from working-class backgrounds. They live out the same difficulties that a few only glimpse through their rhymes. Out of about 200 local artists, FlipTop’s main man estimates that only 10% do it full-time. Anygma, a Philosophy graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University, is part of the minority that sees rapping as a long-term career.
Since FlipTop made the genre more accessible to an identifiably wider audience, it was natural for the country’s big-name labels to take an interest in some of the league’s best emcees. Though a few, such as Abra, Shehyee, and Loonie, have found success in more commercial ventures, Anygma still believes that “profit should never be an emcee’s first and foremost concern and most especially not over their supposed passion for the art form.”
Far from begrudging fellow rappers their success outside FlipTop and the underground battle rap scene, Anygma is just as proud of what other artists have achieved. As always, he approaches the subject from a different perspective – one that stems from genuine concern for the future of the culture and the people who continue to advance it.
The last thing I would want for a fellow artist or rapper is to be undervalued or abused by corporate entities and organizations.
Anygma continues, "especially with the booming phenomenon of battle rap and hiphop, you suddenly have all these hungry opportunists from the outside looking in. Where were they before all of this? What did they care about hiphop before it became a source of additional revenue for them? They [couldn’t] care less about uplifting the culture and advancing the art form just as long as they get their numbers at the end of the day."
In the world of underground hiphop, many share the same sentiment. It’s nothing short of selling out when an artist signs with a mainstream label. Anygma believes that the companies’ interest lie solely in profit, the reverse of what he and his league work for.
“FlipTop was able to achieve what none of these heavily funded, profit-oriented organizations would ever have the brains or balls of doing. We brought such a niche and frowned-upon culture to mainstream-like awareness with nothing more than a Facebook account, a YouTube account, and a lot of hard work," he said.
We’re a grassroots, raw and uncut movement that, for a brief but proud period in time, had gained authority over mainstream media as far as hiphop was concerned.
It doesn’t help that popular shows and acts choose to portray a version of hiphop that’s “dumbed down, watered down, (and misinformed).” Top of the list is the popular weekly gag show character named “Boy Pickup,” a caricature that has caused people to see the growing hiphop culture in a negative light.
...it’s not all about big clothes, bitches and bling-bling...
“So here we are, trying to present to other people the extents of hiphop lyricism in the form of battle rap, the many other elements or facets of the culture, that it’s not all about big clothes, bitches and bling-bling, that there is actual substance in rap. And people are starting to catch on and educate themselves more about it. Then Boy Pickup resurrects the whole ‘Yo, yo, yo’ stereotype [and] giving value to nonsensical and unfunny lines,” Anygma said.
Aside from television shows and movies, FlipTop also has to contend with “copycat events” funded by mainstream companies that, according to Anygma, exploit aspiring rappers with an overly simplified format. The deviation cheats everyone involved out of a genuine hiphop experience: the rappers from gaining legitimate battle rap know-how and the audience from a deeper engagement with the genre.
The aspiring emcee does not further anything in his passion, is misled into thinking that he can make it in hiphop if he joins the event, and all the viewers in the provinces that we cannot afford to reach yet are left with a really poor first impression of what a hiphop or rap event is supposed to be like.
Why not just work with those companies for the mutual benefit of hiphop? With their extensive reach and financial capacity combined with FlipTop’s artistic vision, battle rap could, in theory, be made known and patronized by a broader audience at an even faster pace. Anygma clarified that it’s not for lack of trying to reach out to mainstream institutions. It’s that the two parties do not share the same ideas on what hiphop is and should be. Companies see too much aggressiveness and vulgarity in the art; the battle league sees rhythm and rhyme in their most raw and most real forms.
“Believe it or not I’ve even had a motel chain and a condom company turn down our sponsorship proposals because we weren’t wholesome by their standards. In other words, unless the mainstream is willing to accept or at least be open-minded about hiphop in its entirety, it will not be easier to change the Philippine rap scene for the better by partnering with them.”
With Uprising, the independent label and management company he co-founded in Dec. 2013 and co-manages with Juss Rye of hiphop group SVC, Anygma has created another avenue for hiphop to be expressed as it should – free from any guise of being wholesome or connotations of being too vulgar or aggressive for the listening majority. Among their roster are local hiphop stars Protégé, Zaito, BLKD, and KJah; all with albums in the works.
Perhaps if the task of keeping hiphop thriving and relevant for old and new fans alike had fallen into the hands of a less passionate man, the movement would have drifted back into obscurity in no time. Anygma admits, “It's definitely more than tough having to juggle all the work though: from heading the three-man staffed FlipTop, to Uprising work, my solo career, and personal goals and responsibilities.”
But it’s easy to see that beyond being “work,” it’s become an advocacy for Anygma. That what he wants for the genre and the league is above monetary gains or universal popularity. It is and has always been about the creative output over potential income. Not an easy thing to stand by, for sure, especially in an increasingly profit-driven entertainment industry.
Even if FlipTop has achieved recognition in a way that other leagues have not been able to do, there’s still a long way to go for hiphop to be appreciated and understood in its entirety. Anygma reminds fellow rappers...
If you feel the need to compromise, and especially if you recognize your own compromising, hopefully it is merely in order to reach a level wherein you won’t have to compromise any further.