Complex Council member Al James said it best: Filipino hip-hop is bigger than ever before. The culture has evolved from being a copycat of Western music to encapsulating the Filipino experience, including tales of love, family, social issues, and familiar #PinoyPride. The wide range of genres, coupled with the accessibility of social media, has birthed a new generation of overwhelming talent, with each artist having their own signature flair and flow.
This abundance has also made discussing “best Filipino hip-hop artists” difficult. Is it enough that one has solid lyricism, or is that the bare minimum? Some might scoff at the idea that pure talent is not enough, but the industry changes quickly. The reality is that many of today’s successful and influential are master marketers as well, able to maximize Tiktok or whatever trend to capture their audience’s attention – and beyond.
So in making this list, we considered an artist’s talent, influence, and ability to innovate their music. When everyone is doing their thing and putting themselves out there, being unique and flexible dictates success. These are the 20 best Filipino hip-hop artists in their 20s.
There are various opinions about Skusta Clee, but one thing is sure: the guy is undeniably talented. One of two Ex-Batallion members on this list, Skusta is arguably the most successful of the collective, thriving in almost every venture he’ll dip his hands in. Whether it’s for his newborn child in “Lagi”, tributes to his personal life in “Zebbiana,” or as part of the trio O.C. Dawgs, people tune in to what he has to say.
JMara paints himself as an intense figure, tackling themes of social injustice and personal demons while walking through the streets of impoverished Manila with livid eyes. With tracks like ‘Mahal Kong Pilipinas’, ‘Wala’, and ‘Gapos’, the Morobeats artist is a modern ‘makata’ who offers a different perspective for those who stereotype rap as all about girls and fast cars.
Miss A & Fateeha
Age: 23 (Miss A), 20 (Fateeha)
The dynamic sibling duo of Morobeats can flow about #MorenaPride in KAYUMANGGI or drop head-bopping beats in Wit Tha Funk. Individually, Miss A has touched on Islamophobia and misogyny, while Fateeha on social issues with the occasional lighthearted offering. The girls – and Morobeats – are underrated gems that opened many eyes to talents outside of Manila.
Ken Suson’s transformation from SB19 popstar to his gritty FELIP persona is probably one of the best career transitions in recent memory. Local artists usually stick to their guns until they fall out of favor with the crowd or the industry, but FELIP is an example of how diverse today’s crop have become.
As proven by his debut album COM•PLEX earlier in February, the gamble has paid off. Those bass-heavy vocals are mesmerizing. Those who will scoff at this pick need to seriously get in with the times.
In his Complex PH interview, we gushed over kiyo and his work’s emphasis on authenticity. That’s exactly why he is on the list. The “Puyat” act is an open book to his followers, incorporating his family, friends, and everyman experiences in his MVs and singles. Sure, for every artist, their music is personal. But kiyo delivers the right messages while making you groove along the way.
Do you have a go-to rap whose flow is guaranteed to garner the “OOOHs” and “AAAHs”? “Real” by WAIIAN is one such track. Arguably the most popular member of Kartell’em, it’s insane how lyrically smooth WAIIAN can be while tackling themes of depression and self-existential crises. If you’re unwilling to go that deep, the overall chill vibe is a good fallback. Your buddy that frequents Poblacion surely agrees.
It’s weird to think that a 21-year-old is the top-of-mind when it comes to erotic songs in the vein of Marvin Gaye, but that’s what happens when your most popular single is about doing the deed in your BMW. Because doubled down on the hopeless romantic approach in Heartbreak SZN 2 to capture legions of loved-up followers.
‘It’s the Illest, baby” is a damn good catchphrase to tie the knot on every fire single that Illest Morena puts out. ‘Indigo Haze,’ ‘Pick Up,’ and her slew of releases based on the stages of love landed her on our list of Top Female Rappers Alive and as Spotify’s RADAR Cover Artist. Illest talks about sensuality minus vulgarity, making her an accessible artist in the mainstream.
“Chill Lang” perfectly sums up Mac Mafia’s music. Sunset drives, 3am talks, puffs on the corner of a dimly lit bar are scenarios that pop up in our minds with every listen of feelings and thank you. When the world is so chaotic, we turn to Mac’s lo-fi beats for refuge.
We’ve written about SHNTI before, but if you don’t know what’s up, her 2022 EP ELMNT is your chance to get educated. Flows full of indignation and the kind of wisdom that comes with youth permeate tracks such as “Bright” and ”Best Life.” Ashanti Bulanadi has cemented herself as a formidable emcee, but we believe there’s no other place to go but up.
From his 2018 EP RIP Indo Hisashi to his 2021 record It’s All Smiles, No Rome has displayed a knack for genre versatility that has paved the way for many of his peers to be as playful and experimental with their artistry as he has been. Though indie pop sensibilities and electronic textures pervade all his work, there is an undeniable R&B angle of attack to all of No Rome’s tracks, which makes him not just important to all conversations about Philippine R&B and hip-hop, but also absolutely essential.
Former Ex Battalion member, current trailblazer. Since going solo, Flow G has released an icy chain of singles showcasing his emcee virtuosity. In “G Wolf,” we hear him spitfire triplet bars better than Migos. The flow on “Praning” swaggers through the beat like a mob boss. And rapping in lockstep with Gloc 9 on “Bahay Yugyugan” – that’s no small feat. When it comes to bars, Flow G is armed and dangerous.
You might know the Fil-Am rapper as a collaborator on Ruby Ibarra’s “US,” but have you heard her 2019 record Dirty Cortez? There is a surefootedness to the way Klassy flows on that record, with lyrics that tackle themes of social justice and gentrification. Jazzy arrangements also make you feel like you’re in an episode of Hey Arnold. That’s class right there.
We’re just gonna go ahead and claim Saweetie. You’re likely familiar with her work because the stream numbers on her tracks routinely clock in at the hundred million. Her 2022 EP THE SINGLE LIFE is an exemplary specimen of a style of hip-hop where flow and beat are emphasized above everything else.
Bataan-based artist JRLDM sounds like no one else in Philippine hip-hop today. Soulful melodies and heart-tugging lyrics may have positioned JRLDM as the go-to hip-hop artist for melancholic listening (listen to “Biktima”). Still, his discography has so much more to offer. If anything, JRLDM puts his whole heart into the music he makes. Paired with innate vocal talent and technical know-how, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
It is crazy enough that Shanti Dope’s a household name (as far as Philippine hip-hop is concerned at 21), but to begin your music career with an album so stacked in terms of features (Apekz, Bawal Clan, and Owfuck, to name a few) and go toe-to-toe with each of them is a huge feat in itself. Co-signed by Loonie and Gloc-9, Shanti Dope appears heralded as the next generational talent in hip-hop. It’s undeniable at this point.
Ez Mil is no stranger to the music industry, being born to parents active in the music industry. The Olongapo-born, Nevada-residing artist gained huge popularity when he participated in (and took some shots at) Mark Beats’ 24-bar challenge. Ez Mil’s rapid-fire lyricism across multiple languages is worth writing about, but what’s more interesting is how he’s tapped into some part of the Filipino consciousness that resonates with many of us—case in point: his biggest hit Panalo (Trap Cariñosa).
Between the colorful wigs and the bossy attitude in her music videos, it’s easy to dismiss Zae as a Nicki Minaj knockoff. If anything, both artists share a certain charisma that oozes in the bars they drop, whether on screen or stage. Zae’s talents in rapping, dancing, and songwriting come best as a package, and she’s proven that she’s here to stay. Give her the flowers she deserves.
Whether it’s her solo work or as part of the electric hip-hop act Assembly Generals, Peaceful Gemini channels an energy that radiates in all the best ways. Themes of femininity, healing, and mindfulness add inflections that make her music enjoyable but also introspective: a much-needed voice juxtaposing to what everyone else is putting out right now.