When Chito Miranda said that we’re in the golden age of Original Pinoy Music (OPM), we unanimously chimed “AMEN.” Thanks to social media, hyped collaborations, and an overwhelming boom of talent in lyricism and sound across genres, OPM has never enjoyed this much love and popularity. Records were shattered, rabid fanbases were formed, and international charts were reminded of the innate Filipino talent in music.
As such, crafting this list wasn’t easy. We considered streaming numbers, cultural impact, and sprinkles of personal preference. There will be budding artists left out, or high-profile releases that somehow escaped our radar (you’re welcome to plug them on the comments below). But one thing’s assured from those included: they are proof that OPM’s future is pretty freaking fantastic.
From R&B albums to trending hip-hop tracks, here are Complex PH’s picks for the best OPM releases of 2023.
FELIP (COMPLEX – Album)
We’ve said this before, but Ken Suson’s transformation from SB19 popstar to his hip-hop persona FELIP is one of the best career transitions in recent memory. While the P-Pop group is big on upbeat and colorful visuals, FELIP took a grittier approach for his COMPLEX EP that showcases his affinity for grunge vocals and MVs. The complete 180 is a solid surprise, but it also ups the standard for other Filipino artists looking to diversify.
PLAYERTWO (Happy Accidents – Album)
We called PLAYERTWO’s “Happy Accidents” album “Filipino hip-hop at its most fun”. It brought out the more unserious side of the genre, which often deals with social issues or the need to flex. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what if we just want to say we’re “THINKING OF LOVE” or bop to “THAT’S MY BABY”? It’s light, it’s cheese, and it’s a must-have feeling nowadays.
Morobeats, Midnasty, Cookie$, Gloc-9, Hero, Ramdiss (‘Kendeng’, ‘Wa Na Wa’, ‘Umaga’ – Single)
Shoutout to Spotify Philippines for expanding our music taste beyond the usual Manila-centric sound with their Kalye X campaign, which featured the first-ever Spotify Singles. Of course, the capital still gets its shine with “Umaga” featuring the trio of Gloc-9, Hero, and Ramdiss. But the campaign also included Midnasty, Cookie$, and Morobeats to represent the sounds of Visayas and Mindanao with ‘Kendeng’ and ‘Wa Na Wa’.
The exposure proves the rapid growth of Filipino music beyond usual borders, and the diversification of hip-hop since its debut 50 years ago.
Juan Karlos (Ere – Single)
No single captured the hopeless romantic side of Filipinos more than Juan Karlos’ enigmatic single, “Ere” from his album ‘Sad Songs and Bullshit Part 1”. It had everything: the heart-thumping tempo, the cuss words to emphasize that this shit really hurts, and even the knack to be taken out of context (“Tatlong bilyong, ikaw lang nga ang aking gusto.”). Plus, it carries baggage from a real-life relationship, which added fire to its already heartbreaking lyrics.
“Ere” would’ve topped streaming numbers if it was released earlier in the year, but JK can rest easy knowing he won the hearts of the “sawi” everywhere.
Hev Abi (Kung Alam Mo Lang – Album)
Hev Abi merges his private and innermost thoughts with an undeniably catchy sound in his latest album “Kung Alam Mo Lang”. It would’ve been easy to dismiss Hev as a fleeting Tiktok trend, but tracks like “From Torillo, With Love” and “Still” prove he has something fresh to offer the genre. Combined with his virality and solid flows, Hev is a hip-hop juggernaut in the making.
O SIDE MAFIA (Get Low – Single)
Embracing themes of sex, money, and drugs, O SIDE MAFIA has found a rabid following with those who adore the grittier origins of hip-hop. The collective doubled down in 2023 with singles like “Drugs in tha club”, but the year saw O SIDE flex a more varied taste in their sound. The grunge aesthetic is still there, and the streaming numbers say the crowd loves their signatures, but seeing young artists grow beyond the familiar is always a plus in our book.
“Puyat” is the perfect showcase of what makes kiyo a gravitational talent. The 23-year-old is versatile enough to create bop-worthy vibes of being head-over-heels with someone, and somber tones of reflection regarding fame and family. Along with newcomer Yvng Peso, kiyo narrates a beautiful story about the latter.
Al James, Flow G (Atin-Atin Lang)
We only get 1-2 singles max from Al James all year, but boy, does he make it count. ‘Atin-Atin Lang” sees AJ team up with Flow G for a single about escaping and being blissfully unaware of other people’s opinions. Sums up our headspace for 2024.
SICA (Amboy Shit)
What is it with the Kartell’em boys being significantly chiller outside the collective? Sica dropped ‘Amboy Shit’ reminiscent of California palm trees and top-down drives with the Hollywood sign in view. You don’t need to be in Los Angeles to fully appreciate the vibes, and the remix version featuring Hev Abi and HELMERRY further beefs up the track.
Shanti Dope (Guns & Roses – Album)
It’s surreal to think that Shanti Dope is only 22 given that he seems to have been around forever. But Shanti’s staying power is a testament to his flexibility, and “Guns & Roses” is the latest proof. We’re hard-pressed to find a favorite from the 7-track album, which ranges from R&B, old-school hip-hop, to those perfect for late-night drives.
Denise Julia (Sweet Nothings Chapter 1 – EP)
We predicted earlier in the year that Denise Julia is primed for a breakthrough. Fast forward to today, she has placed the “One Hit Wonder” tag to sleep. Her EP “Sweet Nothings Chapter 1” carries a soothing and elegant sound that has R&B purveyors in a chokehold. It doesn’t hurt that her single B.A.D. also touches on Morena representation. Denise’s meteoric rise is a good sign of relevancy for a genre that tends to slip in and out of public consciousness.
DENY (LOVES7AGE – Album)
Pretty maangas DENY has been making waves in the R&B scene since her 2021 single “Gusto With Ya” and there’s no sign of slowing down with “LOVES7AGE”. She brings her A-game, writing the album in its entirety and collaborating with the likes of Just Hush, Third Flo, and Arthur Nery. In our interview, DENY says “LOVES7AGE” is a compilation of her personal relationship experiences, which might explain why her latest work hits just a little bit deeper.
DEMI (homebdy – Single)
DEMI rounds out the R&B resurgence with “homebdy”, a collaboration with Madman Stan that netted 62 million streams on Spotify and counting. A more recent collab with Hev Abi in “Pakundangan” proves that DEMI is an artist worth looking out for in 2024.
Nateman(“Parehas Tayo”, “Paboritong Pagkakamali”, “Hirap Mong Mahalin” – Singles)
Multiple entries for this list might sound like cheating, but that’s how prolific of a year Nateman has had. The numbers have been absurd, with six singles each garnering north of a million streams in this year alone. Nateman’s songs have tapped into the eternal lovesick tendencies of Filipinos, a reliable formula, but as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Dilaw, Lola Amour, Sunkissed Lola, and Various Artists
Patrick Kho’s opinion piece on Rappler said it best “The Filipino singer needs to evolve.” While we’re free to rest on our laurels as impressive clones of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, we need to discover a sound that is uniquely ours. If judging by the explosion of OPM in 2023, we are well on our way.
Dilaw (“Uhaw”), Lola Amour (“Raining in Manila”, Sunkissed Lola (“Pasilyo”) and many others topped streaming numbers for the year with their modernization of the “Manila Sound”, a genre from the 70s mostly defined by jazz and disco. Today’s iteration still carries bits and pieces of these while expanding to pop, soft rock, and soul. The arrangements are more unique, leading to a fresher sound that hopefully can make its mark in the world.