Philippine hip-hop is a force of nature, ever-present in the shifts of the country’s history and culture. From the incendiary, anti-establishment poetry of Gloc-9 and Sandata, to the R&B-laced soul sounds of No Rome and Jason Dhakal, various acts in the scene form a bigger picture of authentic artistry. If you need a gateway into this world, begin with the artists gigging today, penning legendary rhymes today, and setting fire to the mic today.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of ten formidable hip-hop artists to watch out for—some established and repping, others coming up from the underground as legends in the making. Keep your senses on the pulse for what these artists might offer as 2023 rolls in.
The supergroup Kindred made a splash this year with a citywide tour, but this reinvention of the boyband concept—comprised of Slomo Says, nouvul, Cavill, VINCED, Punzi, dot.jaime and Fern. —really announced themselves with the release of their debut single, Switch On U!. It’s a bouncy track that finds its power in its catchy hooks and pristine production. Unsurprising, considering all the talent involved. The boys of Kindred have been involved in the electronic music scene for a good long while, so it’s good to see them venture into poppier territory.
If you’re looking for a rapper who can wax poetic about what’s divine and general cosmic energy, Peaceful Gemini is your gal. The emcee’s penchant for mellow beats that take its stylistic cues from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest remains a strong point in her latest EP, Leo Rising. PG’s soulful lyricism is also elevated by the strong production work of Skeematic, the elegant vocals of Nicole Anjela on Moment to Breath and Gising na Gising and Nuevo’s flow in Twin Flame.
O SIDE MAFIA
Let their EP, O COAST, a collection of menacing sounds, be what introduces you to Malate-based hip-hop trio O SIDE MAFIA. You might recognize them for hits they released during the height of the pandemic, from the belligerent TOKYO DRIFT to the seedy-as-all hell YEAH HOE, but Gee, Cashman and Madman are gunning for bigger with this release.
GO GETTA is the highlight of the EP, a coolly delivered flex about authenticity. “Bitch we walk the talk, ‘di lang sinabi, matic laging flight kasi batang Malate / Sanay na ‘to sa mud kasi nga galing kalye, sa laro kami god ‘lam mong di mamamate.”
At just 19 years old, this Quezon City-based rapper at just 19 years old is doing it levels above most scene veterans. Her EP, ELMNT, with Calix on production, shows Shnti coming out the gates swinging with tracks that all have different things going on lyrically and beat-wise. In an interview for NME, she says: “I just wanna remind adults about the morals that they’ve forgotten. They teach us stuff but forget how to act later on.”
Fear the wordsmith who wields that kind of wisdom.
August Wahh’s last big release was Labyrinth, her collab EP with producer CRWN. The R&B singer-songwriter’s been busy since then. Her 2021 singles, Ze Ocean and Woo Woo, saw her coming into her own as a musician. Her latest single, Blurred Lines, is a disco-adjacent dance tune that showcases Wahh’s vocal versatility and knack for hook-craft. If this is the kind of creative flourishing that comes from kicking it with Careless, sign us up.
DB Tha Girl
A member of renowned hip-hop collective Baryo Berde, DB Tha Girl is one of the most adept rappers in the game, though she hasn’t gotten her flowers just yet. Her 2020 EP, Aether, is a criminally underrated offering of dark beats and pugnacious bars that remains under-streamed. Give Aether, and DB’s collabs with Peaceful Gemini, a well-deserved listen.
The 15-year-old rapper, heads and shoulders above many of her peers, certainly earned her stripes with her 2021 self-titled EP. Yakap was an ode to love and romance that clues us in on the heights R&B can reach when we leave it to the next generation. Alex Bruce’s latest single, Ayoko Pa, plays up her knack for making amorous, high quality pop rap. Think vintage Ariana Grande with a dash of Dice & K9 thrown in.
You know Ex Battalion. You know the 2021 runaway hit that was Lagi, a highly melodic earworm that proved the rapper’s skills can come out in full force—even when he’s sentimental. What’s amazing to learn though is that Skusta Clee hasn’t lost momentum. Listen to his latest single Solo, and watch out for future releases. The man can’t be stopped.
This one’s for the hyperpop kids. Rockstargumdrop is trenchantly tongue-in-cheek in his lyricism, beat-making and exaggerated auto-tune shenaniganry. Cloud-rap at its finest here. Thru Ur Phone from 2021 sounds like something Iyaz would’ve come up with if he watched a lot of anime. That’s just how Rockstargumdrop rolls, in case you couldn’t tell from glitchy, computer-crashing track Keyblade, which he sang with Kusu, Shinji2K and Baby Basa. If that doesn’t convince you, his latest release Swagga Anthem will, with the way it manages to both parody and pay homage to gangsta rap.
8 BALLIN is absolutely on the come-up. In 2022, the Angono-based hip-hop quartet gave us hit after hit. There was the tropically infectious ALON, the diamond-laced FANCY and their newest offering, SHOWTIME, which manages to be both triumphant and chill, thanks to the outfit’s finesse delivery and exquisitely mixed horns. Here’s hoping a mixtape, EP, or whole album is steady on its way.
In case it wasn’t clear yet, the hip-hop scene in the Philippines isn’t going anywhere but up.
Words Jam Pascual