Chito Miranda was right: We are in the golden age of OPM. The industry is enjoying the most mainstream attention in years, and Filipino hip-hop is no exception.
Per Spotify, local hip-hop has seen an impressive 700% growth in streams, with the newly-minted Kalye Hip-Hop playlist seeing five times in listenership since its launch in 2018. Globally, Filipino hip-hop is reaching territories like the United States, Canada, and Australia.
It’s no surprise then that we’re hearing more about Al James, Flow G, and the crossing over of genres like Syd Hartha and Kindred with Kiyo. But as the genre expands, so does its reach. Artists outside of Manila are getting heard, thanks to the Internet and platforms eager to capitalize on the trend.
Through its Kalye X campaign, Spotify looks to promote Bisaya hip-hop globally through two artists: Midnasty from Dumaguete, and Cookie$ from Cebu. Both went all out for a one-night-only showcase at Cebu’s Plaza Independencia, performing their hits and their new Spotify Single, “Wa Na Wa” in front of a raucous crowd.
Midnasty x Cookie$ “Wa Na Wa”
Admittedly, Bisaya hip-hop is a foreign concept, at least for those of us living in Metro Manila and most of northern Luzon. Majority of the thriving OPM hits are in Tagalog, the main language of the capital region. Bisaya bears little resemblance to Tagalog, and this divide tends to overshadow an otherwise talented roster of artists from the southern islands of Visayas and Mindanao.
But the great thing about Midnasty and Cookie$ is that they’re more than willing to share their culture, perhaps rooted in a strong desire to break through the regional divide. It also helps that we Filipinos are inherent music lovers; we may have our differences, but we are united in finding an excuse to sing together and have a good time.
Complex Philippines caught up with Midnasty and Cookie$ during Spotify’s Kalye X in Cebu to talk about Bisaya hip-hop, representation, and its future.
Who are Midnasty and Cookie$?
Midnasty: We are Arkho, Nikko, and Makoy.
Cookie$: My real name is Job Mari Penalosa
(Center) Cookie$ (L-R) Nikko, Arhko, Makoy
Where did the names come from?
Arkho (Midnasty): Midnasty came from my kuya [brother]. He said na “Mid” kasi nasa Visayas kami, “Nasty” because it was a slang he used [as a compliment]. Like “Kahit mahirap ka (Even if you’re poor), you want to be somebody, that’s nasty.”
Cookie$: My friends from Atlanta, Georgia used to laugh at me for always wearing the same black shirt with a white print in Old English text that says “Cookies”. It’s my favorite shirt, and they started calling me Cookie$ from then on.
How did you get started in hip-hop?
Nikko (Midnasty): Makoy and I were in the same high school. My brothers Arkho, Fry, and Murray, are the first generation of Midnasty. Makoy and I are the younger ones and we used to have a group called Chiled Minds Clique.
My brothers Fry and Murray decided to be our producers and directors, opening up a slot for me and Makoy to join Midnasty.
Cookie$: I used to be in the band scene in Cebu playing drums. When I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, that was my first taste of hip-hop. Everywhere I went, coffee shops, gas stations, the music was there, specifically trap. They had Future, 21 Savage, Young Thug, Migos, you name it. [The influence] was subconscious.
[TO MIDNASTY] Who are your influences?
Arkho: My kuyas introduced us to Nelly and the St. Lunatics. Sabi niya ‘Tignan niyo sila, maangas sila, pero tumutulong sila sa parents nila (Look at them, they look tough, but they take care of their parents). Our other influences are T.I and Ludacris.
What is your music usually about?
Cookie$: I used to cover everyday topics. One of my first songs that blew up was Bogo which means “stupid”. It’s about being angry at someone because they’re stupid. Bisdako is Bisaya empowerment. Beplop is about relationships. My next songs will be more serious in tone.
For Midnasty, your most-streamed song is “Lame” (4M streams). For Cookie$, it’s “Sabak Daddy”. What are those songs about?
Nikko: “Lame” is a word for “delicious”. It’s describing a reyna (a queen). Like she’s one-of-a-kind and “delicious” in all aspects.
Cookie$: It’s about the promiscuity of the entertainment realm. It’s very literal.
Would you say those are your best songs?
Nikko: I’d say our favorite song is Bisag Asa. It’s a crowd favorite every time, along with “Ilongga.”
Arkho: Bisag Asa is about life, the ups and downs, walang iwanan (leave no one behind).
Cookie$: [Sabak Daddy] is actually my least favorite. A lot of people started calling me “Sabak, Daddy” and I don’t like it. I gotta make more songs (laughs)
[To Cookie$] When did you decide to rap in Bisaya instead of English given your Georgia background?
Cookie$: I was on a Facebook live and started freestyling in Bisaya. Shoutout to Chad Manzo who loved it and was like “Yo, that’s your sound. That’s it!”
[To Midnasty] Midnasty has been around since 2001. That’s a very long time. How would you say Bisaya sound has evolved over the years?
Makoy: The sound grew with the technology, but I’d say what really changed is the content.
Nikko: Bisaya sound used to be more of novelty songs or labeled as [comedic]. So part of our mission is for [listeners] to take us more seriously.
What about you Cookie$?
Cookie$: What we had in Bisaya was the band scene like Urbandub and Franco. Shoutout to Loonie, a Cebuano, for becoming a legend in Fliptop and Tagalog rap battles. Now, Tagalog and Bisaya rap have the same vibe because the Internet allows us to exchange [ideas and influences]
Arkho – Midnasty
Hip-hop feuds are common in the Western scene, where we largely take inspiration from. But they’re surprisingly uncommon here in the Philippines. Why is that?
Nikko: I think it’s because we’re very focused on the mission, which is to put Bisaya music [on the map]. There are people who diss but we just don’t mind them. I think there are more comparisons [than feuds]. Sometimes, we hear from friends “When you go to Manila, mag-Bisaya ka ha, wag ka mag-Tagalog.” (speak in Bisaya, not in Tagalog).
Makoy: Usually it’s the fans [who feud].
Nikko: We’ll leave the fighting to the fans (laughs). Our responsibility is to push for Bisaya music, and that involves being collaborative, including with Tagalog artists.
Cookie$: I love the homies in Manila. If ever there is drama, that’s a Filipino pastime to create scenarios to get feelings riled up. We can’t control that, but for me, [there’s nothing].
Do you think your fans are more passionate than most because of your push for Bisaya music?
Nikko: I really think so, especially with this event by Spotify. We’ve seen people inviting their friends, calling out “Suportahan niyo yung Bisaya music!” (Support Bisaya music!)
Nikko and Makoy – Midnasty
Filipino hip-hop used to have a reputation for being “for the streets” or “jeje”. But the genre has grown so fast in recent years in terms of streams, charts, and support. What changed?
Nikko: I think it’s because hip-hop “walks the talk”. Kung ano yung isinulat mo sa lyrics, ikaw talaga yan (The lyrics reflect who you really are). It’s easier for listeners to consume something they can relate to, and it’s easier for the artist to create something that’s true to them.
How do you see Bisaya music in the near future with the exposure it’s enjoying?
Nikko: For me, it’s all about pushing Bisaya hip-hop to the world stage. How do we do that? By pushing more content and collaborations like these.
Cookie$: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m excited for the future because there’s gonna be a lot of resources and investment that will help the Bisaya, not just music, but also the art and creative scene. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be the next K-Pop vibe if done right.
Midnasty and Cookie$