As the clock strikes nine at night, an audience fills up an arena. People crowd every side of the platform, wanting to be as close to the action as possible. Up on that platform, an artist builds up his confidence and rehearses the lines he crafted for the battle ahead. A member of the FlipTop organization, he not only has an obligation to himself to deliver his best performance yet, but to “elevate the hip hop scene in the Philippines.” For Plazma, or Paolo Callagan, FlipTop is a chance to promote the Philippine hip hop scene.
The FlipTop organization is more than just a group of sharp-tongued individuals. It’s an avenue for emcees, local FlipTop artists, to express and expand their creativity and artistry.
The underground scene tickles the sensitivity of many, stirring complaints from those who disagree with the disses thrown by emcees at each other. Countries in Asia, specifically, perceive the culture cultivated in rap battles as a transgression against Eastern cultural values. FlipTop, however, is more of an artistic ground where people can nurture their creativity and wit. Plazma explains, “There’s still an aspect of literature in FlipTop.”
Beyond that, it gives members of the hip hop community the freedom to compose any song or track they want without the limits set by a record label. Plazma expounds, “When you’re an underground artist, [there’s] no compromise. Whatever you want to do, whatever you want to say, that’s what you’ll do.” Local artists can find solace in the creative freedom nurtured by the underground culture.
Elevate and integrate
To Plazma and many other artists, hip hop is more than just a genre of music. He explains, “It’s culture, attitude, and a form of personal expression. And for me, it is an art form that allows you to raise awareness on social issues.”
Through this art form that promotes self-expression, artists are transitioning from simple diss tracks to songs and performance pieces meant to raise awareness on social issues. “It isn’t only about insulting your opponent,” Plazma adds, citing different artists such as Trega, Invictus, and Marshall who have contributed to the so-called “Next Level” battle rap scene. He explains that these artists go beyond “shallow insults”— they incorporate word play, metaphors, double entendres, and the like into their performance.
Each artist has their own distinct style. We see the variety and the unique print of each artist in their own performance. “That is the beauty of FlipTop; you get exposed to different styles of hip hop music,” says Plazma.
The underground scene has grown in the Philippines over the years. Back when FlipTop was still at the cusp of its popularity, rap battles were only held in parking lots and only random passersby were able to witness the verbal sparring unfold. “Minsan, nakakatsamba lang,” Plazma says.
(Sometimes, it’s just coincidence.)
YouTube was able to give the community the exposure it needed to help it grow despite the original poor video quality. Nowadays, artists and emcees of the underground culture can promote their artistry more easily.
For Plazma, as long as the essence and the raw quality of FlipTop would be retained, the exposure of the underground culture could be beneficial for the community.
On the other side of the curtain is a different picture. Entering a venue and receiving no support from the audience is a personal test for emcees to see whether they’re strong enough to stand until the end of the battle. Emcees have another opponent: themselves. They not only have to prepare themselves for the hard lines laid down by their opponents, but they also have to develop thick skins to shield themselves from hate and a crowd’s nonexistent support.
“Of course, at first, I felt dismayed, like ‘Why aren’t you supporting me?’ But a few hours after the battle, that’s when I’d think [that] this is what I love to do. No matter what other people say, this is where I’m happy. Whether I get support or not, at least I was able to do what I wanted,” Plazma reflects about one of the toughest moments he’s experienced in FlipTop. In the end, he believes that the only comments worth paying attention to are constructive criticisms from fellow emcees.
For the culture
FlipTop has also become a place to settle differences—but not through physical means. “There’s still conflict, but it isn’t violent. It’s now a competition through art, through words,”comments Plazma.
More than that, it has created a significant change within the industry. Plazma explains, “Ever since FlipTop, many people have been inspired to write and use Filipino in rap songs. Before, there was a sense of embarrassment—a fear of being called ‘jologs’. But now they’ve realized that the language is actually beautiful.” Hearing Tagalog being used in the rap scene has made not only Filipinos more appreciative of the language, but foreign audiences of FlipTop as well.
Videos of FlipTop battles have garnered positive responses from the international scene. Local emcees have found a creative way to explore their artistry as they promote the beauty and preservation of our own language. The hip hop community has brought people together in a celebration of art and language through FlipTop.
Inspired and aspiring young artists can involve themselves with the community and test their wit and creativity in the tryouts hosted by the league. “If you really want to be a FlipTop artist, you’ll need to start with the history of hip hop. Study the evolution because the battles originated from ‘Beat’ and ‘Off-the-Top.’ Do a little research until you master it,” he advises. FlipTop gives rappers a chance to live out their passion and speak about their passions. Who knows—you might be the next rising FlipTop artist.