I’ve been listening to a lot of Pinoy gangsta rap over the past few days, and I must say I’m very impressed.
There’s a certain musical quality to a poem; the reason why it is often recited, sang, or performed is that the written verse cannot be separated from its sound, the aural nature of it. When you gather a bunch of poets together to debate and discourse on the “beauty of poetry” – pretenses of poesis and the decentering of the poetic subject (whatever that means) aside – you’ll probably come into an agreement that a good chunk of poetry is about sound. There really is no difference, at least to me, between poetry readings in swanky cafés and bistros that contrive the whole concept of the “artful,” and freestyle rapping in inner-city sari-sari storefronts that do descend into violence.
Give a starving artist a quill, he’ll write the great Filipino novel. Give him anger, and you got the great Filipino rapper.
Filipino rap – gangsta rap, in particular – exemplifies the pathos and ethos of a generation’s anger. The message is outright, counterculture, in-your-face. It is a juxtaposition of passage and message, life experience and the experience of poetry, the irony of astig and helplessness to correct the injustices of urban poor culture. It defies deconstruction, or the urge to deconstruct, that instead of looking for subliminal messages or hidden meanings in the text, rap holds the listener captive, bombards him or her with the mesmerizing blend of sound and meaning. Rap is that masterful execution of form and content meeting each other at a nexus of what can aptly be called “lyric poetry.”
Mocking the critic aside, I think that Pinoy rap – even ones that glorify violence – are good examples of poetry outside the conventions of the literary. It takes most other people weeks, months, even years to revise poems, yet freestyle rappers do so at the spur of the moment, at the very instant of an inspiring situation, without the benefit of literary guidance or suggestion. Complete, epic win: that even my skills at creating rap would pale in comparison to them. Like… (oh boy)
Di maaawat ng liwanag ang pagsapit ng dilim
Ako ang demonyo nang yong panaginip nakasuot lagi ng itim
Ang trahedyang sasapit sa yo ay karimarimarim
Darating ang panahong papatayin ka ni Marocharim
OK, that’s enough, I suck at it.
I’m not saying that someone like Baby Kupal or Mike Kosa (or that circle of artists called Unknown Critics) deserves the National Artist distinction – although you can practically give that to just about anybody these days – but I think that beyond the unreachable genius of the poet and whatever trope there is of literary genius, we should recognize the artistic skill of the Filipino rapper. A Roberto Boy Paoz will not be the Lope K. Santos of this generation, or J-Skeelz will not be J. Neil Garcia, and the Don Quixote of Tondo will not be Don Quixote de la Mancha. Karding Chako won’t be an Edilberto Tiempo… although Mason Karet, let’s give him a few more tapes.
At the very least, though, the poetry would not be in vain.