BLKD’s debut album Gatilyo hits all the right notes
Exciting times out here for local hip hop.
Time was, Filipino rap musicians were at the mercy of mainstream radio stations and record labels. Quietly branded as jologs, or at least not as cool as Pinoy rock, Pinoy rap lived in the sidelines as the occasional novelty song or short-lived hit. Today’s underground hip hop has gone their own route, thriving in the digital age. Bangers are churned out through accessible music and recording software and promoted through the internet’s viral, peer-sharing culture. Mainstream’s shunning of early hip hop has shaped it into the monster it currently is: unafraid to say what it wants, with a diverse spread of MCs across the country, and a dedicated following.
Among the new pantheon of Pinoy hip hop’s wave-makers is BLKD (“Balakid”) who made his bones rap battling in FlipTop. To the uninitiated, a quick Google search should yield some of his finer rounds (and a few brutal moments of epic choking). He’s built his name as a smart, socially-aware rapper with thick-framed glasses, unabashedly dropping bombs about his UP and activist background.
These days, BLKD has ditched his specs –they never had lenses, he admits– and put on some pounds, but his zingers still sting. With the launch of Gatilyo, he’s stepping up his game.
9 tracks in, Gatilyo (or trigger) clocks at a modest 30 or so minutes, but every song packs quite a punch. Generously supported by DJ UMPH, the beats touch on all the hallmarks of a modern hip hop classic while BLKD’s razor-sharp lyrics sound the alarm on our 21st century, 3rd world living.
Style, Structure, and Powerful Pronouns
Listening to Gatilyo makes two things abundantly clear: the songs are ordered in a particular way, and BLKD is very conscientious about how he positions himself with his audience.
The tracks flow into each other in a patient, almost exploratory method. It feels like listening to a hip hop academic paper– complete with an abstract, about the author, statement of purpose, arguments, and a call to action conclusion.
It helps as well that BLKD doesn’t jump on the trend of machine-gun fast rap. There is a time and place for bullet-speed rap, particularly when MCs want to show off their skills. But when an MC wants to deliver a message, a clear and compelling flow is best.
BLKD puts his rhymes to work, switching his flow two or three times over for each track, and peppering songs with wordplay. But his strongest suit may be when he’s throttling a point with stark clarity, and counting himself as one amongst many, an element of a larger group, part of the audience and the wider Filipino experience.
“Pagmulat ay pagkasa, tayo ang gatilyo,” he says in the title track. It’s rare to pinpoint any instance in the album when BLKD refers to himself as ako*. The handful of times he says “sila” is when he’s accusing an oppressive upper-class of profiting from the wider populace’s suffering, in a track that loops “Mga kapatid, sugod” as hook. In a Game chockfull of rappers who keep feeling themselves, BLKD firmly declares that he is one of us.
Track by Track