Abra: The voice of a generation
Cate de Leon (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The rapper who broke out with more than 23 million YouTube hits describes his style as very relatable but complex. For his hit single, Gayuma, Abra took the very common concept of love, but instead of coming up with yet another one of those typical raps about heart matters, he came up with a pseudo-love song (after marketing a deceptively lovey-dovey trailer for a year). He made the actual video funny and added a double twist. “Nganga ka na, tapos sa dulo nganganga ka pa ulit.”

He infused the narrative and the star-studded music video with a lot of genres, from tragedy, comedy and horror to suspense and fantasy, making sure they were all in sync, producing something balanced. Truly enough, the end product is so seamlessly entertaining that the individual ideas that went into it don’t even occur to you. Only when Abra walks you through the nitty-gritty of his craftsmanship do you realize that his work is simple but incredibly thought out and intricate. Prior to this, he took the time to study the fan base and calculate his expectations in terms of hits. The actual figures he got were double. Instead of achieving one million views in two weeks as he guessed, he got two million in seven days.

Pure excitement

Abra doesn’t have an overbearingly serious attitude about his work, though. He describes all this with pure excitement, like a kid reliving the step by step of figuring out what to put on the canvas — a kid who knew what he was doing, but was also just having fun the whole time.

Unlike many artists and recording companies who try to tailor themselves too much to fit the market, Abra just writes whatever he wants at the moment and humbly hopes people like it, and perhaps even learn something from it.

He consistently informs his work through his many other interests, such as devouring books, movies, going out and watching TV channels like National Geographic and Discovery. “Mas marami kang natututunan sa mundo, mas marami kang nakakausap na tao, mas marami kang mabubunot,” he says, calling them his “tools” that he can “unleash” anytime, especially when rapping freestyle. “It’s important to learn every day. Good rap is informative, with cleverly constructed lyrics, but at the same time very melodic and smooth.”

He then walked me through the complex rhyming techniques, how important it is to know your metaphors and alliterations. And when I ask him how he manages not to get his tongue in a knot, he replies, “Nakakabulol pa rin siya hanggang ngayon.” But he mentioned a certain chi, meaning the zone, where everything just flows out with effortless conviction. Needless to say, I never looked at rap the same way again.

No more ‘Jologs’

Indeed, gone are the days when rapping was dismissed as “jologs” and “baduy.” Abra reflected, “Tapos na ata eh. Tapos na yung jologs era. Masyado nang maraming rapper na magaling, at lumalabas na sila mula MYX hanggang sa Internet. At that level of lyricism, pwede pa bang tawaging jologs yun?” And while there may still be an unexposed number of people who would say so, Abra cooly shrugs and says such passé opinions no longer hurt.

Currently, Abra is in the process of finishing his first, self-titled album, which includes his newest single, Ilusyon, as well as a few bonus tracks from his days as a member of the Lyrically Deranged Poets. He’ll be staging his first major concert on Aug. 17 at Circuit, Makati. “You wouldn’t wanna miss it.” He also plans to go back to joining rap battles after his album is released this August.

His dreams for Pinoy rap? “Maganda na siya eh. Mas dumami pa yung magagaling. Magkahawaan pa sila ng galing.” He esteems Filipino society highly, deeming it the most creative in the world. He is therefore eager to get rid of limiting ideas such as assuming something won’t click, or assuming this is the limit of what the people will be able to understand and appreciate. “Dapat di ganun eh.” Abra believes in pushing the envelope — in introducing new mindsets, new things to understand, and consequently advancing the audience and the quality of your work. He says this is not only for rap, but also for other genres of music, movies, and the entertainment industry as a whole. “The resources are already there,” he says. “We just need to unleash our talent.”

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Tweet the author @catedeleon.

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