For the first time, Filipino-Canadian rappers have an awards show of their own

The inaugural FilCan Music Rap Awards celebrating Filipino-Canadian rappers across the country will crown winners on June 12 in six categories for music produced in 2020.

‘It's about time that we Filipinos come together ... and create a platform for ourselves' says rapper Rubix

Calgary Rapper Twizzie Ramos is one of the nominees for album of the year at the inaugural FilCan Music Rap Awards on June 12. The awards aim to honour Filipino-Canadian rappers across the country. (Submitted by Twizzie Ramos)

Filipino-Canadian rap artists will be celebrated at a first-of-its-kind awards show this weekend.

The inaugural FilCan Music Rap Awards, a virtual event, will take place on June 12, Philippine Independence Day.

"There's a lot of very, very passionate, dedicated Filipino-Canadian rappers or artists, but they were never getting any kind of recognition," said Raymond Garcia, one of the event organizers and himself a member of the rap group Southeast Cartel.

"We realized, 'Hey, there's no one that's going to recognize us. We should do it ourselves.' "

The virtual program is presented by VIBEANT, a Toronto-based online arts magazine, and the FilCan Music Association, a community of Filipino-Canadian DJs, dancers, artists and fans. It will present awards in six categories for music produced in 2020. There are 16 finalists and winners are chosen by popular vote.

WATCH | Here are the nominees for the FilCan Music Rap Awards: 

The event aims to bring together Filipino-Canadian rappers from coast to coast to celebrate each other's achievements, find inspiration and collectively increase the mainstream profile of their creative work.

"It's about time that we Filipinos come together and put our forces together and create a platform for ourselves," said Calgary rap artist Ryan de Guzman, also known as Rubix. 

Rapper Rubix, also known as Ryan de Guzman, has been creating music in Calgary for more than a decade. (Submitted by Rubix)

"Filipinos are some of the most artistic, musically talented people in the world, and we deserve it. We deserve a platform like this. We deserve to be celebrated like this," said Rubix, whose pre-taped performance of his song Untitled will be played during the event. 

Calgary rapper Twizzie Ramos is a finalist for album of the year. He says he's humbled and energized by the recognition from his fellow Filipino-Canadian hip-hop artists.

"It's an honour to be nominated for this award, because that's a community that helped me get to where I am. And I'll for sure carry that with me wherever I go," he said. 

Community and competition

Raymond Garcia estimates there are about 60 to 80 active Filipino-Canadian rap artists today.

Over the past few years, he's organized events and meet-ups for Filipino rappers in cities like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, where he's seen the number of rappers attending increase.

But while hip-hop culture is huge in Filipino circles, with celebrated DJs, dancers and graffiti artists, Garcia says rappers in the community haven't shared the same limelight.

He suggested one reason is that rap has sometimes had negative connotations and been association with "gangsta" life. He said a second is many artists have been more concerned with competing against each other than with collaborating.

Raymond Garcia, also known by Raygee on the hip-hop scene, is one of the event organizers. (Raymond Garcia)

The 'crabs in a bucket' mentality

Garcia started creating rap music 15 years ago in the Greater Toronto Area, and at the time, he says there were strong rivalries, partitioned along geographical lines within the rap community.

Filipino-Canadian rappers from Mississauga wanted nothing to do with counterparts from Toronto, Scarborough or North York, and vice versa, Garcia said.

While he enjoyed the competitive aspect, he realized it was hurting the rap community collectively. 

Garcia describes it as the talangka or "crab" mentality in Filipino culture.

"It's the idea where, when you put crabs in a bucket, instead of helping each other get out of that bucket, they pull each other down while they themselves are trying to escape," he said.

"It's like when you see another Filipino do something, instead of trying to support them or trying to see the good out of it, a lot of people's tendency is to see the negative."

According to Garcia, this limited the Filipino music community's ability to grow.

"It just reached a point where it wasn't going to go anywhere. It wasn't going to evolve, because everybody was too competitive, and we weren't joining forces to actually create something that could help all of us."

But he's seen a shift recently and says the community is starting to change because a new generation of up-and-coming artists are recognizing the value of supporting their competition.

'Just like the fact that they're noticing, it's so humbling. I just want to keep representing as much as I could,' says Ramos. (Submitted by Twizzie Ramos)

Ramos says he's excited to see his fellow artists come together with a shared purpose.

"FilCans are gathering and just paying respects to each other, helping each other, building each other up for that next level."

Still, other challenges remain.

Beyond gangsta rap

"No one really sees Filipinos as rappers. We're very talented singers. We're always in bands. And of course, people give credit to that. But the rap scene was very underground and had a lot of negative political views toward it," Garcia said.

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions was that rap was just gangsta rap," he said. "But in this case, it's not. Rap is an art form. It's a culture."

And it's a culture that's changing.

"Even if you didn't like rap music ten or twenty years ago, nowadays the content, a lot of it is very uplifting. A lot of it is inspiring," Garcia said.

He noted that both the production and the reach of Filipino rap music is expanding thanks to social media, new music streaming platforms, and more accessible recording and editing software.

"It's actually being widened because of so many different artists being able to create music. And a lot of them are trying to make music that's true to themselves."

Raphael Tigno says the awards are also a great way to acknowledge the determination and resiliency of artists to create music during the pandemic. (Submitted by Raphael Tigno)

Going global

"The goal of pushing for the FilCan movement is for it to become global eventually," said VIBEANT founder and creative director Raphael Tigno.

Already, the FilCan Music Rap Awards are starting to garner international recognition.

The event has attracted the attention of Anygma, CEO of FlipTop, which bills itself as the largest running professional rap battle conference in the Philippines. It's also been featured on Heavy Rotation, a San Diego-based podcast focusing on Filipino hip hop and R&B music globally. 

Rubix says it's just the beginning.

"I hope that this can continue growing and growing and growing, not only for Filipinos, but for all music lovers, really."