21 April 2017

Curtismith just wants to free his mind

“I’m the one they badmouth,” opens Manila rap artist Mito Fabie, known for his moniker Curtismith (a portmanteau of famous Filipina actress Anne Curtis’s surname), on his new EP, Soully, Yours. The idea of dissing, in and of itself, is a part of rap’s DNA. One of the most pervasive arguments in its history and one of the core of rap pride is authenticity, something Curtismith himself reveres and aims to translate through his songs. As he navigates the local industry, he finds himself a target for exactly who he strives to represent: himself and earning his place in a culture that relishes in hypercompetition, representation, and – dare I say – greatness. In Curtismith’s case, he is aware of the criticism that inevitably comes with his work. Asked about it, he seemed unperturbed. “I heard a couple of [diss] tracks but they weren’t good enough to make me feel any type of way to give it more attention that it needs,” he said.

Words by MC Galang & Photography by Marvin Conanan

Filipino hip-hop is currently experiencing a renaissance, an overdue recalibration of prevalent, but outdated, styles from the 20th century and early 2000s and reshaping audience perception. We are way behind our Asian neighbors in terms of progress and recognition, a frustrating irony for a good reason: despite the prevalence and global domination of hip-hop in pop culture, we have a burdensome slow progress of catching up, at least collectively speaking: there seems to be a fixation to an earlier era that popularized rap rock, novelty rap, and boom bap iterations, most of which did not age well. The rebirth of local hip-hop sees both innovation and diversification, much like how Western hip-hop continues to seep into different musical styles and cultures all over the world. Curtismith believes that the local scene has both the panache and the talent to deliver: “We’re bringing a different flavor to the global melting pot. We’re currently in the process of making an ‘ecosystem’ of urban music with all these different styles and artists – and the more new and old artists emerge with honest content, the more the rest of the world will find our country appealing from the variety of sound and emotion we offer and connect through.” That is why ‘conyo rap’, a local epithet that denotes the social class status of the MC and little else, feels hindering to him. “It shows how society likes to box things in and can sometimes be too quick to judge before actually giving it a chance.” He adds, “We need improvement in the whole ‘us versus them’ mentality and understand that we don’t need to have the same views, but we need each other for the bigger picture, [which is] global recognition.”

With three releases (the latest being a two-part EP) under his belt in a span of a little over a year, Curtismith said he considers himself an outsider. “I personally don’t label my music rap or hip-hop, nor do I like to call myself a rapper,” he explains. He admitted that prior to entering the industry, he didn’t know much about the local hip-hop scene. When asked if he thinks labeling his music something else instead of rap or hip-hop would draw less aversion towards him by his contemporaries, he simply said, “I would like to just be an artist who expresses himself in different forms.” For him, “Rap is an expression of self. For people who think that it can’t be done by another set of people because they are different is just another ‘-ism’ in play.’’ Despite everything, he acknowledges that it’s all part of the game. “But not pondered on for too long,” he concluded.

Finding His Groove

Curtismith’s latest two-part EP release is a comparatively more ambitious follow-up to his previous efforts: IDEAL, a demo tape with promising moments but ultimately came up short, and Failing Forward, which included the endearingly gallant ‘LDR’. Even after the combined 18 tracks of both, Curtismith delivers an overall interesting, yet fragmented, body of work. What it felt lacking in cohesion, he made up with diligence: putting himself out there, releasing a series of polished music videos and just enough prominent features in a number of EPs and full-length albums from longtime collaborators CRWN, Jess Connelly, and fellow rap artists NINNO and Skarm. It all came together, starting with the process of rolling out his new EP in advance on Twitter for listeners to provide feedback. “It was… me wanting to understand how my songs affected a listener and connecting more with the audience that does appreciate what I offer. A thank you, as well as a ‘Please let me know what you think so next time I can do better.’”

On Soully Yours, the first part of his new EP, Curtismith is inarguably in his best form. His confessional style of rap yields nuances of intimacy, “snapshots of particular points in my life,” according to him, that he wishes to convey in characteristically soulful vibe. It is easily his most conceptualized effort to date. The songs are woven to each other thematically and lyrically, and while he mostly takes himself seriously, he allows himself to get loose and even throw in a couple of quips. It’s easy to tag ‘Snowflake Obsidian’ as Curtismith’s best song since the CRWN-produced ‘LDR’, with its months-long premature release that helped build the interest in the single itself and the upcoming EP, but it’s the closing track, ‘Free My Mind’ that best asserts his strengths as an MC, providing us with variations in his usual cadence and just simply providing a strong, memorable record. The seven-track EP features all-original production from Filipino producers Howle (‘Prologue, ‘West’), J. Wong (title track), Kidthrones (‘Snowflake Obsidian’, ‘24’, ‘Free My Mind’), and CRWN (‘No Ways’, which has the sole feature from Jess Connelly), a fact Curtismith takes pride on. “Everything from the beginning has been collaborative, from production to recording and sound engineering.” The second part of the EP, titled Rehearsals, is a project in collaboration with a young production collective called Stages Sessions. All five songs were recorded with a live band setup that largely incorporated jazz and blues. While it is not entirely new nor uncommon in hip-hop in general, it may initially feel like an idiosyncratic approach to his music and local rap in particular. Curtismith is confident in his musical decisions and heading towards this direction. On whether he plans on translating the band setup to the studio, he said, “I would love to… but more practice has to be done before I’m confident in incorporating it with content that I come out with from the studio. It’s a learning process I still have to develop.”


"... rap artist Mito Fabie, known for his moniker Curtismith (a portmanteau of famous Filipina actress Anne Curtis’s surname).."

I'll stop you right there. This guy is just pure cringe.

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post. Free musically followers

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