Growing up on Oahu in the 90s and early 2000s was honestly a lot of fun, and only a very small portion of the world’s population can say that they were born and raised in a unique space like the islands of Hawaii. From family time spent at the beach, to eating all kinds of foods, to the mix of local, mainland, and international culture, Hawaii is a dope ass place to have a childhood. As a Filipino-American, music was a big part of my family’s culture. Plainly speaking, Filipinos love to get drunk and sing karaoke. But while the older folks sang 70s and 80s love songs, my other uncles and cousins break danced and dj’d, and those images are some of my favorite “hip hop memories” from childhood. This week - I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow island artist, Meta, whose poetry and rap skills have allowed him to tell his story as a young man from Guam, in various part of the world.
Meta is a poet and rapper from the island nation of Guam, of Filipino descent. Meta’s artistic journey really began with spoken word poetry. “On Guam, I eventually became a well-established poet. At all the slams I went to, the DJs would play a lot of underground hip-hop. Until that point, I never really paid attention to the underground, especially because most of the rap that came out of the underground that I did manage to listen to were full of misogynistic, bragadocious type of lyricism. But the DJs at the slams were playing a lot of hip-hop that had a very different type of lyricism. I got introduced to Jurassic 5, Hiero, Cunning Lynguists, Native Guns, and Blue Scholars. Then I started listening to these hip-hop acts and realized that it was in fact possible to be a rapper without having to perform stereotypical lyrics; that putting deeper meaning into lyrics was something that could be done” stated Meta.
Since day one Meta has been grinding and there’s no doubt about that. Meta’s Youtube channel has music and poetic content dating back to over 6 years and he continues to share content to this day. He has traveled to numerous places around the world as a renowned spoken word poet, and by the looks of his catalog, has found and harnessed the power in his mind and voice. Thus, the artist was previously known as “Metaforce,” after someone in the audience at one of his shows told him that he had the “most vivid metaforce.” Till this day, Meta doesn’t really know what that means, and he has dropped the ‘force’ from his name, and now officially goes by Meta. “But the force is still strong in me, Lol” said Meta. (I speculate though, that what the fan wanted to say was Meta had a way with metaphors...which is supreme! Haha)
As a rapper, Meta has been doing his thing for a long time, having competed in a number of cypher events both online and in person. Most notably, Meta is a 3-time semifinalist Team Backpack online auditioner, and has competed at the Mission Underground Live Cypher Draft for 3 years, including its New York City and Los Angeles locations. Year by year, Meta continued to prove himself as a serious emcee with thought provoking bars and storytelling skills. I met Meta briefly at Team Backpack’s 2015 Mission Underground event in LA. That year, Meta represented Guam along with Guam Rapper/Producer/DJ Fullcastflip. Although the two artists didn’t make it to the Top 12, they have both grown in their network through Team Backpack and as individual entrepreneurs. However, Meta still expressed some frustration when it came to “making it” as an artist on Guam. “I'm sure it's the same anywhere for any independent artist trying to make a living off their passion, but Guam has no real market for rappers. It was always difficult to find paid gigs and people were always hesitant to throw any form of monetary support toward shows, workshops, and products,” said Meta. The artist eventually left Guam in July 2016. He stated, “I knew that I was too far from broader artistic opportunities. I love Guam, but there's a glass ceiling for independent artists and I hit it a while back.”
Even further than rhyme and flow, Meta has a deep sense of responsibility to his community in Guam and social issues happening there. While he often includes these topics in his raps, Meta’s ability to capture and hold people’s attention is most showcased in his spoken word poetry. Most recently, Meta was the "Spoken Word 4 the World" 2015 winner, hosted by Global Call for Climate Action. He traveled alongside many other talented poets to Paris, to perform poetry themed around climate change, at different events during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21). His poems “Island Haze” and “Enduring Storms” speaks of his experience of the effects on climate change on his home in Guam. The two poems in particular are raw depictions of how our sustainable/non-sustainable actions affect our natural environments even close to home.
Meta also has a sense of pride and mindfulness regarding his Filipino heritage. “I'm from the island of Guam, where Chamoru people are the indigenous population. I was born and raised there, but ethnically, I'm actually Filipino. Guam is an unincorporated territory of the US. My parents emigrated to Guam from the Philippines in the late 80s, early 90s. Guam is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicity, and is in a push-and-pull state with American political philosophies. All the cultural complexities of being a Filipino born on an unincorporated territory definitely influenced my perception of the world, which essentially shaped how I viewed my writing. I write a lot about cultural identity, generational borders, and personal struggle,” said Meta.
For Meta, it seems like work is never done. But he continues to make strides in all aspects of his life and I commend him as a fellow islander, Filipino brother, and for his social advocacy in his art. Furthermore, he often jumps from rap to poetry gigs almost effortlessly. This ability to adjust his performances for such variant audiences is a skill I personally admire. “Being involved with Guam's youth poetry slam organization, Sinangan-ta Youth Movement, really refined my ability to perform. I had a few great mentors who helped develop my early stage presence. Shoutouts to Melvin, Kie, and Fanai. Part of practicing for me involves rehearsing my pieces at least 10 times a day at full force. I also rehearse in front of a mirror and create what poets call ‘blocking’ to my words. Blocking is assigning specific body gestures to certain portions of a piece to help elaborate the emotion or message. Same thing with rap performances, except with rap, I can actually throw in some dance moves! Hahaha. Figuring out my performance style was a long, long process, but essentially it took practice, constructive criticism from others, and watching other artists perform too,” said Meta.
Meta currently resides in Denver, CO in hopes to continue to build his artistic career through his own entrepreneurial efforts. He has successfully raised funding in various campaigns for his endeavors, but seeks to develop a more long-term sustainable strategy. Often times, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are overlooked in modern political conversations as well as art and talent. Meta stated, “The AAPI history is such an integral piece to the development of America as a country. China Towns, K Towns, large congregations of Filipinos, and Pacific Islanders exists all over the United States. That shit wasn't magic. They exist because they were there for generations, contributing to the literal building of America, its streets, its architecture, its businesses, its economy, its sociology, and even its politics! How is it that mainstream media can readily create caricatures, parodies, or shallow portrayals of pieces of immigrant lives, but not allow products of immigrants, who've become artists, the upward mobility within its structures? It's whack, but ey, we're doin it and we'll keep doing it regardless.
For more on Meta, please subscribe to his Youtube channel.
Big Island’s Hip Hop leader KillaBrex got another single for yall! “UGH” (Prod. Classixs Beats) is one for the rapper’s latest tracks, that recently dropped on Reverbnation. As mentioned in his last #TrackTuesday feature back in September, the transition from 2015 to 2016 has been challenging on this young man, facing personal struggles and having lost a number of close friends. It seemed like KillaBrex spiraled out of control when he moved back to his hometown of Hilo, after learning so much as an intern at Camel Hump Studios in Las Vegas. Regardless, he still faces many challenges but is grinding full-time as an artist/manager/entrepreneur.
“‘UGH’ is for the lost ones in my life that still cross my mind no matter what happened between us. While I was writing the #HVY mixtape, I was in a dark state of mind. I had moved back to the islands and saw most to all of my friends and family lost into drugs or incarcerated. I plummeted into a state of depression and this is what came from those lonely night wondering what was God’s plan. I recently got out of that state of mind and now working on the next project. #HVY will be released in the later months of this year. Thank you guys for continued support and sticking with me through all my rides in life's roller coaster. Aloha.” - KillaBrex
KillaBrex has various gigs/performances lined up for the rest of the year, and has started to plan his own shows and events. Most recently, he hosted the “Life’s Too Short” hip hop night at Hilo Town Tavern a few weekends ago. The event was created as tribute/memorial for Brex’s friend Bryson Samson and his little cousin Deasd Silva. Judging from the feedback I saw on Facebook and conversing with Brex, the show had a great turn-out, and it served as a strong learning experience for the young host/emcee. He is actually planning an intra-island tour (#CreativeHustleTour2017), slated for January. He also already has gigs booked for the tour on the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu (including two interviews booked in Honolulu).
For more from KillaBrex, follow him on Facebook or onTwitter.
Photos from "Life's Too Short" (Hilo Town Tavern Oct. 14, 2016)
Photo credits: Visual Feelings Entertainment & Team Bredren Productions
One night back in 2012, my cousin Ryan and I went to a club in downtown Honolulu formerly known as “The Fix,” to see Dumbfoundead (DFD) and some local Hip Hop talent perform. I was only 19 and couldn’t even drink in the club yet. Lol. It was cool though because I got to meet and shake hands with DFD. But while the anticipation for DFD was high and I’m always going to be a DFD fan, what really caught my attention was when the Broke Mokes, a local rap group, performed. When they hopped on stage, everyone started screaming “CHEE-HUU” and “96744!” Broke Mokes gave their all on that stage and I specifically remember seeing emcee Koins going all out - rapping, jumping, and talking to the crowd with so much energy and passion. I remember thinking like “man, that’s the level I need to be on.”
It’s been almost 5 years since that night...Broke Mokes’ members are currently working on other projects and through everyday life that comes with young adulthood. But the group remains headstrong and hopeful, having recently opened for Flatbush Zombies at The Republik. Koins, one of Broke Mokes’ leading emcees, continues to create music and announced that his highly anticipated solo project, Familiar Faces, is completely finished and ready for distribution very soon.
Read more of our interview below and get to know Koins:
OTD Hip Hop: What is your stage/music name? Please share any background on how you came up with it (if applicable).
Koins: I go by Koins. Spelt with a K because my real name is spelt with a K. I used to go by Pheely, that was something some homies called me for fun. When I became more serious I wanted a new name. Life is all about change & that’s how I came up with Koins.
OTD Hip Hop: How did you get started making music? Was it a gradual hobby that developed, or is it something you always wanted to do?
Koins: Music has always been a part of my life. My parents loved playing music on the stereo. From island music like Hawaiian & Reggae to Alternative & Hard Rock to Rap & beyond. So It all started from there. But I didn't start rapping till about 8th grade. Never in my mind would I have been a rapper until I heard a bunch of "underground rap" artists. Thats when I fell in love with the Hip-Hop culture. What started off as a hobby amongst my friends & I eventually unfolded into a fiery passion and ambition of mines. The power of voice.
OTD Hip Hop: Why did you choose Hip Hop/Rap as your musical expression? (As opposed to another musical genre or culture)
Koins: Because I love putting words and stories together plus I can’t hit the high note. Lol. For real though. I grew up on Linkin Park. They taught me how to rap and rock out. If I could sing as well as I rap, I'd be in a live band doing some shit like that.
OTD Hip Hop: Where are you from? How does that influence your music and/or experience doing music?
Koins: I am from the 808. Born in Kane'ohe (Oahu), raised in Puna (Big Island) & grew up back in Kane'ohe. I am Hawaiian, Portuguese, Asian. How does this influence my music? Well, my story is different. I am not from a silver spoon family. We grew up renting house to house and still are till this day. My mom and pops did everything they could to make their sons happy & I thank them for that. But as I grew up, it became clearer to me that my parents did everything to see us smile even if they were really struggling.
OTD Hip Hop: If you could describe your sound in one or two words, how would you describe it? Feel free to elaborate.
Koins: My Sound. That's my sound. It's Hip-Hop, it's Rock, it’s Hawaiian, Whatever you want to classify me as will be my sound. I listen to so much music, I don't want to recreate the same music, I want to innovate it.
OTD Hip Hop: What is the message you are trying to spread through your music?
Koins: Well first off that Hawai'i is more than meets the eye. And that us local boys & girls have our own struggles out here in paradise. Also how life is bound to change regardless of what anyone thinks.
List 2 to 3 goals (short term/long term) that you have for your music.
OTD Hip Hop: Is music something you truly see as a potential career? What are some things you have learned when it comes to music and making it a lucrative business?
Koins: Yes, it's def’ something I would want to do to keep the lights on. I've learned a lot in the 6 years I've been involved in the local hip-hop scene. The biggest things I learned is "Easy Come, Easy Go" "What's here today can be gone tomorrow" & "Everybody aint shit". Lol straight up.
(Album Cover Art by Tay Chan)
OTD Hip Hop: Broke Mokes obviously brought a lot of attention and created a local fan base as the forerunning youth of Hip Hop coming out of Kaneohe. Most people don’t understand the difference between growing up in different parts of Hawaii and let alone Oahu. In your video "Always Rains," you take us back to your high school. Was it easy to promote in high school? What role did Hip Hop play in your high school?
Koins: Back in high school, throughout my 4 years & 2 schools, I went to Castle (3 1/2 years) & Kalaheo (1/2 Year). I was one of the very few rappers. Especially in Castle. Kalaheo was a little different being that majority of the students all came from the military base. But in Castle, which is my Alumni, I would say it was not that hard to promote. Being that there were very few of us. Maybe 3-4 including me that I knew of. People knew me as the kid that skated and rapped. (Photo is courtesy of Broke Mokes' official Facebook page.)
What role did hip-hop play? Well mainstream hip-hop & r&b was infectious through the hallways. Everybody loved Lil Wayne. Everybody was into Soulja Boy & all the dancing trends that occurred at that time in Hip-Hop (about mid to late 2000s). The homies & I, all used to dance in the hallways doing the Jerk, Stanky Leg, Dougie & whatever we could do to get the girls to look at us. Lol. Everybody knew my crew & I as those kids though. The rapping, dancing, outgoing outcasts. Actually though when I think about it, it was my freshman year. Hip-Hop was HUGE in castle. The upper class men used to have dance battles between the Breakers & Krumpers. No rappers though. It was the homies & I who started spitting anywhere and everywhere.
Do I think there are more high school rappers now? YES. It’s easier now. With social media and the internet, you can get your creative talents out there, you can find inspiration anywhere online. It's a good thing though. As the generations transition and the old Hawaii becomes the new. Hip-Hop culture is being embraced by the youth. And if the youth is involved then it has the space to grow.
OTD Hip Hop: Another Broke Moke question - Aside from dope music and ambition and live performances, what do you think is another reason(s) that yall got so much support locally or at least from Kane’ohe?
Koins: Hmmm. Because we are genuine real people. That’s the biggest quality anybody can have. Being a genuine person. If your going to be nice, be actually nice. If youre going to be a dick, be an actual dick and dont change up just because who your around.
We had a lot of doubters. A LOT. But that didn’t matter. We stayed at it, we showed people we can actually rap, sing & do whatever we wanted to. We stayed persistent. & whenever we had an opportunity we capitalized on it.
We also repped out hometowns like no one else. Ask Big Mox, Creed, Justin “Bone” or any Hawaii OG in the hip hop scene. When Broke Mokes were in the building, bet you’ll be hearing KANEOHE being yelled out or our 44 hand sign thrown up in the air. We knew where we came from and wasn't ashamed to rep it to the fullest.
OTD Hip Hop: As an artist who has put a number of solid years into music and has gained a respected reputation in the local scene (and being only in your 20s), what do you think Hawaii Hip Hop or Hawaii's young talent in general need to do to "make it" if they choose to pursue a career in music/entertainment?
Koins: Well that’s a tough question because I haven't even "made it". But all I can tell people is - "The cream will always rise to the top". Meaning it will take time to be on top, but if you got it then you got it & in due time you’ll shine brighter than you can imagine. Also, Steve Jobs talked about pursuing a dream or ambition. I'm not going to quote him but he pretty much said "Those who we deem successful are usually the ones that never gave up.” And that is true. I’ve seen many peers stop doing music. Nothing wrong with that but this journey isn't for those who give up. They say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. So all because you don’t see any light dont mean there aint any, maybe you just got a longer tunnel to go through. Also, if you LOVE this rap shit like I do. There is no quitting. If you do what you love then you are already "making it". I’ll tell the youth expect to receive what you put in. That’s how the universe works.
OTD Hip Hop: Your album "Familiar Faces" highlights people who have impacted your journey (friends, other artists, producers, etc). What are the pros/cons of creating music in Hawaii and as a local person?
Koins: Well the pros are that their are HUNDREDS of talented undiscovered artists in Hawaii. We have an ocean of artists here. From music to dance to art to whatever you want to label people as. We've got it. And we come from a place that has an untold story. The world has a fixed view on Hawaii. And we have the talent here to let them know what else there is here in the 808.
The cons? Many people get the island fever. They become content or too busy handling real life. It’s expensive here. People need to pay bills and handle real life situations before their dream. Which sucks but it’s reality.
We also have the crab in a bucket mentality here. Many people are down to shake your hand but not many people are down to lift you up. Especially if it means lifting you up higher than themselves.
OTD Hip Hop: Now that you’re older and wiser from where you first started, what are some other long-term things you are working on as an artist/entrepreneur?
Koins: Well, my album Familiar Faces is me taking the next step as a serious artist. I own all the beats, I'm getting on all digital platforms that align me with being eligible for festivals and more. I’ve learned to invest my money into my craft and brand. I plan on making merch once I have a solid fan base to support me like that. First its music and music only. Videos, Shows more albums and hopefully Prime time radio play. Oh and tours. Ive honed in on my craft enough to be confident to take it overseas. While I am still growing and learning. I have the confidence in my new music. Hopefully it will help open the doors I need. You’ll see a lot more "Koins" in the months and years to come. I feel like I’m only getting better & only getting started. My focus and determination are becoming much more keen.
I’m not frontin’ like I followed Koins or Broke Mokes hella thoroughly over the past years. But it is hard to ignore the moves they’ve made as a group and individually. I recently started following Koins again after I saw more and more OGs and other local artist/producers/djs cosign his work. Also, I’ve been watching his video “Always Rains” every time I feel like I need to remember what I’m working for...which is what I feel we all need to do from time to time. Especially living in Hawaii or any gentrified land, I believe that art and music is what keeps us together. (Photo courtesy of Jarett Blake and Koins' official Facebook page)
Personally, I think Koins is a great ambassador for Hawaii’s young people and Hip Hop community. He’s real, and almost attractively confident when the time calls for it, but humble when it comes to the true message and art of his craft. In anticipation of Familiar Faces, I look forward to hearing more of Koins music and the new visuals that he and his team got in the works. He would like to give a special shout out to his mentor and project producer, Jim Hurdle, and Tay Chan for the album’s artwork. For more from Koins, stay tuned to his Soundcloud and Facebook page.
OTDHipHop is an independent music blog and network, curated by Rapper/Blogger Jehzan Exclusive.