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.
OTDHipHop is an independent music blog and network, curated by Rapper/Blogger Jehzan Exclusive.