In this side of the world, hip-hop can still be dismissively perceived as nothing more than nonsensical rambling. Old fogeys would be even quick to chime in that it’s all noise and that the so-called music is strictly a Western concept our culture can never adopt, much less cultivate on our own. Folks would be quicker to warn their children against what they surmise the music supposedly only stands for: money, misogyny, drugs, and violence. The year may be 2017 but passing on knee-jerk judgment (read: hating) is something that never gets old.
Independent Filipino hip-hop up-and-comer Curtismith knows it comes with the territory. But still, he chooses to chart the grounds of self-expression through music with zero pretense and hundred-percent honesty. “I’m not going to try to be somebody I’m not. I always knew I was going to rap in English. I’m not going to act like I speak Tagalog well, or be someone who raps about growing up in the kalye.”
What Curtismith brings to the proverbial Filipino hip-hop table is a refreshing sound served with bold views from an individual, who just like most of us, is navigating through life’s peaks and valleys armed with hope and ambition. Easy-on-the-ears gateway tracks into Curtis-sphere are the ones from his first mixtape last 2015, Ideal. Inspired by his then involvement with Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, the compilation speaks about how goal setting coupled with an indestructible focus can lead to exponential positive change in your own life and for others. Take “Going In For Life” for example. It’s a workingman’s anthem (“I am hungry/ I am driven/ and everything in between”) that encourages blue-collared mentality, speaking of pride and integrity as the most valuable qualities in the face of any adversity—tenets that are very Pinoy, actually. Similar to the masters of the microphone who came before him, he spits rhymes that come from a sanguine heart. However, whatever the platform or whoever the speaker, opinions are not always received with warmth and broad-mindedness.
With Curtismith-songs readily accessible via Spotify and Soundcloud, the man and his music become susceptible to sweeping statements made by faceless instant-insult fiends. He has neither a major label nor a marketing team to shield him from any and every form of flack. Sure, he’s been offered a couple of shiny recording contracts before, but he just doesn’t think the commercial route is for the Curtismith brand. “’Fuck that. [Joining a label] means letting go of creative control and artistic integrity and that’s all I have.”
So, the self-aware and self-starting Curtismith has been brushed off by many online cynics and online critics to be a hapless “conyo kid” whose “biggest problem is that he couldn’t get the right drink in Starbucks.” With his clean-cut pogi looks and eloquence, it’s an almost automatic takeaway to classify his problems as that of the privileged and his troubles as nothing more than trivial. But to his naysayers, he sends a straightforward retort: “I appreciate different perspectives from [different people] and from people who care enough to tell me how I can improve. Other times, it’s just hate and I’m like, ‘You don’t even fucking know me, dude!’”
What we’ve come to know is that Curtismith is the 23-years-young Mito Fabie, who started writing poetry at an even younger age to make sense of things the way adolescents do. Academics weren’t a strong suit and it didn’t help that his father wasn’t the go-to role model he could look up to. “My father was an artist, but he was an alcoholic. I was already smoking with him when I was like 15 years old. He smoked me out my first time with Kush. He was that type of dude.”
And in times of personal strife, he found solace and clarity more in penning his thoughts down to paper than anywhere else. “When my dad passed away, I was so critical of him and I looked in the mirror and was like, ‘Why am I so critical of him? I’m not even any better myself.’ So, I guess writing my music was kind of a gauge for my hopes, my disappointments—all that shit.”
His mother would try to steer her 16-year-old, who was growing up way too fast, as far away as possible from his father’s footsteps. Mito was expected to study business and become an entrepreneur who just happened to have artistic inclinations on the side. But it seemed life just had to throw another curveball the young man’s way.
“When I was 17, my mom left for England. It was just a very interesting point in time for me mainly because I was alone,” recounts Mito. While he had a home to call his own in his paternal grandparents, there was a void he later found that only music could fill. This is what would cement his desire to commit himself to the art. “I was depressed and shit. It was just Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi—those were the guys who helped me push through. So, I wanted to be the older brother that I never had through music.”
In the beginning, Mito saw no reason to take to the stage. As far as he was concerned, it would’ve been better to just release music online and stay anonymous. The pseudonym he chose would then serve as a reminder as to why keeping his brand of hip-hop sacred is top priority. “I wanted a generic Western name and people to think that Curtismith could’ve come from anywhere. I wanted people to like the music simply for what it was and not who they thought I was.”
But the call of bright lights and a live audience were all too difficult for Mito to resist, especially when the invitation to perform came from a possible future collaborator, a Filipino producer and film composer by the name Jorge Wieneke, a.k.a. Similar Objects. Then, on his second gig ever, after he performed as Curtismith, Mito was asked to be part of Logiclub, an energetic collective comprised of Manila-based creatives sharing the same penchant for music that ranges from hip-hop to house to electronica. Before Mito even became fully aware of what was transpiring in his musical career, Curtismith was already being asked to pop up more and more in bars to drop bars, gaining not only new audiences but also momentum and inspiration to diversify his discography.
Forward-thinking-and-moving Curtismith hustled to release his EP, Failing Forward, just four months after his debut. He admits that the songs he made for the record were about a kid still figuring out his emotions, insecurities, fears, demons, and dreams. While the track “Ignant” may seem like just another longwinded confession on how life sucker punches the naive into submission, the song is about trumping frustration through choosing to see the silver lining in situations and putting negativity behind you.
His latest contributions to Filipino hip-hop come in the form of Soully Yours and Rehearsals, where he’s showing growth both as a man and musician. The former is what he describes as “a picture of a toxic relationship that I was in where I was putting somebody else before me,” while the latter is “something a little more aggressive and about really trying to be your own boss in life and just saying, ‘fuck these guys who are hating on me.'”
It seems there’s no slowing Curtismith down and it seems, from day one, this is the path he was always meant to take—an artist who wants nothing more than to tell his story truthfully and hopefully make a difference in the process. And because just like hip-hop itself, Mito knows it’s a philosophy that will never go out of style.