How Shanti became dope
Unlike many of his hip-hop peers, Shanti had a more uncoventinal understanding of rap while growing up—he was more familiar with rap battles on the streets. His older contemporaries might've gotten into the craft by tuning in to MTV and FM radio, but an eight-year-old Shanti first got hooked on the genre through the expletive-heavy and passionate spitting of verses by the rappers of FlipTop, arguably the country's most popular rap battle league.
Influenced by what he witnessed, he eventually became one of those kids who enjoyed playing around with words. "Nauso sa amin yung freestyle battle bago pa lumabas yung FlipTop (Battle League)," he fondly recalls. "Dati sumasama lang ako sa tropa, hanggang sa hinukay ko yung mas malalim na impluwensya ng rap."
Fliptop would eventually introduce Shanti to the music of rap battle heavyweights Loonie and Stick Figgaz colleague Ron Henley, whose live performances became a religion for Shanti and his circle: "Ginagaya-gaya ko lang sila sa salamin, hanggang sa na-adopt ko yung mannerisms nila at na-realize ko na ito yung path na para sa akin. Kasi hindi naman ako marunong kumanta, wala akong ibang sports."
Shanti's uncle—artist-slash-music-producer-slash-sound-engineer Lester "Klumcee" Vano (more popularly known for songs like "Ligaw" and "Ulap") was living under the same roof as young Shanti. Klumcee would have fellow rappers over for recordings and his nephew would sit inside the studio, observing and taking mental notes. Shanti marveled at the energy in this creative bubble, which lit a fire in his belly to write original material. He is eternally grateful to his tito, who according to him has guided him every step of the way.
Despite them sharing a mutual love of music, Shanti was initially reluctant about the idea of his uncle listening to his own stuff: "Maliban sa nahihiya ako, gusto ko rin kasing gumawa ng sariling paraan para magulat na lang siya na, 'Uy, nagra-rap ka pala!'" Klumcee soon got wind of Shanti's songs and gave the young gun his seal of approval. He then endorsed Shanti to FlipTop alum Smugglaz, who in turn, entrusted the promising artist with a few lines in the star-studded rap ensemble "Aming Hakbang."
"Nakapag-record na ako ng 16 bars, tapos narinig ni Sir Smugg nung pumunta siya sa studio. Tinanong niya kay Kuya Klumcee kung pwede daw ba akong isali sa kanta," Shanti narrates. "Nakakatuwa na nakaka-pressure kasi kasama ko yung malalakas sa hip-hop—Loonie, Ron Henley, Abra, Abaddon. Kahit magkakahiwalay ginawa, grabe nung nabuo. Kasaysayan talaga."
He would go on to release a couple of EPs, the latter of which was last year's Materyal with Universal Records, before the swift self-titled follow-up album Shanti Dope. From being on the same track with all these big names in rap to ruling the airwaves with his cutting metaphors and a fresh sound, Shanti is now being strongly considered as the worthy successor to award-winning wordsmith Aristotle Pollisco aka Gloc-9.
Gloc admitted in an interview that he sees a little of himself in the music prodigy, whom he has already taken under his wing. The man behind "Upuan," the first rap track in Awit Awards history to win Song of the Year (2010), even discussed the passing of the torch in their collaborative work titled—what else?—"Shantidope" (which, FYI, has more than 14 million views on YouTube as of writing):
"Andami dami daming maiingay dun sa amin/
O kay tagal ko na nag-iikot para hanapin/
Kung sinong sumusulat at humihingang malalim/
At 'di hilaw ang kanin kapag siya ang nagsasaing"
Shanti views the likes of Loonie and Gloc as kuyas rather than mentors—big brothers who have always offered him musical and life advice. There are times when he still can't believe that he was able to build this level of camaraderie with people he looks up to. According to him, the healthy competition results in better output from everyone. "Pinu-push namin yung isa't isa," Shanti explains.
More than just focusing on having coherent rap sensibilities and a strong creative process, Shanti relishes the training needed in becoming a professional. He's aware that he must emulate the superior work ethic and sense of discipline of his rap idols in order to follow through on his newfound fame. "Hindi man nila ako direktahang turuan o payuhan, napakalaking bagay na yung natututo ako pag nakikita ko sila—mapa-music man o buhay, kung paano sila makitungo, magtrabaho, at pumruseso ng mga bagay-bagay."