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Youth Is Not Wasted On Hip-Hop Superstar Shanti Dope

The 17-year-old rap prodigy knows that, in order to take his success far, he needs a keen understanding of the hustle and flow

by John Paulo Aguilera | Aug 10, 2018

The future of Filipino hip-hop has arrived

We almost didn't recognize Sean Patrick Ramos—who's known by his legions of fans as young rapper Shanti Dope—when he arrived at our shoot location with his road manager. Wrapped in a thick hoodie and armed with a fanny pack (yes, he owns one), Shanti appeared less like the stage persona that captivates audiences with sheer finesse and more like a regular dude you could be friends with (if you have 17-year-olds for friends, that is). For someone who has made a mark spitting fire verses and dropping mean bars, he was surprisingly very polite and soft-spoken. Perhaps, Shanti still isn't used to the trappings of show business.

PHOTO: Andrea Beldua

After all, he is the first FHM Hero under 18 years old and we even had to schedule his shoot in the evening for the simple reason that he had some afternoon classes to attend. That's pretty gangster, if we do say so ourselves. Seeing the hip-hop star in person, it's not hard to imagine Shanti cramming in school projects with his regular showbiz endeavors.

He has quickly risen to stardom. A few years ago, he was just a boy watching the "Crossroads" music video by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on TV. But later this year, he'll be sharing the stage with the famous '90s American rap group and mentor Gloc-9 during the former's PH concert in September.

Shanti isn't the first kid to have big dreams of becoming a hip-hop star. Ex Battalion has a number of viral hits. The official music videos for "Prinsesa" and "Mabangis" by the prepubescent-looking Princess Thea has a combined 7.2 million YouTube views as of writing. Young KAEL's trippy "Pancit Canton" MV has already garnered 166 thousand hits and 3.6k shares on Facebook in a span of just two weeks. So what's with hopeful Pinoy rap superstars getting younger by the minute?

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Shanti thinks: "Siguro nakaka-relate sila sa mensahe at mas nagiging aware na rin silaSa ganung age kasi nag-e-explore yung mga bata ng mga bagay-bagay." There's also the sudden resurgence of local hip-hop coinciding with the power of social media. Before, musicians had to negotiate and spar with studios and executives if they wanted a sweet deal. But now, the zeitgeist is different. "Pag may rapper na gustong maglabas ng music," Shanti shares, "nagagawa nila any time."

It's one thing to release songs online for digital consumption, and another to catch the fancy of a major label and be propelled into public consciousness. "Dati sa banyo lang ako kumakanta," Shanti remembers, "kaya hanggang ngayon ibang pakiramdam pa rin ang naibibigay sa akin pag naririnig ko yung sarili ko sa radyo."

PHOTO: Andrea Beldua

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

PHOTO: Andrea Beldua

The Sean in Shanti

Away from the mic and in the eyes of his family and friends, Shanti is still like any normal 17-year-old who loves to skate and hang out. While his parents are proud when they hear their son's songs, it doesn't diminish their role as authoritative figures. "Siyempre dinidisiplina pa rin nila ako pag tumitigas ulo bilang bata," Shanti says. 

When he's with his classmates, Shanti says that nothing has changed. Kulitan pa rin. Asaran when there's a chance. They basically have the same interests and there's no need to give up on social opportunities in order to nurture his career just yet. In fact, it's in these real-life interactions where Shanti draws inspiration for his lyricism.

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Growing up, Shanti was always inquisitive and observant. He came from a broken family, which meant he had to move frequently. The adversity gave him a heightened awareness of his surroundings, which has made it easier for him to tackle more serious and sensitive topics in his art. "Iba't ibang tao ang nakasalamuha ko," he reminisces. "Siguro maaga din akong namulat kaya naiintidihan ko yung sitwasyon at mga problema nila. May mga bagay ako na gustong itanong sa magulang ko, mga tanong ng bata." 

When it comes to writing bars, whether the track is about seeing that woman who ignites your desires ("Nadarang") or a not-so-subtle social commentary ("Norem"), Shanti compares the process to cooking: "Dapat balanse yung timpla." He believes that one's natural ability to stitch lines together can only get you so far, that's why every ingredient is essential. Shanti's advice when it comes to building a sick tune: finish what you start "habang sariwa at ramdam mo pa yung konsepto at, para lumabas yung gusto mong tunog at mensahe."

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It's impressive that Shanti manages to juggle a skyrocketing career, his school responsibilities, and the joys of adolescence. If he were to be given the chance to enter the industry at a later point in his life, he says he wouldn't have it any other way. For him, the early head start translates to better opportunities and room for both improvements and accomplishments.

"Yung pangarap na nasa isip lang, ginusto at ginawa ko siyang realidad nang maaga. Bata pa lang, kumilos at sumugal na ako," he reveals. "Kaya naman nakaka-inspire yung sukli ng mga tao, kasi sa totoo lang, masaya na ako pag natuwa sa mga kanta ko yung mga taong malalapit sa akin. Tapos ngayon pati mga hindi ko kakilala? Wow."

When Shanti had his first formal recording session, he remembered how Loonie praised him for starting out young. "Sabi niya, 'Pagdating mo ng 20 marami ka nang nagawa, kaya pagpatuloy mo lang.' Tumatak sa akin yun."

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Produced by Khatrina Bonagua Photography Andrea Beldua Styling Aldrin Ramos Grooming Janina Dizon


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