Frustration and anger deserve a creative outlet. Artists who are fed up with the devastating climate of extra-judicial killings, impunity, corruption, and fear turn to music not so much for its gift of escapism, but for its tradition of addressing contemporary issues in a concise, powerful form. Nothing shakes up distance from social issues than a blood-rushing protest soundtrack. Devoid of gimmickry and poetic grandstanding, Calix’s full-length debut The Lesser of Your Greater Friends thrives on this chaotic space, yet its pronounced presentation of moral decay is an integral part of the message.
There’s no attempt to sugarcoat the drama, no agenda to turn the narrative into a messianic one. Ugliness is portrayed as truth, tackling social realities that affect the poor and the marginalized in a frustrating, grim hurricane of misery. Its release comes at a perfect time, when the country is experiencing a wave of unlawful killings and suppression of pro-people policies.
“Nakatutok ang baril sa tulad natin / hindi na nga makalaban, nilagyan pa ng piring,” Calix expresses his disdain on the skinxbones-produced track "Ahas." It sets the dreary and harrowing tone of the record, putting the listeners inside the rapper’s head, which leaves one a feeling of heaviness that is difficult to ignore. He reinforces the mood on "Nalulunod sa Dugo," a pulsating hip-hop bop that reflects on the casualties of war on drugs. Both songs take progressive music to uncharted new places, reflective of the trying times, but not giving a flying fuck regardless of who hears it and who it’s for.
Rage hits gold with the barbed punches of "Di Matitinag," where Calix and acclaimed emcee BLKD hold ground in exposing the atrocities of the Marcos regime. Its fury is undeniably infectious, fueling the resistance with anxiety and manic energy that characterize their respective solo outings. While you can feel the intensity run through the framework, there’s also a level of complexity and eloquence in which the two street poets articulate their frustration.
BLKD dominates the conversation with a mix of insult, critique, and call to action, finishing his verse with a triumphant promise: “Ang alab ng puso ng masang lumalaban / Hindi ka titigilan hangga't di ka gumagapang.” As expected, Calix revels in the sheer audacity of his frustration. He calls out the Marcoses in their attempt to rewrite history and restore their place of power, with no hesitation.
When Calix takes a break from the socio-political rhetoric, he speaks out against machismo and patriarchal society on "Binary," mocks spoiled rich kids on "Rich Kids Foreva" and ups his beef game on "Nasusuka" and "Sibuyas." The potty-mouthed wordsmith turns into a maestro of satire in just a snap, his razor-sharp commentary on the petty and artificial, spot on and ridiculously funny.
It’s important to note that bulk of Calix’s The Lesser of Your Greater Friends is co-produced by Serena DC—an upcoming producer whose stellar work with NoFace Records deserves some championing. Her signature mix of bass-heavy trap beats and atmospheric soundscapes drifts with unrestrained pulse, but sensible enough not to take the center stage.
There’s also a conscious effort to give guest collaborators the spotlight that they need: from ?’s sensual vocals on "Ramdam" to G V N D V L X C X X X $’s star-making verse on "Masarap," from Den Sy Ty’s passive-aggressive jabs on "Nasusuka" to Emar Industriya’s killer lines on "Parasitiko." The posse cuts are just straight fire, made more appealing by a diverse selection of artists whose talent is bigger than their personalities.
The Lesser of Your Greater Friends shows Calix in his element, rewriting the rules of local hip-hop with uncompromised vision. While some would rather push the enduring relevance of protest music to the sides in favor of a comfortable position in life, Calix does the exact opposite by speaking his mind about the ills of contemporary Philippine society, by showing his resistance against oppressive elements, even if it could lead to losing more opportunities. It’s refreshing to have someone channel our collective anger and frustration and knock it out of the park.