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AMPON is a camp that has been turning Heads since it was established. Underground, raw, emotive and powerful, The camp's name itself is an acronym standing for Absolute Messages Personified Over Noise. Hip-Hop in its purest unadulterated form. With beats, emcees and cuts reminiscent to the Down Earf project. AMPON echoes the voice of the unheard on thumping, often searing beats. The end result: an answer to pop-rap. This Is Hip-Hop. If you're a Hip-Hop head, this camp is not to be slept on, and sKarm, is about to release his premiere opus early this April 16, 2008; is no exception. We sit down with dude to get insight on inspirations on this album, what he thinks of the local scene as of late, and why the cover on "Lazyboy Blues" is so dismal.
SOL: Alright man. Thanks for joining us on SoulSonic. What's good, man? You're about to release your album... "Lazy Boy Blues." Why the title?
sKarm: Anygma from AMPON titled the album actually. I just gave my own meaning to it. Basically, what enters my mind when I hear that title is the representation of my struggle with my own brain. As the producer and emcee of this album, I can say that the content of the album is filled with coping mechanisms, stating beliefs or just plainly busting lyrics that represent everyday life. A person that works his brain more than anything else can be tagged as a “Lazy Boy”. Mainly for the fact that he is stagnant and just always stays home thinking of ways to escape this patterned out lifestyle that civilization has provided for everyone. Add the word “Blues” to it and it depicts a vibe of gloom. When you hear the album, you hear rhymes and beats that portray the struggle from the conflicts that arise between yourself and you’re own mind. That’s why you have titles in the album like Unsettled questions, Voices, Nowhere and etc.
SOL: Right, right. So then.... as long as we're on names, I think A.M.P.O.N. is one of the most unique names for any camp in the Filipino Hiphop scene. I mean, the acronym.. how'd you guys think of that? Was there a muse that sparked the idea?... or were you all just high as hell? Haha.
sKarm: At the time AMPON was created, I was merely a spectator. I think I was around 14 years old and before I knew it I saw my brother FLEXX, BEETLEJUICE, CALIPH8, CHYRHO and a couple of other heads talking about making a label that had no strings attached. This is my interpretation of why AMPON was titled AMPON. I can’t speak for the rest of the heads because I think we all would have different answers. Absolute Messages Personified Over Noise brings it raw and bashes you with crafty head bopping beats and gritty clever rhymes. Just by that statement you can say that there are a lot of people that would not have the patience or tolerance to understand our music. AMPON is the adopted child which provides music that doesn’t talk about the ice around the neck or the flaunting of women. To me it personifies through noise because it doesn’t fall under you typical insight of Hip-Hop. It is progressive Hip-hop. The kind of music that you can grow from. Yea..
SOL: Alright, so.. last name question, promise. sKarm. What's it mean? Why did you pick it as your emcee name?
sKarm: haha… to make the long story short, there was a time in my years where I was puzzled on what I should do with my life. That goes all the way back to first year high school. I got into this accident wherein glass was imbedded into my arm and back. I was first year high school at that time and I just connected my scars with my arm which then if you merge together, produces “sKarm”. At that time I was already making music so it was just one of those names where I was trying to fuse myself with the culture of hip-hop. Plus, it was like that right? You had to have that emcee name… haha.. Basically, I came up with the name when I was still fresh fish to Hip-Hop. It is a title that got stuck with me through the years and everyone just knew me by that name. So yeah…
SOL: So about the album. I've heard a few tracks from you before and one from the album. Namely the posse cut, Smoke City. That track to me, was really sombre. Like, everything's fucked but we're here so we don't care. It's like "Itataguyod namin ang katotohanan." No sugarcoating. Is that the main vibe throughout the whole album?
sKarm: well…. I won’t lie to you. The album is very dark. For me, Smoke City was about living in a world of trouble and hatred. It gives you interpretations from Flexx, Liquid, Protégé and myself about livelihood in a sinister type environment. In the end, we basically just provided our understanding about the whole situation.
The beats and lyrics of the album present a gloomy vibe and that is how I wanted it to be. People sometimes say that the more we make music like this, the more we complement to the darkness. I don’t choose that side for the reason that I prefer not be ignorant to my surroundings and I just rather the other side of the story be said. That is how I want to make music and that is how I will continue making music.
SOL: What's the idea behind the album's cover?
sKarm: Jolo Salvador (beat boxer, graffiti artist) made that album cover. I told him to listen to the album and just portray what he felt. He told me that it couldn’t be any other typical album cover, mainly for the fact that it tackles topics that convey a dark vibe. As I stated earlier, I prefer not to be ignorant to my surroundings. I rather provide awareness to the unaware. So yeah… and he says if you look at the back-cover, those tree-like branches spell out skarm. Cool. Haha…
SOL: Who did you look up to? Growing up in the local hiphop scene. What were your local influences? Also, what are your international influences?
sKarm: Hip-Hop wise I listened to Down Earf, some old Filipino jazz, but I am sorry to say growing up, I was not that in touch with the local music scene. I just listened to whatever my brothers would listen to. Haha.. International influences would comprise of artists such as Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Eyedea, Sage Francis, Sole, Dose One, Murs, Soul Position, Rjd2, Dj Shadow, Dj Q-Bert, Blueprint, Grayskul, Immortal Technique, ILL BILL, Necro, EL-P, Alias, Nas, GANGSTARR, I had my days with Limp Bizkit's “3 Dollar Bill” and “Significant Other” but turned my back to rest of their albums, Dj Lethal is still sick though,.... Common Sense, Blackstar, Tribe Called Quest, Delinquent Habits, John Coltrane, Gil Scott, Benny Goodman, Marvin gaye, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, but the most influence came from the whole Rhymesayers, DefJux, Anticon Camp, if I go back to the songs that really kicked me into doing what I do now, it would be slug's God's bathroom floor, Nas' the message, and Gangstarr's moment of truth.
SOL: Alright, so from all of the cuts I've heard from you, you spit in English. It's ill stuff btw. But what do you say to those detractors saying that it's not legit for a local P.I. emcee to be rapping in english. I've heard them before. The whole Tagalog vs. English war. What's your say and view point on that? Why don't you rap in Tagalog?
sKarm: Il be very frank to the people who argue that one side is better. I really think they need to open up their minds. We live in a 3rd world country that has its different classes. We have been taken over and colonized by foreign countries and this is where we stand today. We are a mixture of different cultures and a product of the past whether you like it or not. It is not any ones fault that some people grew up speaking English or some grew up speaking Tagalog. What really matters is what language you can express yourself better with. We all grew up in different surroundings. We are moulded by our environment. So I don’t care if someone raps in English or Tagalog. I just care for what he/she has to say with their lyrics. I use the English language because this way of verbal communication is the most comfortable way I can express my self. So who in their debating mind has the right to say I'm rapping wrong? The argument should be what rappers nowadays talk about in their songs not what language they use.
SOL: So you're only eighteen? And with an album already coming out. Why did you decide to get into rap?
sKarm: I am nineteen actually. I got into rap because Hip-hop became a lover. Cheesy as it is, it did. It is that whole escapist, wanting to prove a point type shit. That is how I started, and to tell something about anything through an 80-100 bpm and have complete control over it? is fucking amazing.
SOL: So I heard you got two or three other brothers that are also in your camp? What's your relation with them? Does Hiphop run in the family?
sKarm: I got 2 older brothers and one younger brother. My oldest brother Anton helps around with the management of AMPON. Miguel “FLEXX” is also an emcee, producer, and is currently studying in Canada now, enhancing his skills through culinary but still makes hella good music. You can catch FLEXX in shallow shadows in the album. My youngest brother Paolo is the one I am trying to teach right now. Haha, I feel good that he listens to Nas and Supernatural at a young age. And its all good because he doesn’t really dig my shit. He says he can’t understand it.. haha
SOL: So I'm gonna get a little personal here. I heard a line about the "Preacher's foolish fable" from one of your tracks. Do you believe in the Church or God? Do you think it has a place in the new-age or is that all fallacies?
sKarm: Haha… that song was about school. I collaborated with Plazma (emcee) in this song. The title of the track where I said that line was called “Nowhere”. It’s about those controlling teachers that take advantage of their positions. They are the kind of teachers or leaders that manipulate minds in a very unhealthy subliminal manner. As far as the church goes, let me just state what I believe in.
I do not believe in the term God. I believe in a higher being but choose not to brand “it” with human traits such as loving or vengeful etc. In other words, I do not know the creator whatsoever. I believe in people more than anything else in this world because people make their own lives, choose their own paths, and live the way they want to live. People have the power to manipulate, love and deceive. Haha.. I believe when I was born I was provided with a given belief, knowledge was instilled upon me, and I was NEVER given a choice.---------- I do not want to talk about the church because I set myself in neutral ground. I believe religion is subjective because who are we to tell other people that what they believe in is wrong? I respect people’s beliefs, I do not thrash it. Whatever works for you, works for you!
SOL: The local hiphop scene, as previously discussed, is anything but live. It's a sleeper culture definitely. What are the advantages and disadvantages to this in your opinion to camps such as A.M.P.O.N.? Are you guys happy with releasing your stuff independently? How do you think A.M.P.O.N. compares to labels such as Dongalo or 6000 Goonz?
sKarm: Coming from an independent label has a lot of advantages. The biggest benefit and the most rewarding element I can think of is complete creative control over your music. That’s what AMPON represents for me. There is no censorship; no one above you telling you what to write about and financially, all profit goes to you. Now with regards to my feelings about releasing our stuff independently, I think whats cool about it is, you have all the time in the world to make your songs. There is no pressure in striking the pan while it is hot because the movement of AMPON is below the surface which means it will always be there whether you dig it or not.
I cannot really describe how it is to be in a major label because all I hear is the he say/she say. Who am I to generalize all major labels right? I can’t even decide my own religion.. haha… I do not really know how Dongalo or 6000 Goonz run their labels but all I know is everyone in the P.I right now contributes something to the table. Everyone takes Hip-hop differently and that’s what brings beauty through diversity. It is that uniqueness in every artist that can tell you different views of life, belief, moral, sex, drugs, money, and etc. Whether you make underground or mainstream music you will always have space in the industry to say what you want to say.
SOL: Now, Do you personally believe that there is Hip-Hop in the Philippines ?
sKarm: Definitely. What you see in the P.I right now is how individuals have taken this culture in. That’s what makes Hip-Hop so universally friendly. Everyone has their own definition of what Hip-Hop is to them and it complements the elements of hip-hop to a point wherein each individual can plug in their personality and create their own style, make their own mark and most importantly state what they believe in. Of course you still have those certain individuals that still imitate what they see from the west. But then, that is how it starts. You idolize your favourites and see the ones you don’t dig, and from there, with the help of time? You seem to create your own definitions about everything. I mean, that is how I took it…
SOL: So would you ever do a party track? In an artists point of view, do you think someone in your position who makes such hard-hitting tracks should be considered a sell-out if he starts doing poppy songs?
sKarm: Personally I don’t really dig the party vibe sound. I am never going to make one mainly for the fact that it is just not me. All of us have different definitions for sell-outs. “Selling out” to me is compromising the way you make your music just for the sake of pleasing the audience. Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with pleasing the audience but your music has to also represent yourself. I believe people who have sold out have forgotten themselves and just make music to make that “hit” single. They become like puppets in the music scene because wherever trend goes, they go. It is the artist, his artwork, and the audience. As long as you balance your priorities with these elements you can never go wrong.
SOL: What's your favourite track in your new album? Which one will make listeners go "DAMN THAT WAS ILL!"
sKarm: Hahaha… I hope they have that reaction for all the tracks. I have no favourites! Maybe you guys can tell me when you go to the album launch at MAGNET HIGH STREET, THE FORT! On APRIL 16!! Yeye..
SOL: Alright man. Shameless self promotion. Sell your product! Why should people cop "Lazyboy Blues?" Make your sales pitch count!
sKarm: You should cop Lazy Boy Blues because the guests in the album are as good as any prophet, poet, emcee you will ever know. There are so many guests that made this album possible! Im beginning to think I should call it “skarm duets” haha… But seriously, if you want something different, something to debate about or something you just wanna headbop to? L.B.B is the album for ya brotha….
SOL: So what's going on with A.M.P.O.N. this year? What new projects or albums are dropping?
sKarm: Mic is currently working on his album and NothingElse is planning his internet EP. Aside from that, everyone in AMPON is just working. Other hip-hop heads such as Audible and Jayflava have been working with us as well. As a spectator of hip-hop, working with these individuals is plainly remarkable.
SOL: Alright, thanks for the time man. I'll be sure to cop your album. Any last words, shout outs or messages to our loyal loyal readers?
sKarm:Learn and define and keep an open mind.
Thank you SoulSonic, Much appreciation for having me here------Peace
SOL: For more info. on the whole AMPON camp and movement, head over to http://www.amponcamp.com