So it’s come to this: Curtismith, we need answers.
Like many of the rumors on the internet rumor mill, it begins with a few tweets that get thrown in the air, probably with a little name drop, albeit with some characters switched so it wouldn’t be searchable. But rumors stop becoming rumors once they’re acknowledged, right? Some rumors die off an ugly death. But some start becoming something more—they become controversies.
A) I am not a Marcos apologist
B) I think someone should be judged by their actions not anyone else’s
C) talk shit u better back it up boy https://t.co/wiBBaOVnJH
— curtismith (@curtismito) May 11, 2017
Enter Curtismith, Logiclub member and hip-hop artist whose name has recently been seen in the following: a feature on Scout‘s November 2015 issue, a billboard in EDSA, a San Miguel ad, and patama tweets, in that order. Disliking someone openly on social media isn’t that uncommon, but for someone whose good-boy image is still shining on his rising career, any negative feedback might ruin his streak. What might appear to someone as another victim of the internet hate bandwagon might be a good dose of poetic justice. To Curtismith, it was one overbearing slam of “hate.”
Last night was a reaffirmation of how hate breeds hate.. but I got a verse I’ll put out when I’m back in Manila so thanks ??
— curtismith (@curtismito) May 12, 2017
Let your work speak for you. pic.twitter.com/PqMF6yuJmm
— curtismith (@curtismito) May 17, 2017
The last one in particular broke the collective Twitter camel’s back: A scene straight out of an XXL Freshmen cypher, with Curtismith as MC and DJ Carlo Atendido instead of DJ Drama. In an interview with Billboard PH, DJ Carlo Atendido mentions that they shot it out of the Mazda warehouse. It’s definitely a break from Curtismith’s past tapes sonically and visually, but he’s in dire straits. Amid different critiques on all fronts, he fires back with a rapid-fire verse that inadvertently made a bigger fire than what it may have tried to extinguish.
In our November 2015 interview, we asked him how the fame will affect him if ever he does make it big one day and gains a lot of fans. He answered then: “If I’m able to reach the level of success I want to reach with my music, I’ll still want to keep it pure. Because I have fans, they will care about what I have to say.”
In an attempt to find answers ourselves, we ask Mito Fabie, the person behind the persona Curtismith, all the hard questions we’ve wanted to ask—his friendship with Sandro Marcos, his hip-hop affiliations, and his privilege—and he answers in an explicit back-and-forth. Feel free to make your own judgment about what he says, but know this: this whole thing isn’t a condonation of his statements. If anything, this is a dialogue between fan and artist, friends, and two personas with opposing viewpoints.
Here are some excerpts from our interview:
So, has this happened before?
No, this is the first time I’m going through this. It’s interesting to see how things unravel because the foundation of where it stemmed from, like where even?
You don’t know?
It’s from a Twitter exchange from what I believe, and a photo. But the photo’s been taken out of context, what has been said has been taken out of context, so the people that have been throwing shade are throwing shade out of their own frustrations rather than, what?
I think what’s important right now is to get your word in. Let’s start with the video. What were you thinking? What was your goal?
Well, I was told that there were people who were really starting the hate movement were a bunch of different artists from their bedroom and stuff, and I was like yo, talk shit all you want but let’s make our work talk for ourselves. And that was the root of why I wrote it. Again, it was just expression. I have not been triggered like that in a minute. So you know what? I’m going to express myself the way I want to and just express the frustrations that I’ve heard against me either via social media or through the grapevine. I’m going to express myself one time big time with a verse to show that I can do other stuff, other this Soully Yours stuff. Show another aspect of Curtismith and not just box him up.
Is that why you used the “Look At Me!” beat? Was it your choice?
The beat choice? It’s a good beat. I like the beat. I planned it with Carlo Atendido. We’re doing two videos. One is this one; I just asked him if we could do another since we’re here. One is for Mazda. I was like, you know what, if I’m also doing corporate stuff I want to also make sure I’m doing art stuff. And at the end of the day, although all this controversy is coming out, hopefully it stimulates other people to put on verses, to tap my verse. From my understanding, that just helps the music that we make to the forefront. Because people right now are listening. It’s giving more attention to the scene. It just so happens that I’m getting shot at.
Is it a sponsored video?
The main agenda for that day was a sponsored video but we also added our own element to it which is what we did.
The song is a diss track right? A rebuttal?
I guess so. More of an expression than anything because there’s no one in particular that I’m rebutting to. More of a group of people who are so eager to write things down online but hanggang dun lang, eh. Or they’ll make a track but it’s weak. I was like yo, if you want to play a game, just play it right.
Have you checked Twitter after posting it?
*laughs* not really. Not really.
Some people attempted to transcribe your verse. I have some of it written down…
I have it right here.
I picked a few lines that we can talk about. What do you mean by “boys control all your ladies”?
It’s just a bar, dude. “Boys control all your ladies” because they were just asking like boys. And I guess I was acting like a boy. I personally liked the flow. I had fun writing it. I was listening to a lot of The Blueprint lately. I’m like, let me take a jab at this style. It’s something that I can resonate with, I haven’t been able to express very much since IDEAL. This is more attitude now. I’m tired of hearing the bullshit.
Some people have taken offense of that bar because of it’s misogynistic implications. Ladies can control themselves.
I had no intention to be a misogynist while writing it. But it’s part of what I’ve picked up lyrically without the intention to offend but more of…you listen to any lyric of a rapper and they have intense things to say and they don’t mean it in a misogynistic way, it’s just a style of rap. I may have been wrong at that point for using that but again it was really just…
How about “You hate the vision but I stay committed to say it’s ‘fuck your opinion.’” Is this directed to any sentiments people have said before? Which particular sentiments are we talking about?
It’s very general, like, fuck these negative opinions people have of me because no matter how much shade they throw, I’m still going to stick to my vision and do what I want to do. And basically that is being able to show people that you can succeed through following your passions. You can do what you want to do without compromising the way you live.
“If this is hip-hop, then I feel like an immigrant.” We read the interview you had with PURVEYR saying you’re not an MC. But then you have a song where you say “I’m an MC.”
It’s very contradictory. I was at a point in time where I wanted to get out of the game. I just wanted to be an artist. If you’ve listened to Soully Yours, I wouldn’t consider that hip-hop. I had just finished that project, I was still in that mindset, and I was like, you know what, consider me an artist. But then I would talk to people like Skarm and they talked sense to me. They said “You can’t say you’re not an MC, no matter what.” My justification was hip-hop was my foundation. Hip-hop is where I stem from but don’t necessarily call me a hip-hop artist or a rapper.
And I still hold to that. I still want to branch out, to go for that Frank Ocean style, I’m still influenced by soulful music. I guess I did contradict myself in that sense. I just honestly being boxed in to one thing. You know you can call me an MC. I can say I have material for rap. But I wouldn’t say that’s all I have. What does that entail, that you’re an MC if you have other styles under the same name? Are you strictly a rapper in that sense? Or are you an artist? What is it? I don’t know. That’s why I’m trying to go with these different styles. I was blessed enough to work with Noel Cabangon recently and he does exactly that. He has reggae music. He has love songs. He has Christmas songs. I want to do that but with my style and my flavor. What would you call him? Would you call him a reggae singer? Would you call him a ballad singer? Where do you put him? And I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. I like to believe that at the end of the day I’m an artist, trying to express himself with rhythm and poetry and melodies.
“I was at a point in time where I wanted to get out of the game. I just wanted to be an artist.”
Do you think the track was necessary? Do you think the video was necessary?
The reason why I don’t regret it although there was so much backlash was that I was proud to show a different style of my writing. It’s something you would see on a Funkmaster Flex freestyle. I’m proud of the flows. When I would watch videos like that online, I was like, that’s pretty dope. I just wanted to try it. I just wanted to see what I can do. The situation was a trigger for me to try it out. I’m not going to do it again, but I can say that I tried it. Not saying it worked out, but it happened.
So you don’t regret it.
I don’t regret it. I feel bad for how people took it. I didn’t mean to offend the people that I did offend. I was really directing it towards haters. I appreciate constructive criticism. There were people that messaged and actually wanted to talk about it rather than go on Twitter and have everybody read it. People wanted to do it on private. I appreciate every one of those messages. I do understand that I have faults. I do understand that I have so much to learn. But you know I’m just trying to grow like everyone else. I fucked up but I don’t regret it.
“I don’t regret it. I feel bad for how people took it. I didn’t mean to offend the people that I did offend.”
Who are your haters? To whom are you directing these messages?
I don’t want to pay them no mind, dude. But I know that they are there. I have seen it with my own eyes. I’ve been shown it with my own eyes. I allowed my emotions to take over. I’m not used to taking hate. People passionately shooting you down without conversing. Without understanding both sides. That I took offense to. But then again it was another lesson showing that that’s not the way to approach things.
Let’s continue with the critiques of you. You’ve already answered the first critique of you not being an MC so let’s move on with the second: you’re a privileged MC. You’re well-off. So there’s a disjointedness with the vision you’re trying to create, one of chasing dreams and passions, and people see you’re in billboards, in ads, and you have sponsors. Do you think there’s a disparity between those things? What do you think?
I guess I have different perception of privilege. I understand that I am privileged in the sense that I have a roof over my head, I have three square meals a day, and I was able to get an education. Privilege from my perspective at the time where I said that was I have friends living under their parents, having their own allowance, all of these things, and I haven’t gotten any of that since I was 17. Comparatively speaking, I’ve been hustling for my shit. I was dead broke with no fucking money and I hustled for what I’m able to get now which are all these industry deals and all these things. People may see that there’s a disjoint but how else are you able to live off music if you don’t do that? How else are you going to buy equipment? If you’re an independent artist how are you going to make events? In order to get anything done you need money.
No matter how purist you want to be, talking shit, two weeks ago I was able to feed 700 kids. With cash. I can say that I have all of these dreams but without actually acting up on it, it’s just talk. In order for me to stick to my creative control, I still need the support from these companies who are able to trust my vision and allow me not to compromise what I have to say but at the same time still help me with what I want to achieve.
“In order for me to stick to my creative control, I still need the support from these companies who are able to trust my vision and allow me not to compromise what I have to say but at the same time still help me with what I want to achieve.”
The third critique: Are you a Marcos apologist?
No. So, I’ve known Sandro since I was grade 7, or freshman high school. At that point in time I knew him as Sandro. Not as Sandro Marcos. I knew what his family has done but because I had met him just as who he was, I knew him the same way I met you. Know what I mean? There was no preconceived notion because of what his family has done. Now if that makes me a Marcos apologist, because I judged him based on his character alone, then . . . I don’t support them in any way. If you’re asking why I didn’t want to talk bad on Sandro, [it’s] because we drifted apart. I saw him again Christmas last year. I was talking to him about me wanting to help push things forward, do these things to help the less fortunate. And he was like, when I’m back, let me help you. So I’m like, that’s great! And then here are a bunch of kids that say I’m friends with an asshole when he’s the one willing to help me.
You guys could have helped me two weeks ago but you were busy yapping, and there’s somebody here willing to help me out. Regardless of what people think of him, he’s here, and I don’t know if he’s going to help me but the fact that he was willing and open to listening to me, and open to help me push things forward and instead of 700 kids with him I could feed 1400. By the end of this year I want to send 300 kids to school and that costs 900,000 pesos. I need to raise that money. How am I going to do that?
I’m not going to judge him based on his last name. I’m going to judge him based on what he’s done. If he follows exactly what his dad and grandfather has done, there’s going to be conflict. But before that arises I’m going to give him a chance to prove himself to me, because we were able to build a relationship as friends before any of this related to his last name.
“I’m not going to judge him based on his last name. I’m going to judge him based on what he’s done. If he follows exactly what his dad and grandfather has done, there’s going to be conflict.”
But do you get why Sandro is problematic?
I do. But psychologically, you’re placed into this home, and you get accustomed to certain luxuries. He, I guess, does not understand the magnitude of what his lolo did because he’s reaping the benefits of it, I understand that. But at the same time, is he just going to go against his family? The people who are taking care of him, the people who are giving him love? For people who are bashing him at the moment? If you were in this position would you be able to do that? Would you be able to brush your whole family off of something you don’t really understand because it happened before you were alive. But you’re reaping the benefits, so the way I see it is, what he has now, what can he do to give back to people? Because he already has it. You can’t change the past. It’s already happened. So how are we going to make it better from this point on rather than doing some drastic change and saying “fuck my family, they stole my money, I’m going to be the rebel Marcos” or whatever. I just don’t see that happening realistically. And so how are we able to move forward in a realistic point of view with the situation that he has. What do you think?
Kasi ganito ‘yun eh. Sandro’s an adult. He could speak for the Marcoses. Wala man lang apology for everything that has happened. I get what you’re saying. There’s a compromise: he’s the son. His father is a Marcos. But there’s always a side where you think about the money they have—
I get what you’re saying. Another thing I respect about him is that I told him straight up, “You’re a crook, dude!” when we were kids, jokingly. And he would just take it. I didn’t mean it in any way. But I also definitely see that he is an adult but at the same time he’s still being supported. He’s still in school. Once he gets his degree, once he comes back for good let’s see what he does. But until then he’s still getting an education which his parents are paying for.
So you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Yes. I can’t judge him for anything other than our relationship. If I didn’t know him it would be a completely different story. When you know someone, things become different. And that’s also why I could relate to him is he understands where his dad is coming from. I think he sees his dad is coming from a pure place, somehow. I don’t know. I can’t speak for him. But it’s a gray area, man. It’s a very gray area.
Let’s look at your history. The name Curtismith comes as a blow towards celebrity culture and “the system” itself, right? As the story progresses, I feel like you’ve eventually become part of the celebrity culture you were supposedly rising up against. It just feels like you’re a walking contradiction.
I see that. Following the footsteps of Chance [the Rapper], what does it mean to sell out to me? It means you give up all creative control, you trust the record label to mold you to want they want you to be, and you follow. That’s not what I’m doing. These companies are coming to me, saying I have full creative control, that they’ll support me in what I want to do. How can I say no to that? That thing that allows me to express myself freely and I also see it as allowing the engine smoother, getting the word out, getting more people there. Again I’m still an independent artist. I produce all my videos. I want to produce my own events. And in order for me to do this I want to work with these companies. I wish I could do it another way. With [South] Korea for example, I was discussing with someone why [South] Korea is so influential in terms of their music, I was told that it’s because the government supports them. The government isn’t supporting me. The government isn’t supporting no artists. Independently, without these major record labels, how do we get our word out there? How do we market ourselves?
We’ve talked about music and beyond music, but what do you really want to achieve? What are your goals, short term and long term?
Short-term, I really want to explore the artistry. I would like to consider myself an artist now and explore the different elements of art like visual arts, such as being more hands-on with my videos… learning, definitely. This conflict has taught me that there’s still so much more to learn. I’m at this point right now where I just want to make music that feels good, that helps people escape from their current situation. But I understand now that I hold a responsibility now that people are listening to me. Now that I’m working with companies but I have the freedom to say what I want, I didn’t realize the magnitude of that until shit hit the fan. So, you know, it’s a lot of learning.
The short-term goal is to see this and see how far I can take it. Living with no regrets, learning different styles of rap. I don’t want to end my career and be like, oh I should have tried this style. Long-term goal is I still don’t want to work for or with any company that I don’t believe in. I want to do my own things. What does that entail? Having my own business. I want to make stuff out of bamboo. There’s this place in Bali called The Green School and they make all of these great structures out of bamboo. They’ve showed that it’s possible. We can grow bamboo here if you know what I mean. That’s just the path I want to take. Show people that they can dream of something bigger. That’s also why I want to send kids to school. And basically make sure that I live for something bigger than myself. But the conflict arises when in order for me to do all these things, I need dough. I’m just trying to be realistic as possible.
“But the conflict arises when in order for me to do all these things, I need dough. I’m just trying to be realistic as possible.”
I remember the first time I heard you live, circa 2014 or 2015, you had a set with Ninno at Mow’s and I was like, shit, this guy is so good. Coming from the perspective of a fan and from everything we’ve discussed so far, all the moves that you’ve been making recently, especially the video, it just feels like kinain ka ng sistema. You’re alienating the fans that have been loyal to you ever since. For every person that critiqued you, you’ve called them haters of your vision and it doesn’t feel justified. Is it just mud-slinging now? I know it’s hard to ignore but then again some of the critiques are actually valid—the critiques concerning your music and your relationship with Sandro. I know we’ve talked about these issues and I can’t help but ask, what’s your next step?
For me, with Curtismith as a musician, I want to explore different realms. I don’t want to stick to the sounds people expect from me. I want fans to understand that sonically I’m trying to grow. I want fans to understand that we can compete globally. For example with IDEAL, I’d rather live out these things. Instead of talking about these things like a broken record, I’m actually trying to do these things now. I’m actually trying to make that change through my actions rather than what I’m saying. The music is completely different from what Mito Fabie is trying to achieve with the agriculture, with helping kids in Payatas. It’s not like those things aren’t happening, I’m not just being vocal about it. Doesn’t mean I’m not doing it. I’m just trying to lead more through my actions than what I’m saying.
As an artist it’s completely different. I don’t want everything to be like IDEAL. And if you noticed through my sound, it’s been changing naman talaga, eh. My next project is going to be completely different from Soully Yours or The Rehearsals EP and that’s just my way of expressing. It’s my way of escaping. It’s like a universe that I want to create whereas as myself I want to separate myself from this whole Curtismith brand. The people who actually believed, I want them to hop on board. This is why I invited everyone to the Payatas feeding program. You can say that I have all these fans that are backing me up but where were they when I asked them to show up to the event? I’m not discrediting them at all. I respect all the love that I get and I appreciate it so much, but I’m just saying that I want to be more than just them liking me for the music. I want them to hop on board on what I’m doing. Get off the bubble we all live in and connect with people.
“You can say that I have all these fans that are backing me up but where were they when I asked them to show up to the event? I’m not discrediting them at all. I respect all the love that I get and I appreciate it so much, but I’m just saying that I want to be more than just them liking me for the music.”
Any last words?
I would just like to stress that music is a form of expression and creativity. And it’s completely different from what I’m doing to stick to the vision. It was one minute. People are judging me off one minute that I’ve written down with flows and and all those things. I’m just trying to do my parts and gather troops with the same vision and do things. We can let loose. Being an artist is like an escape. We’re allowed to explore different dimensions of who we are, whether good or bad. We’re trying to make sense of things. And with that, there’s also the path that I’m trying to take which is actually doing things. Actually trying to employ people. Actually trying to show that you don’t have to do a nine-to-five if you don’t want to do it. There are other ways to approach this life and at the end of the day it’s about what you can do to make things better. I’m trying to do that.
Photos by Grace de Luna