The proverbial history book of Filipino hip-hop is filled with one thing: a long list of men. Not only that, but there’s also a deep-rooted misogyny in the culture that many of the people thriving within it have yet to confront. Considering the predominantly macho culture of rap makes the feat of any female rapper that much more impressive.
But there is no one more attention-grabbing in recent times than Alex Bruce. Hailing from Batangas, the young emcee first made waves in the music industry at age 11 with her fiery bars laid over trap beats—a genre which has its foundations in subject matters of drug use, violence, and promiscuity.
The irony is evident once you see Alex off-duty, as she transforms from a rising rap star to a regular preteen girl named Thursten Alex Bruce. Who would think that a child would have the capacity to flip the script of hip-hop and reject themes of discrimination and violence that reappear in its music time and again?
Alex is creating her own rules by rapping about empowerment—embodying all of the attitude the genre has, but none of the dirt. “What I don’t like about hip-hop is dissing each other, raps about disrespecting women, and anything related to violence,” she tells us. She aspires for singularity apart from the material wealth braggadocio that dominates hip-hop. She’s in it to let people know she’s the “illest” not because of a Ferrari, but because she’s unapologetically herself.
Who would think that a child would have the capacity to flip the script of hip-hop and reject themes of discrimination and violence that reappear in its music time and again?
When asked who her inspirations are, she mentions a slew of powerhouse all-female rappers. Some of the first names that come to her mind are Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Missy Elliott, the influences of which you can hear from Alex’s rapid-fire cadence and onstage attitude. Her current favorites to listen to are Karmin (now performing as Qveen Herby) and CL. But the icon who started it all for her was Filipino-American emcee Ruby Ibarra.
“I love her because she’s so natural. I love the way she writes, her multisyllabic rhymes, bars, flow are mind-blowing,” Alex says. She first discovered Ruby while nurturing her growing attraction to hip-hop on the internet, beginning to rap at just four years old. Her parents first got her into the genre, with her father being a former rapcore group member and her mother an avid fan of R&B. Upon chancing on Ruby’s music, Alex told her father that she wanted to be just like Ruby.
Filipino-American emcee Ruby Ibarra is creating a space for herself in the male-dominated American hip-hop scene while carrying her heritage with pride—a feat not easily achieved. She was born in Tacloban in 1991, then migrated to San Francisco at age four, struggling with issues of identity as she transitioned into a land where she was a minority. Her family brought with them a copy of Francis M’s “Yo!” Through this tape, she had a piece of Filipino culture to hold on to. A few years later, she would grow to be a prominent voice in contemporary Filipino hip-hop.
Even if she grew up in America, Ruby expressly makes it a point to uplift her heritage, most especially the Filipina. “Island woman rise/walang makakatigil/Brown, brown woman, rise, alamin ang ’yung ugat,” she sings on her single “Us.” Its accompanying video, which she also directed, features 150 women from different Filipino cultures and generations in traditional costumes performing local dances. Ruby herself wears traditional Waray clothing as she spits bars of Filipina empowerment, almost like a message to privileged sectors that being a minority is not synonymous to being weak. In fact, it’s what makes brown-skinned girls like her shine.
It’s easy to see how young girls like Alex would want to become like Ruby, because even an innocent child-like her felt the gravitas of Ruby’s messages.
Many years later in 2018, Alex found herself rapping Ruby’s bars for the official “Here” music video, and got the chance to perform with Ruby herself at a homecoming show of hers. “This is so emotional,” she confessed to the crowd—which included Ruby Ibarra—before spitting like she had been performing for years. Mid-song, she pulled Ruby onstage and they finished the track together. They ended with a hug, with Alex thanking her Ate Ruby, one generation passing on inspiration to the next. And so Filipino rap had a new queen in the making, set to push back against its culture of discrimination.
For Alex, hip-hop should be all about the culture and not the cred. “I like the hip-hop scene because of its art—from dancing, to music, fashion, and the street culture,” Alex tells us. It’s easy to see her love for the culture since she herself oozes hip-hop, being both a dancer and emcee with street style fits to match. Already at home in the scene since age 10, it seemed almost as if she was born into the rap game.
But just when I had started to believe that she was a bullet-proof prodigy, the 13-year-old rapper confessed she also had to deal with bouts of nervousness. “It was a nerve-racking moment, I [felt] like [I was] gonna vomit,” she tells us about her first performance. “But soon as I spit my first word, my Kraken within takes place.” The Kraken, a mythical sea monster known for its capacity for destruction, is Alex’s personal “beast mode.” Like all her songs say, she wants everyone to find their own Kraken within and release it.
“Gonna break the boundary, look at me/Spitting multi with symmetry/Simply serving my mastery/With sultry spices and energy,” she raps on her debut single, “Dopest.” Alex says that her tracks are about proving herself and the power of the youth. “It’s all about the swag,” she laughs. Although Alex stands no more than five feet tall, her bars and energy elevate her into a larger-than-life figure. Such is the power of music, and a Filipina empowered.
And if a child her age can understand messages of discrimination and learn to reject them, then so can—and should—all of us.
Outside of the stage though, Alex could still be just like any other kid. Her Facebook page bio says she’s interested in owls and unicorns, right next to writing bars, of course. There are moments between interviews where hints of a childish meekness slip out—when she swivels her chair in excitement or looks to her parents in the audience for reassurance—to remind you that she still is a young girl. And if a child her age can understand messages of discrimination and learn to reject them, then so can—and should—all of us.
When we asked her what her plans were for this year, she told us she wants to double everything she’s done before. “Alex Bruce 2.0 is coming your way,” she says. Alex, born Thursten Alex D.V. Bruce, already has accomplishments on par with peers double her age. She’s newly signed to Sony Music with a video and single out, has thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify, and has played venues like the MOA Arena. And she’s only just begun.
This story was originally published in our 38th issue and has been edited for web. The digital copy of Scout’s 38th issue is accessible here.
Interview by Rogin Losa
Art by Rogin Losa