Local hero NINNO sees hip-hop like his favorite video games. It’s a competitive industry; you’ve got to come up with a good strategy to dominate the game. Armed with a cerebral hustle and a visceral flow, he’s out to achieve a 100% completion rate. Press start to play.
The fantasy world of gaming can get really consuming, but there’s a certain satisfaction in being able to choose responses and reactions that would dictate how a story may play-out, delving deeper into the many different ways a journey could unfold. NINNO’s path towards hip-hop was somewhat similar. There were several steps that the 23-year old rapper and producer could’ve taken, including an R&B singer-songwriter combo, a writer for a local noontime show, and even a full-time fan fiction writer—and his next move would’ve led him towards a failed mission. Ultimately, going through these different stages developed an affinity towards hip-hop as the college dropout found himself taking a retrospective look at the late great Francis M.’s career after his unfortunate passing in 2009. “I was really drawn to his music. ‘Kaleidoscope World’ was one of my favorite songs growing up,” he recalls. “I just started watching his videos from the most recent stuff. When I got to ‘Mga Kababayan Ko’ and I listened to it, I was like, ‘Holy shit, this sucks.’” And he says that with the highest respect for the guy, ‘cause unlike gaming, NINNO realized that there was no cheat code to success. “I said to myself, ‘Fuck, I can do this.’ I can start out being really bad at it, and then eventually, I’d become what he became. It had to be learned; it had to be practiced. He didn’t start off to be amazing, God rest his soul, but he was fucking good.” With one final push owing to the support of underground rapper Datu, NINNO’s hip-hop career took a leap to the next level.
“I’m chasing after the ghost of my future, ‘cause I know I’m gonna be better than what I am right now.”
They say that storytelling is the second oldest profession—next to prostitution—and historically speaking, the mark of a great rapper is the ability to weave explicit rhymes into gripping narratives that catch the listener’s attention through the end of the song. This is exactly what lured NINNO further into his craft, and his 11-track debut project Third Culture Kid is one narrative worth hearing. Dropping densely-knotted rhymes and reasons over an East Coast-influenced production, NINNO displays a sheer emotional intelligence as he pens cautionary tales about the nation’s headlines and the struggle of it all. Despite the rapid-fire delivery, his calculated, hard-hitting flow doesn’t go over anyone’s head. He isn’t a celebrated spoken word poet and a poetry slam champ for no reason. But while socially conscious lyricism reckons to be his specialty, the 23-year old MC mixes it up with his own cup of tea. After all, he was playing Skyrim all week for an accumulated total of 48 hours minutes before our interview. “I like to incorporate a lot of nerdy references and stuff that people don’t really talk about in hip-hop music–even though the current culture dictates that I’m supposed to be bragging about bitches, cars, drugs, and all that shit, I’m not interested in that,” he explains. “When it comes to hip-hop, the number one rule is to always be authentic. Whatever you try to do with music, be it as a producer or as a writer, you want to present yourself as a very authentic individual, ‘cause the moment you’re fake about anything, that shit ain’t hip-hop.”
NINNO currently has a lot on his plate, but his hunger for passion is never fully satisfied. Apart from taking a bigger responsibility in handling music collective LOGICLUB as co-founder Rez Toledo a.k.a. Somedaydream focuses on his own music and other ventures, his next steps include finishing a record with Shadow Moses, a nerdcore rap group comprised of A.M.P.O.N.’s Chyrho, beat master Six The Northstar, and himself, as well as mastering a 22-track followup to Third Culture Kid towards the end of 2017—hopefully before Injustice 2’s release date. “I still am one of the top Injustice players in the Philippines. And when Injustice 2 comes out, I’m quitting music for about three to four months to enter tournaments again. I’m going to go deep into it and use it to promote my new album,” he quips. Geared with the mindset to be the best player in the game, he’s always one step ahead with his music. “I’m chasing after the ghost of my future, ‘cause I know I’m gonna be better than what I am right now,” he adds. Though he’s high on the hype building around his hip-hop career, he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground. After all, he’s just a boy, standing in front of a mic, waiting for the universe to listen. “The last thing people should do is put me on a pedestal, because I’m just fucking human,” he says. “Every artist that anyone actually likes, don’t idolize them. Don’t put them on a pedestal. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and I’m just a kid telling stories.”
By Pola Beronilla
Photographed by Nyael David
Styled by Matt Panes
Shot on location at Today x Future