There’s no shortage of exceptional rappers in the Philippines—the country which was said to have the first hip hop scene in Asia, dating back to the early 1980s, thanks to Filipino-American and Filipino immigrant communities in the U.S., particularly DJs, who have brought the American music culture into Philippine shores.
Filipino women in hip hop have been part of the culture since the beginning, albeit not as visible (and with more challenges to overcome), with Lady Diane—widely recognized as “The First Lady of Rap”—rapping about the Persian Gulf War and its global effects (including steep gas prices) in the early 1990s with her 1991 single, “Sa-Sa-Saddam” (yes, using Saddam Hussein as a wordplay).
Fast-forward to the 21st century: in 2023, Filipina hip hop artists all over the world (outside the Philippines, Filipino-American hip hop artists Ruby Ibarra, Rocky Rivera, and Klassy are among the most prominent) have been using their platform to advance and advocate for diverse issues, including those that directly and irreparably impact women—including bodily autonomy, misogyny, sexism, and equal rights.
A number of Filipina rappers also embrace sexuality despite the country’s deeply rooted conservative views. This creates a spectrum of narratives, creating a space for layered discussions and allowing different points of view and manners of expression.
Below are 10 Filipina women who are making a mark in the macho, male-dominated Pinoy hip hop scene.
While more female MCs—or ‘femcees’—are gaining more recognition in the Pinoy hip hop scene, female battle rappers are few and far in between (she’s currently the only active female battle MC, following Hearty and Lil Sisa, both of whom joined the league in 2010).
Which is why Luxuria’s ascent within the ranks of FlipTop, the country’s premier battle rap league, has not only been a celebratory moment but an indelible proof that skill and smarts ultimately prevail.
Luxuria has shown her mettle time and again since joining FlipTop in 2019 (but has been battling since 2015), besting her male competitors to snag the 2nd place (against Pistolero) at last year’s Isabuhay tournament, the highest rank a woman has achieved in the competition and inching closer to her ultimate goal of being a battle rap champion.
Speaking on gendered views on female battle rappers, Luxuria said, “Hindi talaga madali, kasi kapag nakita na, ‘Uy, may babae na buma-battle,’ feeling nila ikinakababa nila ‘yon, which is para sa’kin, hindi. Walang kinalaman yung kasarian sa skills mo, sa capacity, o sa kaalaman ng tao.”
[It’s not easy, because when people see, “Oh, it’s a woman in battle rap,” they feel it makes them less than others, which is not the case for me. Gender has nothing to do with your skills, capacity, or knowledge.]
According to the FlipTop website, aside from rapping, Luxuria has her own clothing line (Unlock) and runs a bagnet bagoong brand.
Zae made her rap debut in 2019 with the single, “Calibre.” She admitted in a vlog that she was surprised at how her rap career took off, saying it started with her writing “bad poetry” out of boredom.
In the same year, the dancer-turned-rapper released “Pantsu” after being inspired by a #MeToo protest in Ireland, as she decries misogyny. She said in an interview with Neocha, “I hope that one day, rap music will not be entirely about women being sexual objects, women being accessories, more bitches. Women got shit to do and space to take.”
Zae has since signed under local rap label, Rawstarr, where she continues to release music that unapologetically explores sexuality, desire, hustle culture, and ambition from a young woman’s perspective.
In 2021, a then-teenage SHNTI made a pointed, sobering statement: “Rape is happening because of rapists, that’s it. It’s not what she wears, not what you think she’s agreeing to when she isn’t. Man, if she said ‘no,’ it’s ‘no,” in a mix of English and Tagalog.
The Filipina rapper said it following the release of her single, “haha tite” (haha, dick), which strongly condemns victim-blaming. The lyrics, according to her, were just her repeating the kind of sexist comments people make.
A few months later, the 2021 album Pasya (Choice) came out. SHNTI wrote and co-wrote three of the 13 tracks, which advocate for the decriminalization of abortion in the Philippines. In “Free,” SHNTI raps about the importance of women having authority over their bodies, which have long been governed by laws and rules imposed by both the state and church—institutions that have traditionally run under a patriarchal system.
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX Asia last year, SHNTI said that while she doesn’t consider herself outspoken, “I make up for what I lack when it comes to fighting for what I think is right through my music.”
The young femcee also displays a gift for articulating the anxieties, insecurities, and joys of self-discovery in an intimate, but accessible manner, as documented in her debut EP, Element (stylized as ELMNT). In our interview, she recognized that as her voice gets heard more, it meant bearing more responsibility—especially on how it affects those who listen to her. “I have to think of the people listening to my music. Even though it’s not for them, it’s my music, but when you’re a person that people listen to you have to be mindful of what effect, what impact, you have on people.”
Peaceful Gemini’s—real name Nicole M. Leonar—music centers on womanhood, with all its complications and complexities, through her personal experiences which are embedded in Filipino identity and culture.
Two years after the release of her first solo single, “Mind, Body & Soul” (from her 2018 Middle of NowHere EP), she put out “Warrior Princess” shortly after the release of the powerful “Hands Off,” which Leonar performed with her fellow members from rap group Assembly Generals.
In a 2020 interview with Bandwagon Philippines, Peaceful Gemini detailed the process behind writing the song, which tackled her experience with trauma and healing. She said, “The whole creative process that went behind ‘Hands Off’ allowed me to open up my truth in the way that I knew how—through a creative channel. It gave me a surge of power that allowed me to actually look at my perpetrator straight in his eyes and not lose an ounce of confidence in myself.”
In songs like 2021’s “Mariposa” (featuring DB Tha Girl), Peaceful Gemini invokes the power of nature as a way of understanding the layers of women’s complexities. “Turning back to nature, to the community, to rituals, to honoring our ancestors – helps us make sense of things that once used to bewilder us,” she said in a press statement.
Fateeha venture into the Filipino hip hop scene didn’t come as a surprise. After all, being the daughter of veteran hip hop beatmaker and Morobeats label founder DJ Medmessiah meant being exposed (and having access) to hip hop from a young age.
Often collaborating with fellow MCs in Morobeats and Def Jam Philippines, Fateeha keeps up with her (mostly older) male counterparts, rapping about social issues through a Gen Z lens.
DB tha Girl
Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar femcees in the Philippines, DB tha Girl comfortably switches from lo-fi hip hop to boom bap from one track to the next.
She has been releasing music since 2016 (and has since released two EPs: Au Naturel in 2016 and Aether in 2018) and has worked with numerous artists, from UPRISING MCs to Calix, as well as several female rappers and producers like Peaceful Gemini.
DB the Girl’s music often evokes a free-spirited attitude. Tracks like “Black Sheep,” her collaborative single with Nicole Anjela, is characterized by its understated swagger.
When she was just 11, young Alex Bruce was already holding her own as an aspiring rapper in her native Batangas, rhyming about seizing opportunities and refusing about being pigeonholed—and she does it all often in front of crowds. At only 12 years old, she made her major label debut.
She names Filipino-American hip hop trailblazer Ruby Ibarra as one of her heroes, along with other female rappers Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Missy Elliott, she told pop culture website Scout.
Alex Bruce said in the same interview that she thinks hip hop “should be all about the culture and not the cred,” but also added that one of the things she didn’t like about it is disrespecting women, something she hopes she can help change—and making it clear in her 2021 track, “Dime Girls,” where she made a bold statement: it’s our time now.
As Bisaya musicians continue to regain the narrative on bisdak culture and identity, no thanks to the “imperial Manila” syndrome, Bisaya rap is finally getting its overdue shine: from pioneers such as Midnasty to new blood like FELIP and PLAYERTWO.
But Dhyana Mitta also wanted to make sure women’s voices are heard, too. The Cebuana rapper not only writes and performs songs that aim to combat sexism, but makes sure she does so with distinctly Cebuana panache.
“Let’s put a balance. Ibutang sad ang babaye nga perspective oy. Just trying to balance it out. Kay mura’g kaguol oy! Ang babaye man ang sige’s tirahan oy!” she said in an interview with news platform Rappler.
[Let’s put a balance. We need to include the woman’s perspective, too! Just trying to balance it out. Because it seems so sad! Women are always on the receiving end!]
Filipina rap duo switchbitch gets to the point. Their lyrics are unsparing and unfiltered, often aimed toward the government and challenging gendered structures and norms. In a 2022 interview with gal-dem, they admitted they were fearful of releasing music, especially after former president Duterte enacted the Anti-Terror bill into law, which critics and human rights advocates described as “deeply flawed and open to abuse by government authorities.”
Switchbitch said, “Anyone can easily be a target of government-sanctioned threats and killings… but deciding not to release our music is an act of surrendering ourselves to this kind of system.”
The duo released their excellent Lalamunan (Throat) EP in 2021, which was named one of HipHopDX Asia’s Best Albums of that year. It was a no-brainer, as the five-track EP offers “brutal honesty that compels critical assessment as much as it does engagement.
In the same gal-dem feature, switchbitch also cautioned against the frailty of democracy in the Philippines. “Even if people vote in the elections, if the system will not change, then nothing will really happen,” they said. A few months after the article was published, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the son of dictator and kleptocrat Marcos Sr., was democratically elected as the 17th President of the Philippines.
While the two said they didn’t intend to make music critical of the government, they recognized that their environment and society they live in were a result of “violent or fascist approaches” that perpetuate inequalities, but hopes that in 10 years, they will be “singing… the victories of the mass movement.”
Wrapping up the list is Miss A, who joins her sister Fateeha as one of two female MCs under Morobeats.
The rapper and visual artist has been open about her love for ‘90s hip hop, thanks to her father, DJ Medmessiah. She tells HipHopDX Asia that she used to write poetry and essays when she was in elementary and that her dad would treat her to McDonald’s in exchange for busting a freestyle and took to it eventually.
On challenging expectations, Miss A uses her music to encourage listeners to “just do you” and believes that being authentic to one’s self magnifies inspiration and breaks out of the mold.
Header credit (L-F, top to bottom): Miss A/Rj Fajilan, Fateeha via Morobeats/YouTube, DB tha Girl/Instagram, Peaceful Gemini/Press, Luxuria/Instagram, SHNTI via LIAB Studios, switchbitch/Twitter, Zae/Press, Dhyana Mitta/Instagram, Alex Bruce/Instagram