For the last seven years, DJ Medmessiah, real name Mohammad Bansil, has been streaming hip hop production tips and tricks on his YouTube channel on a fairly regular basis. Many of those videos show him in the middle of the night by himself in his home studio, making a beat from scratch. Anyone who watches live or streams his videos after can see the entire process, readily available.
During the same time, behind the scenes, he’s been building a hip hop community, training and working with rappers—one of whom is his daughter, Fateeha, who’s currently signed under Def Jam Philippines—around the country. After all, the Morocco-born DJ, producer, and recording artist who raps in Moro languages has been active in the Pinoy hip hop scene since the 1990s. It wasn’t entirely a surprise—perhaps that maybe it took a while—that he founded his own independent label, Morobeats.
Established in 2014, the label was originally called Morobeats Artist Lounge (DJ Medmessiah tells HipHopDX Asia that he thought it was “corny”), which aims to be a platform for rookies and veteran MCs alike can hone and boost their skills. Several rappers such as Rudic, Zaki, Lanzeta, and Nico, have characterized Morobeats’ particular affinity for the old school and boom bap.
DJ Medmessiah’s first foray into hip hop, like many Pinoy hip hop greats who grew up in the 80s, was through breakdancing and then eventually an MC. At the time, the Morobeats founder had no immediate access to producers or cannot afford to hire them. Out of necessity, he learned to be one.
Naming venerated American producers Dr. Dre; D.I.T.C crew leader Lord Finesse; and Nas collaborator and mentor, Large Professor, as inspirations. While he has deep roots in boom bap and classic hip hop, DJ Medmessiah also has a proclivity in drum and bass. But most importantly, he cites the Maguindanaoan percussion instrument, kulintang, a gong-chime collection where trained musicians create “family- and region-specific” songs.
From inspiration to application, DJ Medmessiah also observed how his contemporaries have progressed through the years, also coming from humble backgrounds like him. “I see mga batchmates ko sa b-boying like sila J-Masta,” he tells us. “A lot of our guys na nakita ko sa bahay na naging dancer eh naging award-winning producers na so you know it’s a good thing [to see that] hip hop is really alive.” (I see my b-boy batchmates like J-Masta, a lot of our guys who I saw dancing at their homes are now award-winning producers so you know it’s a good thing [to see that] hip hop is really alive.)
Classics in the making
With how nostalgia plays out on social media, DJ Medmessiah noted how he utilized popular dance challenges and resurgence of classic hip hop hits, tweaking online trends and integrating them into the contemporary setting.
“Some people would say hip hop is lost but I think maybe the people aren’t just listening to the good ones,” he shares. “It has to be a chain of balance. If you are always just staying put to the things are handed to you, syempre yun lang ang alam mo (then of course that’s the only thing you’ll know), but if you dig enough, you’d know that there is good hip hop, there’s bad hip hop.”
He continues, “It’s just a balance of the food chain: you know you have to be open for change and growth and eras and understand the kids on how they do things. Kasi yan na ang naabutan nilang era, kagaya nung (Because that’s the era they came up to, like in the) ‘80s they had the ‘Shake Like That,’ it’s all coming back. I think it’s just a boomerang and maybe added with some other flavors.”
Being both the label head and de facto main producer for Morobeats, DJ Medmessiah regularly make beats also as part of scouting artists. While the process itself remains the same, he said that the reception was the key difference.
He started the 16-bars rap challenge around 2013, which gained little traction. When he released a second call In 2017, he received thousands. “[I was] overwhelmed,” he says, “Kasi, parang, holy crap we got like 8,000 submissions—we didn’t know what to do with it. Nung time na yun (that time) they have to send it through Messenger and we have to upload it one by one.”
The trend became popular on social media, with other high-profile producers such as Mark Beats launching his own 24-bars challenge years later.
More than finding potential artists to bring into the label, what DJ Medmessiah truly desires is to offer mentorship. He cited Morobeats rapper Tanikala (Tagalog for ‘chain’) as an example. “[Rappers like] Palos, Prophecy [and] Antidota… Tanikala didn’t win but I trained him,” he beams. “I can train this kid to be a monster. For me, the only time I would be a successful producer is if the MCs being trained would be great,” he shares.
The responsibilities of being a producer clearly weigh on the veteran hip hop artist. “Pag gumaling sila, ibig sabihin, parang ang successful ng ginagawa ko. Pag walang nangyari sa kanila, it means that I failed.” (If they become great, it means that it’s like, what I do is successful. If nothing happens to them, it means that I failed.)
Morobeats, by design and initiative, was always an artist-first label for Bansil. He also clarified that even if he is the face of the growing label, he wants to share the spotlight with other rappers he has helped grow. And Morobeats is growing. Anyone who has been following the label on social media and on YouTube can see a prolific stream of new music being released every week.
DJ Medmessiah credits this to the teamwork that the label fostered deeply. “’Yun naman yung (that’s what) Morobeats eh, it’s more of a community-style,” he says. He emphasizes, “Hindi siya about me. Morobeats is actually not about me. I may be the leader, the CEO, but it’s not really about me, it’s more about these talents. It’s more about ‘this is world-class Filipino talent.’”
He mentioned other independent labels, whom he and his label worked with, as equally passionate collaborators who make the Filipino hip hop community—especially the independent scene—thriving and worthy of international attention. “Whoever na lang who delivers it, whether it’s Morobeats or UPRISING or Rawstarr or whoever delivers it, the point is we have world-class talent in the Philippines.”
Despite the success Morobeats has achieved so far, DJ Medmessiah was candid about the challenges the label has yet to overcome. He declined offers from corporate labels, saying that they’re “not ready yet.”
Citing the recent success of breakout hits such as “HUNGHANG” (Idiot) and “Mahal Kong Pilipinas” (Philippines, My Beloved), both of which have millions of views and boast critical acclaim, DJ Medmessiah looks into the bigger picture, the long game, for the label—and for himself. “We haven’t achieved even 20 percent of it yet even in our hearts and our minds. I mean, you could have a famous song like ‘HUNGHANG’ or Mahal Kong Pilipinas’—hindi pa (not yet). Malayo pa talaga namin yung gusto namin mangyari. (We want to go further.) Siguro we have more to offer pa.
He adds, “Morobeats is a growing entity. We discover musicians day by day and we don’t know what’s gonna come out next. Time molds us all. We’re still waiting for other artists and all the creativity that might pass each one. Madami pang goals na kelangan namin to grow and marami pa kaming matutunan from each other. (There are still a lot of goals we need to be able to grow and much to learn from each other.) Every time I produce for someone, I learn a lot.”
D-I-Y is the game
Morobeats has an abundant, unreleased catalog that runs to the thousands, according to DJ Medmessiah. As an independent label, Morobeats do not outsource the necessary marketing needed to adequately promote the music they release. This includes producing their own music videos, which, DJ Medmessiah admits comes at, literally, a cost.
“We don’t have the money to flash o parang ipinapakita namin na may kotse kami na ganito (like we show that we have this type of car or something),” he says. “We don’t have that, that’s not our lifestyle. We’re trying to make it as raw as possible para malaman namin kung yung tao gusto ba nila yung sinasabi namin o gusto lang nila yung itsura namin (so we know if the people like what we say or they just like how we look), there’s a difference eh. The target isn’t really the fame,” he explained, “The target is uplifting the MCs to do the same or to better themselves.” As such, the reality is heavily emphasized through D-I-Y methods in Morobeats’ music videos.
When asked about what Morobeats have in store in the future, DJ Medmessiah his plans for the label, as he continues to stay true to his roots as an artist who was able to see the underground scene grow over the years. Music was always the answer, his full-time passion.
“We hope that we could make classics… na kayang-kaya mong balikan (that you can always go back to and listen) in some certain situations in our lives na makarelate yung mga tao na (that people can relate to and) they want to listen to this song if they want to get inspired or they wanna focus on themselves or how to fix problems. Parang ganon yung (that’s what our) music namin, actually.”
DJ Medmessiah also recognizes how art, music shape history—work that can outlive its makers. He was upfront about the fact that he wants to create an impact, or at least promise to, for generations to come. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily ready for some of the things that come with it.
“Hindi narin namin napapansin (We don’t notice it) sometimes when I go to Naga or Bicol, people come to me and ask for pictures at the mall, para sakin (for me), ‘Are you sure?’ I just make beats bro,” he laughs. “Everyone is gaining fame day by day, more focus na sana on the artistry because artists die, they all have to go. Music is what we can leave here. Music is immortal becase we all know that na binabalik-balikan namin yung (we go back to) music.”
But the goal, for Morobeats, cannot be achieved alone. DJ Medmessiah says that to get to the point where they want to go, they’ll need support. “It helps with our movement when people support, when people stream. It does help for us to stay like this and not be pressured.”
He also recognizes that the independent, underground sense of freedom Morobeats enjoys is a privilege in many ways, of not having to yield to certain pressures. “Thank God, we are not pressured by kung ano yung mga trends. As much as possible, ayaw namin na gumawa ng (we don’t want to make) music for the sake of maging (going) trending kasi we know that trends pass like, ‘two days passed okay, next’ ganyan, so we’re trying to avoid that.”
Ultimately, DJ Medmessiah credits those who believe in them in keeping Morobeats the kind of label he envisions it to be. “May God guide us and how we pursue our dreams and careers, especially our respect to followers, for the ones who really listened, who watched and talagang sumusubaybay (really followed) our progress. Konti lang sila (there are only a few of them) and we are very grateful to them. For four, five years, andyan parin sila (they’re still there).”
All photos in this piece are courtesy of Morobeats on Facebook. Many thanks to DJ Medmessiah for the interview. MC Galang has provided additional writing for this feature.