NINNO has always been a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to his mix of charged lyricism and unorthodox flow, his 2016 debut album “TCK” shook the local music scene. His follow up EP entitled “Lost Colours”, fresh from the oven, introduces us to a new dimension of his artistry. We nitpicked the MC/producer’s brain about the album, facing trials and tribulations, and what’s to come.
The wordsmith announced his hiatus from music and performed his last two shows (as a solo artist and with Shadow Moses) in Manila late last year. Nowadays he spends his weekdays studying music production and his weekends in Daly or Union City, looking for a taste of home from the nearest Jollibee. “It doesn’t taste the same, if you’re wondering. They don’t even have iced tea. The only consistent thing on their menu are the Burger Steaks and Peach Mango Pie. BUT THE CHICKENS ARE HUGE,” he confirms. He’s also been surviving off sachets of Nestea and Pancit Canton he brought with him from the Philippines. Many Filipinos tend to glamorize life in America, but actually living there gave him a different perspective. If anything, the city reminds him a lot of his hometown, and not because he runs into a Filipino on every other block.
Photo by Nikki Ruiz
A lot has changed for NINNO in the past year. Prior to his plans of moving, he was working on an album called “CODE”. He found joy in creating the 30-track album and even had the vision of a “TCK” volume two in mind. Soon enough, he realized that a continuation from his previous album wasn’t what he needed–it was growth, and this was no way to do it. On top of that, he was giving in to his audience’s perception of he was and it got to his head. This album simply wasn’t who he was an artist. He junked “CODE” and started Ayumu, a side-project that “sounds like it came from the opening and ending themes of ’90s to early 2000s anime,” as described by the creator himself. The five-track EP titled “Mata Ne” turned out to be his musical purge, refreshing his mindset on how he wanted his NINNO project to sound like and what it represents. Meanwhile “CODE” will remain stored in his laptop, and the possibility of those tracks ever seeing the light of day seems unlikely, at least for now.
With a new outlook, he left his record label and distributor. Having no access to a fancy-schmancy studio directed “Lost Colours” to be more of a DIY album with the help of some colleagues. “I scrapped together the money I was making in my gigs, as well as freelance jobs I’ve taken, to book my friend, Anton Magno’s (from Nanay Mo) services as well as his studio for recording, mixing, and mastering. He and I had previously done the aforementioned Ayumu record together and he and I just really hit it off creatively,” he explains. “Here’s a shameless plug. Check out Sunny Side Sound Production at my homebase of Cubao Expo! You’re welcome Magno.”
“Lost Colours” features a more active NINNO on vocal duties with aid from Roberto Seña of She’s Only Sixteen and Carla Crespo. When asked whether or not he plans on carrying this custom into future projects, he remains undecided. It’s definitely an indication of his growth as a musician, but it was more of a natural development. “I don’t necessarily see myself doing it in future projects consciously, I just really want to continue creating music that feels right to me, you know?” he answers. “And if that calls for more melodies as I evolve as a musician, then I guess that’s the way this crispy Chickenjoy crumbles,” he cracks. It’s delightful to see that he still finds a way to enliven an interview even if it’s via e-mail.
Almost immediately, he goes back to his habitual state of intricate thinking when I asked him a question about “Horns”, the third (and his favorite) track on the album. I initially saw the song as a response to hip-hop purists, but he corrects me; “Horns” addresses the world and is less about hip-hop and more of just the arts, and his classmates actually see him as a hip-hop purist. In his ideal world, there’s a distinct separation between the art and its artist, but he knows that’s not the case in reality. “I love Picasso’s paintings, but Pablo Picasso was an asshole. I love R. Kelly’s music, but don’t let me get started on that guy.”
“I’ve come to realize that art cannot exist within a vacuum. Outside influences, one’s upbringing, all that jazz, will all come into play when it’s put onto canvas. Do I think a rapper’s background will no longer play a role? No, it will always play a role. I can only hope that people will be more accepting of the roles that we all play. At the end of the day, we’re all just storytellers trying to build our own novels here. Anthropologically speaking, it’s much easier to relate to someone who’s upbringing is closer to yours.”
As a musician, he’s come to terms with the fact that not everyone will be interested in his art. He shares the same sentiments being a consumer of music, using mumble rap as an example. “I don’t like mumble rap, but who am I to tread on other people’s dreams? My Native-American classmate put it to me this way: ‘If a girl who lives on state benefits can dream to become an author, why can’t I dream of becoming a rapper?’ Shit hit me hard man. We’re accustomed to our different sets of privileges (whether we are aware of it or not), which lends itself to our unique perspectives. We’ll always view things differently from each other, but I can only hope that we become more accepting of each other’s views. And if we have a problem with it? A little discourse goes a long way in the grander scheme of things.”
Photo by JL Javier
Settling in a foreign country has led him on certain misadventures too. Upon landing, he was immediately interrogated by an Asian ICE officer who barely spoke English (let alone Filipino) to try and find out whether he was really there to study or to pull the classic “I overstayed my visa” card. “Have you had people genuinely surprised that you speak English? I’ve heard that comment way too much the last few days when people find out that I’m from Manila. I just say thank you and move along,” he remarked. “However it presents me with the notion, that, in their heads, Filipinos from Manila can’t speak English well. I got asked if we had McDonald’s in the Philippines too.”
Even with these major misconceptions, he regards them as ammo for upcoming material paired with his improved music production skills from school. NINNO’s maturity, however, exudes with his end goal: to hone his craft and work in an audiohouse when he comes back. “I won’t stop creating music, but fuck, I need to find a way to make this shit sustainable ’till the day I die. I love what I do, and I love working with audio, so I want to extend that further into more technical territories.”
What’s Next for NINNO?
His awaited return is still a year away, but the idea of going back to work with “the corporate machine” in Manila doesn’t appeal to him anymore. “That isn’t what my music was ever about in the first place. Not that I’m not down to “sell-out”, I’ve made one ‘sell-out’ track on every album I’ve done. I even called it on ‘The Fall’ from ‘TCK’,” he admits. “But I understand how the game works now. I make three tracks for me, and one track for you. I guess, in gist, I’ve gotten a lot savvier in terms of the business and knowing how to put out material and my reasons for it.”
If you’re worried that “Lost Colours” will be the last we’ll hear from him for a while, he reassures us he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve. “I’ll definitely be collaborating with a lot of artists out here. I also left a couple of tracks with a few bands I had pending collaborations with in Manila, so look out for that too! In terms of solo albums, I can’t say yet–only time will tell.”
“Lost Colours” by NINNO is available for streaming on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music.
Featured image by JL Javier