Al James has proven himself to have a career that many rappers aspire of having, from having a breakout debut hit and international tours to multiple clothing line collaborations with famous streetwear companies like Don’t Blame The Kids and High Minds Clothing.

A hip hop superstar like him doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Al James found his start in the graffiti scene after graduating with a fine arts and design degree from the University of Santo Tomas. It was while he was in that scene that he met the Baryo Berde Atbp. collective and started releasing music on Soundcloud in 2016. It took more or less two years for his first two releases to gain steam. After he and pop producer Thyro Alfaro remixed “Pahinga” for a McDonald’s commercial, he was finally put on the map.

In August 2017, he released his second single, “Ngayong Gabi” after his breakout debut single, “Pahinga.” If “Pahinga” introduced him to the mainstream, “Ngayong Gabi” solidified his presence as a rapper to pay attention to. It was a runaway hit, racking up over 81 million views on the official audio video, 66 million streams on Spotify, and 11 million views on the official music video. He became known for his signature trap-style production, deep and raspy voice, and bright neon visuals.

When his two singles gained traction, he already headlined two shows with no label or EP.  The music video for “Ngayong Gabi” premiered on Myx in 2018 and was named its Spotlight Artist for October of that same year. In 2019, he clinched a nomination for the track’s music video in the 2019 Myx Awards Best Urban Video of the Year.

Al James

James: Courtesy of @AlJames

Six years after the song’s release, the song has still maintained its position in the mainstream, with over 420,000 cumulative TikTok videos made using various snippets of the song. Scroll through some of them and you can find lip-syncs, sing along videos, and most recently, bizarre “covers” of the song by Jessica Soho and numerous K-Pop idols through the use of AI.

Al James’ success story is no easy feat for any artist across any genre. From releasing songs on Soundcloud to being one of the biggest stars in the Philippines, it’s clear that for this rapper, the only way is up.