The master plan for MastaPlann was simple — represent hip-hop culture as it should be and represent the Filipino race in hip-hop.

However, in trying to accomplish the plan, MastaPlann had to deal with cultural biases in both the US and back in the Philippines, including a music industry known for insisting recording artists to compromise their sound and identity in exchange for the almighty commercial hit.

And at times, an ambiguity of a name.

Butch Velez a.k.a. Tracer One recalls when the group was still known as ‘KBF’ or ‘Knowledge Brought Forth’ back in the Bay Area of the West Coast in the early 1990s.

“While hip-hop can be cerebral, the name of ‘KBF’ was too deep,” admitted Velez. “Being fans of hip-hop, we’d often hear the word ‘the master plan’ in songs we liked, so we became ‘Master Plan.’ Since we liked reggae too, we stylized ‘master’ to ‘masta’ and added a ‘n’ to ‘plan.’ So we became ‘MastaPlann.’”

“Now all we needed to do was make the plan happen.”

With Asians unable to get a lot of gigs in the early 1990s, Johnny Luna a.k.a. Tha Nontypical One and Tracer One decided to try their luck in the Philippines.

“The idea was we go back to the Philippines and do our thing, and from there, build a following,” related Tracer One. “We got a foot in the door through my sister — actress Vivian Velez — along with Rico Puno and Richard Merck, who were able to introduce us to people who could get us a deal.”

With hip-hop relatively new at that time, it wasn’t easy.

Puno placed a call to music impresario, concert producer, and manager Jesse Gonzales, who aside from being a former disc jockey himself, managed the Mega Team featuring DJ MOD, DJ Sonny, and DJ Ouch, who were adjudged the fourth best DJ team in the world in 1992.

“I put them together to see if they could build some synergy,” said Gonzales of that chance meeting.

Before they knew it, the five were able to come up with some beats and rhymes. The five began making music together and the classic lineup of MastaPlann was born. 

“There were concerns that they sounded too West Coast and it wasn’t palatable for the Filipino audience,” recalled Gonzales. 

“It was hard to get a record deal because the labels wanted us to do comedy rap that totally wasn’t us,” added Velez.

Gonzales placed a phone call to renowned dance teacher Geleen Eugenio, who not only taught dance groups like the Universal Motion Dancers, but was also a very good friend to Universal Records big boss, Bella Tan.

Tan was very much impressed with MastaPlann and it was no issue signing the new act. She put in one request though: to write something similar to Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker,” the massive hip-hop hit that blitzed charts all over the world. The only song that prevented “Rump Shaker” from topping the charts was Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

“‘Rump Shaker?’ No problem,” enthused Velez. The result was “Bring Dat Booty,” which was a massive hit for MastaPlann. The single, along with the self-titled debut album, went platinum.

When the single was brought to local DJs, there was no mention of the crew being Filipino. At that time, DJs preferred to play foreign music. However, when MastaPlann began touring and making television appearances, the cat was out of the bag — the crew were as brown as you and me.

“[What] the Eraserheads were to the alternative rock scene back then, MastaPlann was to the hip-hop scene,” described Gonzales.

They went from opening for the Universal Motion Dancers to headlining shows with UMD now opening for them. They toured Asia to non-Filipino audiences as well, and scored number one hits abroad.

“I think that MastaPlann showed a lot of people here in Asia that Pinoys and Asians themselves can do awesome and cool beats while writing and rapping great verses,” chimed in Johnny Krush, who joined the band in time for the second album, The Way Of The Plann that was released in 1994.

“We placed a premium on the production so that it was something you could play anywhere on this planet,” he added. “We think that it wasn’t being ‘West Coast hip-hop’ or what. It was just great tunes.”

After close to three years of nonstop performances, Velez and Luna returned to the United States for a hiatus.

MastaPlann returned in 2000 to put out their third album,, which achieved gold status. After another hiatus, the classic lineup returned for a successful Philippine tour in 2011.

Today it is just Tracer One and Johnny Krush who make up MastaPlann. They still make music and perform on the West Coast of the US.

While MastaPlann isn’t done, on this year of their 30th anniversary, Velez, Krush, and Gonzales took time to reminisce about those days when hip-hop — or more correctly, Philippine hip-hop — hit the mainstream and became massively popular, and remains so. 

“The ‘master plan’ was achieved,” underscored Velez. “We achieved things we never imagined. It was a great time for all of us.”

“But we’re not yet done. Prepare for the plan.”

A version of this story appeared on Billboard Philippines’ Hip-hop Issue, dated April 15.

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