It’s hard to believe now, but many Filipino Gen X-ers will remember that there was a deep rift between rock and hip-hop during a big part of the 1990s.

However, it was the rockers who typically sparked the hostility; the hip-hop heads just kept to themselves. “We were labeled as ‘hip-hoppers,’” recalls Ryan “Slimm” Ventura, one-fourth of the seminal hip-hop group Sun Valley Crew. ”It was kind of like a negative term.”

There weren’t very many ‘hip-hoppers’ back then, and that they could easily be identified by their flashy, oversized clothes didn’t help, either. In fact, it’s how Ventura spotted kindred spirit and future Crew-mate RJ “Ill-J” Señeres one day in San Beda Alabang. “I saw him from a mile away, playing basketball,” Ventura narrates.” “[I thought,] ‘That guy listens to hip-hop.’”

We jump to around 1996, when Sun Valley Crew had already released their first album S.V.C. under Universal Records. Local grunge band Teeth, who were friends with Ventura, invited SVC to open for them at the one venue no ‘hip-hopper’ would dare set foot in — Club Dredd. “I remember I felt jitters,” admits Señeres.

But, “We went in there and we rocked the sh*t,” affirms Ventura. “They were flabbergasted. And then we won them over.”

“That night was a game-changer for us,” Señeres continues. “We went in there [in] big jerseys, pants sagging; the beat dropped and we did our thing. We saw the crowd was just digging it. That was when I felt like we could do this anywhere, to any crowd — we just gotta stick to what we do.”

Looking back, it’s absurd that such a rift even existed, given that many of the greatest albums of the ‘90s were hip-hop, like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang, just to name a few. Before they even met each other, the members of SVC were already tuned in to these records, and ultimately it was their love for hip-hop that drew them together.

After meeting Ventura in school, Señeres started hanging out with him “almost every day,” bonding over the latest American hip-hop releases at their houses in BF Homes, Parañaque. A few miles away, at a village called Sun Valley, a similar bond between two other hip-hop heads also formed.

Friends Ryan “Rye” Armamento and Joseph “Puff A-J” Papa were part of a posse that would accompany MastaPlann wherever they performed. “We would always tag along sa shows — marami kami from Sun Valley,” says Armamento. At one show in Olongapo, they were introduced to the crowd by the Plann’s Johnny Krush as the “Sun Valley Crew.” The moniker stuck.

Around this time, MastaPlann’s producer Noel “DJ M.O.D.” Macayana constantly encouraged Armamento and Papa to try their own thing, as he had some beats ready for the pair to rap over. After many attempts to write some rhymes, they got a demo cassette made by two guys from BF Homes.

“Nung narinig namin, parang ‘Holy sh*t, [the rapping was] ibang level,’” says Armamento. DJ M.O.D. then encouraged him and Papa to hook up with those guys. As it turned out, the demo was from Ventura and Señeres, recorded at home with a karaoke machine.

“We just gelled together instantly,” says Señeres of their first meeting as a foursome.

“We didn’t need to talk; we hit it off and got down to business,” adds Ventura.

Sun Valley Crew went on to release two albums under the guidance and production of DJ M.O.D. Their second, 1998’s Reality Check… A New Beginning is criminally underrated, not matching the Gold sales of their debut, but showing growth and more depth. But it’s their third record, 2004’s It’s All Natural, that SVC are arguably most remembered for.

Independently recorded and released, It’s All Natural was the result of SVC becoming more hands-on producers rather than just MCs. Armamento was a sound engineer at a studio where he was offered a “record now, pay later” deal, giving them the freedom to experiment. “We played our own instruments, got our friends to join us, and threw all of our ideas together — no walls, no boundaries,” recalls Ventura.

Among the friends who frequently visited was musical multi-hyphenate Raymund Marasigan, who proposed forming a band to interpret and perform the music live. It would then consist of Dan Gil on keys and sax, Mong Alcaraz and Kakoy Legaspi rotating on guitar, Dex Aguila and J-Hoon Balbuena alternating on drums, Uela Basco on additional vocals, Marasigan on samplers, and Ventura himself on bass.

This resulted in SVC playing gigs alongside Sandwich, Sugarfree, and many others, bringing their brand of hip-hop to the local rock crowd. Sure, Francis M did the live band thing first, but by then his music was already a rap-rock hybrid. “It was different for us,” affirms Armamento. “The people from the rock scene adjusted to us, to the music we put out.”

“It just hit differently, hearing the guys playing live, and how they translated the music,” says Señeres. “It brought out a different type of energy.”

“It was an out-of-body experience,” adds Ventura. “Onstage, there were moments you just felt yourself floating.”

“We won the [rock] crowd over. We crossed over,” he continues. “I guess our passion showed. You could hear it in our music and in our shows. We turned the opinion on hip-hop from just kids being ‘hip-hoppers’ to [making] people realize that there are musicians in there somewhere.”

Ultimately, this might be Sun Valley Crew’s biggest legacy, although the group themselves are reluctant to claim that they made any sort of impact. Still, Armamento says, “Eventually, people understood [that the music was good]. And I guess lumaki rin ‘yung market ng hip-hop — hindi na sila underdogs na parang, ‘Wala kayo, konti lang kayo.’ Ngayon, mas marami na sila. [And I guess hip-hop’s market got bigger — they’re no longer underdogs or a minority. Now there’s more of them.]”

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

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