Multi-awarded Filipino Grammy winner Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas reveals his plans for web3, helping Filipino creatives, and dream collaborations.
Musician and record producer Apl.de.Ap has long supported Filipino creatives. The multi-awarded Grammy winner and founding Black Eyed Peas member cites the rich talent of Filipinos working in jobs like design, music production, and communication as the reason for his life-long advocacy of protecting and nurturing the creative industry in his homeland. Throughout his momentous career, he’s established the Apl.de.Ap Foundation, an organization providing the tools and the platforms for Filipino youths in becoming future global professionals; he’s partnered with the British Council to launch the Creative Innovators Program; and in 2013 he would mentor Filipina R&B singer J. Rey Soul who would later be part of the Black Eyed Peas.
As a young boy, Apl recalls growing up in the province of Angeles City, Pampanga where he would help his lolo tend to their farm and carabaos. He never would have imagined living on to become part of one of the most revered R&B groups of the naughties. When asked about why he focuses on helping Filipinos in the creative and technology sector, Apl simply wants to pay it forward, citing the help of the Pearl S. Buck foundation, an organization which finds healthier living environments for disenfranchised children, as one of the key factors that empowered him to access more opportunities outside of his province.
In the age of multimedia, where content is king and different disciplines in music, visual arts, and technology become more and more collaborative, this necessitates better systems to protect and empower creative workers in the midst of a rapidly accelerating industry. With the advent of web3 and blockchain technology, specifically NFTs, comes the promise of decentralization and the power to set value and usage more favorable to the artist. Apl saw this as an opportunity for Filipino creatives to reach global audiences and opportunities.
Last 2021, Apl.de.Ap would collaborate with Filipino artist AJ Dimarucot and artist Tom Coben to launch four single-edition NFTs through the Portion.io marketplace, with a part of the proceeds awarded to the First Mind Fund and Thames International scholarship program, where artist Dimarucot originated as a scholar himself. Apl cites his partnership with the First Mint Fund as vital to helping cover the financial barriers of NFT artists, such as gas fees in the minting of an NFT.
Just recently, Apl spoke at the 2022 Philippine Web3 Festival and announced his latest NFT collaboration with another fellow Filipino, Sevi, a 10-year old artist with autism. A beneficiary of the First Mint Fund himself, Sevi reveals his NFT painting, which has yet to be released, of a vibrant carabao against a “rainbow rain” backdrop. Apl cites his collaboration with Sevi was founded on Apl’s desire to make art of his childhood, growing up in the farms of Pampanga.
Apl talks to Vogue Philippines on supporting Filipino creatives, future projects, and dream NFT collaborations.
How did you first find out about NFTs?
I found out about NFTs by sneaking in through Clubhouse sessions. There was one group and they were just talking about it while I was trying to understand the conversation. They said, “It’s kinda like art but it’s in digital and it’s authenticated by this block chain” so I’m like, Woah, woah, woah—what is this? And then I started to see people collecting them.
Like for example, an old lyric that I’ve written on a paper and [people] were like “Hey, you could turn that into NFT!” I then reached out to my team wanting to learn more about it. When they were trying to explain it to me, and beyond [just] understanding it, they said, “Why don’t we try to help out digital artists in the Philippines?” So I came up with an idea: Can I make NFT and notch it with some music? So I felt like, Oh! I could make, like, dope art and I could place the music as it’s, like, rotating. That was my first initial thing. Then we reached out to artists and found out one of our scholars, AJ Dimarucot, does NFTs. At that moment I said, “How can we work together?” So I started sending beats and then they started sending me digital art.
What drew you to AJ? Was it his art style?
At first, he was one of my scholars in a scholarship program. And then we found out that he creates digital art. I looked at some of his work and I liked it. Then I was shooting a video for one of my songs, we’re like , all right, how can we turn this into an NFT? So, we actually gave him a scene from one of my videos and then he turned it into a digital art.
He introduced us to the First Mint Fund. And with that group, we funded about 80 artists for their gas fees and stuff. So that’s how it got started—that’s how I got my introduction to NFT.
I’m still learning. I like the fact that it’s a neutralizer for creatives in the Philippines: being judged by their merit and their skills instead of where they come from, you know? And then they’ll be able to go to market without having to submit it to a museum or art gallery. I’m so excited that I’ve kind of figured out how to implement it into music which is what I do.
What do you think are some of the biggest roadblocks for Filipino creatives in terms of making it globally?
I think web3 tries to keep artists away from all of that. Now they’re able to upload and show their art without having to go to a middleman. They’re able to do it independently with web3 and it’s also [able] to protect them from their art being copied or stolen. Now there’s an authentication number that comes along in a blockchain so that it protects Filipino artists.
Before, they could underpay you or undervalue you, all of that—I’m hoping for that change.
As someone in the creative field like yourself, have you personally experienced having a hard time, or experienced some kind of prejudice, due to being from the Philippines?
As a band [the Black Eyed Peas], we definitely had to prove ourselves in the music industry. We grew up in L.A. and it was predominantly gangster music, but we were more b-boys and positive hip-hop. And they thought that wasn’t like—I remember the word—you weren’t tangible. We weren’t ‘cause we were creating something different, more progressive, and the record company is more used to like gangster music. So we had to actually prove ourselves.
Before Facebook or Instagram, we created a mailing list so we would do shows at colleges at lunch time and then we’d get people’s addresses. For the next show, we would mail them the flyer. Not e-mail—but mail. And then that’s how our audience grew. Then our audience started getting big and then those same record companies that we used to submit our demos to, now they’re smelling the coffee like, Who are these guys?
The prejudiced part that we came across with—a lot of doors closed on us. Will[.i.am] came from the ghetto in the U.S. and I’m from the ghetto in the Philippines so we’re like, There is no way we will take a no for an answer. We were like, We’re gonna make this. We’re gonna make it however we do it.
In making NFTs, do you also have an artist, dead or alive, that you dream to work with in making an NFT?
Snoop Dogg. He’s doing a lot of NFT-slash-music so I’d like to collaborate with him. I heard that John Legend is also doing some musicality where he lays the beat and another artist could [put] something on top and then layer it as an NFT. I’d like to do that. Learning about Web3, I wanna be able to duplicate what I did for J. Rey Soul. I brought her to the U.S. but it was such a hard process with papers and cash. But now, with Web3 I think it allows me to collaborate without having to come to the U.S. Now artists from the Philippines can have the equal opportunity to collaborate globally. Not just artists but creatives.
You also just released an NFT with Sevi, a young Filipino artist who also has autism. How did you first hear about Sevi and what did you do in collaborating with him on an NFT?
I met him through AJ. He’s one of the artists that we funded through the First Mint Fund. But I just like to let the artist do their thing, you know? We kinda talked about it, and Sevi got it through retelling my story. Growing up, I used to take care of water buffalos, and, to me, that represents Pinoys because they’re strong, hard-working and that’s the animal equivalent or a representation of how hard-working Filipinos are. He nailed the messaging, he created a water buffalo. It was amazing to see.
I’ve been following your advocacies throughout your career, and it seems like you really focus your philanthropic efforts on caring for Filipinos. Why focus on the Philippines?
I’m just trying to pay it forward. Because when I was a kid, I was given an opportunity. I was adopted as a kid from the Philippines, brought to the U.S., got an education, and became a Black Eyed Pea—so now, I’m kinda paying it forward and I’m trying to provide the same opportunities that I had, as a kid.
I was one of those kids who used to roam around Sapang Bato in Pampanga. I used to tag along with my grandfather and we’d farm. Whenever I go back home for the holidays, just going back to my neighborhood, and I see what’s happening. I always tell my Fil-Am friends to come here. If you wanna help, you have to go back and really see it and feel it, y’know? And then it gives you more ideas. I realized, what are these kids doing? They’re not in school! I should build something that will help them. So I built a computer lab in my neighborhood, we put them through college, we see them graduate and become like a CPA, a pilot. And then four of them became teachers—they’re teaching my nieces and nephews now!
I’ve achieved Grammys, yes, but this is what makes me smile. That’s what motivates me to do more. So now, with NFT technology and web3, I could see it as a new way to help.
What can your fans expect next with your efforts on web3?
A lot more for digital artists. We’re gonna continue funding but I wanna expand. I got a few projects in mind that I think would go for NFT. I wanted to call it “cultural preservation.” I wanna capture something cultural from the Philippines and then turn it into an NFT. Because some parts of our culture, you might forget about them, and I wanna remember those things. So, that’s my next thing.
I wanna take the music from that region and then put a beat—I’ll put my twist into it, like creating a beat on top of it and then it’s like a new thing.
Can we expect it soon?
Oh, yeah! We’re working on it right now. I’ve been talking to AJ. He’s helping me research these different cultural things. I don’t wanna give away too much too soon though. We have to do a lot of research and make sure we get it right. I also have a side project where I’m turning some of my songs into actual NFT videos. I mean, we are just getting started. For example, I was inspired by this producer named Illmind. We used to do sessions, we’d do a producer meetup and they’d call it “Pass the Aux”, so you just plug in your phone and play your beat. It’s like a producer community, but then we couldn’t do it during the pandemic. Because of that, we created a metaverse version where now he meets up with all these producers in the Meta world. And they play their music there! That’s genius.
What’s one piece of advice that you can give to Filipino creatives?
Believe in yourself and be consistent. I mean, look, we have web3 now so take advantage of it, you know? It has so many different paths. So collaborate with other artists and represent our culture. We have so many beautiful things that we need to show the world and now we have the tools to do so. It’s definitely the future. I mean, look—I’m paying for everything on my phone now. Think about applying it in our country, you know. There’s more sari-sari stores, you know—how can we improve that? Always try to apply it to your country, to better our country.
Portions of this interview were edited for clarity.