'Yo' at 30: The untold story behind Francis M's great debut album

Rick Olivares

Posted at Dec 22 2020 06:48 AM

'Yo' at 30: The untold story behind Francis M's great debut album 1

MANILA -- Polyeast Records recently re-released “Yo,” the debut album of the late hip-hop artist Francis Magalona, and it coincides with the 30th anniversary of that landmark record that was dropped on an unsuspecting public in August 1990.

“Yo” was the product of several years of hard work and Magalona’s single-minded vision to become a serious rap and hip-hop artist. However, before that, he was a mainstay of the TV variety show "Loveli-Ness," an actor, and a dancer.

Around that time, Magalona became friends with some folks who helped provide “a stimulating, non-judgmental environment to allow his creative juices to flow.”

“He was together with my sister (Pia), so that’s how we first met and that’s how we got to hang around together,” bared Mark Arroyo, who along with his classmates from the Ateneo de Manila University Jorge Tirona and John Flores, formed a tight-knit circle with the budding musician.

The four hit it off with regards to comics, music and records, movies, and drinking. At one point, Tirona, who himself liked to draw and illustrate his favorite Marvel superheroes, had Magalona color his work (Magalona did ink one of Tirona’s Iron Man illustrations).

However, Magalona would beg off from their sessions every now and then to head out for his gigs. 

“He was being groomed to be this matinee idol to follow his parents who themselves were actors,” said Tirona who now works in a bank in Hawaii. “He wasn’t a big household name and yet, there was this ‘baduy” tag connected to him and people in showbiz but for us, Francis was a regular guy.”

Tirona recalled how at that time, they were drinking in the yard in front of his home just outside Ateneo when some street kids came up and said to Magalona, “Oy, kilala kita. Hindi ba sikat ka na artista?’ Francis went, “Yeah, sige. Whatever.’ One of the street kids went, ‘Tawagin ko lang 'yung mga kaibigan ko. Mga pare, nandito si Aga Mulach.’”

The friends doubled over in laughter and Magalona sort of muttered, “I think I’m going to be a rapper to distinguish myself from Aga and the others.”

“Francis would often say, ‘Pare, aalis lang ako sandali, mag-'That’s' (Entertainment) lang ako,’” related Tirona. “We’d keep drinking, and true enough, he would come back two hours later with a plastic full of cash. I’d go, ‘Wow, what a sweet gig!’ I don’t care if it’s baduy or not. It was a sweat deal. Francis knew what he was doing. He’d go out and make the bread, and we’d party some more.”

'Yo' at 30: The untold story behind Francis M's great debut album 2


One time, while the barkada was drinking, Magalona opened up and bared, “Pare, huwag niyo akong pagtatawanan pero I want to be a rapper.”

“This was around 1988-89 and New Wave was still king. Our reaction was, ‘Really? You aren’t even African-American,” recalled Tirona. 

At Magalona’s mention of “rapper,” Flores recalled being so shocked he actually spat out the beer he was drinking.

“This is pre-Eminem, pre-Vanilla Ice as rap then was Public Enemy, 2LiveCrew, N.W.A, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, and others,” chimed in Arroyo, who now lives in New Zealand. “But it wasn’t as big as it is today.”

“Thankfully, we weren’t very persuasive,” deadpanned Tirona. “Otherwise, history as we know might have been different.”

When the group would have parties, the music they would spin was New Wave and Magalona would come in carrying some rap and hip-hop records.

“During those parties or when we were drinking in Mark’s room, Francis would say, ‘Pare, 11 p.m. na. Baka puwede na ako magpatugtog,” laughed Flores who guided the Ateneo Lady Eagles to two UAAP championships in the early years of the new millennium. “We’d then tell him, ‘Hanggang 12 ka lang, ha.’”

“At the very beginning, parang pipe dream lang 'yung pagiging rapper,” added Tirona. “Then he would hand out this yellow pad and pens to all of us and we were supposed to come up with lines.”

“‘Pare, tulungan niyo ako; sulat tayo,’” Flores quoted Magalona as saying. “And we’d go, ‘Ano na naman 'yan? This is so stupid?” We had to write lines and make it rhyme.”

“Bigyan niyo ako 'yung pinaka-matindi niyo na linya para sa chicks,” instructed Magalona.

The guys wrote lines and Magalona connected them, amended them, with a few anonymously making their way to the songs that would eventually comprise “Yo.”

“One time, we were watching Formula 1, and he arrived with a demo tape of ‘Cold Summer Nights,” remembered Flores. “Francis said, ‘Pasensiya na. Nabawasan 'yung lyrics. Dinagdagan ni Jimmy (Antiporda) etc.’”

When it began playing, Flores uttered, “Parang si Bobby Brown. Puwede yan!”

Magalona was pleased with the response of his friends. 

Then a few months later, “Yo” took off, scoring massive hits with “Gotta Let Cha Know,” “Cold Summer Nights,” “My Only One, “Don’t Make Me Over,” and the monster hit, “Mga Kababayan.”

“In the last few years, the idea of a making rap music was just an idea for Francis. Now it was a reality,” summed up Arroyo. 

Magalona paid tribute to his three friends in the liner notes of the album by writing, “John Flores, Jorge Tirona, and Mark Arroyo, thank you for believing in me.”

The success of “Yo” opened the door for other Filipino rap and hip-hop acts. Magalona followed up that album with another monster album, “Rap is FrancisM,” and proceeded to score more records and singles. 

“As very close friends of Francis, we are very proud of what he became – a national and cultural icon; a tremendous musician, and a creative guy,” summed up Tirona. “He follows his passions. He wanted to learn golf and he got my dad’s old clubs and got really good at the game. Whatever he sets his mind to do, he gets it done.”

“He widened our perspective and we also influenced him. Thankfully, we weren’t persuasive enough to deter him from being a rapper. Otherwise, music history might be different as we know it.”

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