At the beginning of Kendrick Lamar’s self-anthem ‘i’ was a proclamation: “He’s not a rapper, he’s a writer!” which, taken at face value, can be misleading: a denigration of the former. What this line alludes to is Kendrick’s disassociation from the venomous culture of rap, by propagating this very medium to fully express himself. In many ways, this applies to the direction and work of Logiclub hiphop artist Mito Fabie, also known as Curtismith. While it’s easy to regard his moniker only as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Anne Curtis, it is also a jab, a rally against an industry that puts a premium on celebrities-turned-recording-artists, often on the sole account of celebrity. And by adopting this name, he’s engaging himself to the counterculture of those on the other side of the field.
Curtismith’s rap persona is a fairly reserved one, easily shrugged off as the corny and divisive – but convenient – term, “conyo rap,” presumably on the basis of rapping in English and lack of being “street.” Even at his most brash moments (“Let me spit my game / And let these rappers borrow” from ‘No Sleep’), his style and candor is tamer compared to battle rap artists. His presence is reminiscent of Kid Cudi’s, specifically during the making of Kanye West’s magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. During their time in Hawaii, Kid Cudi opted to sleep in while everyone’s out playing basketball. Cudi recounted, “I always had jet lag out there while other people were in the Hawaii groove already, but it worked out, because by the time they were done hooping, I was refreshed and ready to go.” Both are perceived as odd players simply for not fitting the norm, the pattern.
In a span of six months since his first mixtape, IDEAL, was released, Curtismith dropped his follow-up eight-track Failing Forward EP, which is hardly a concept album. His song structures are characteristically liberal non-sequiturs, and there’s a different cadence in his voice – his flow – that doesn’t quite blend with the beat, but has a tone of its own. It’s not melodic, is monotonous even, but almost always conversational, colloquial. He rarely raises his voice, isn’t calculating with his tempos, and yet manages to execute a style that not only makes him easy to listen to, but even to sing along with, with the EP’s strength lying mostly on its hooks. In hindsight, the EP doesn’t try too hard to suggest its need to be disarmingly brilliant and groundbreaking, but to challenge perception, narrate stories eloquently via the orthodox ways of rap – which is still fairly a minority in local music.
There’s no significant stretch between IDEAL and Failing Forward in terms of production. The bulk of the beats used in both mixtapes are familiar, bordering nostalgic. Curtismith has a flair for utilizing beat structures with softer and simpler textures that more of create, enhance, or sustain a mood rather than provoke. Only ‘No Sleep’ (credited as a Stimp C production, but more recognizable as a sample from Alina Baraz and Galimatias’s ‘Fantasy’) echoed a hint of aggression – both lyrically and sonically. Curtismith’s team-up with local producer Frank Savage on ‘Saucin’ incorporated Post Malone’s breakout hit, ‘White Iverson’, with a less dragging execution compared to its original. Failing Forward’s best production moment is arguably from his collaboration with CRWN, whose Midas touch in ‘LDR’ maximized the most out of the song without resorting to predictable gimmicks. It smoothly anchors Curtismith’s odd-timed verses in between strong hooks, easier to remember not just the lyrics but also details, breaks, and pauses.
In a TEDxTalk session, Curtismith stripped his rapper persona and told the story of Mito Fabie in a setting not too different from a studio or stage where he normally performs. His talk, “The Merits of Failure,” narrated a protracted path to achieve and cultivate success through music.Failing Forward – and in extension, IDEAL as well – is his artistic and introspective journal that recounted his mistakes, among many things. It is not meant to be regarded as an outline to anyone else’s story but his, but somehow, it bore similarities on how we approach (and as he rapped oftentimes, his fear that results to running away) our dreams and struggles: his was rebellion. It manifested strongly on ‘Ignant’ (“Teaching you to love all of the chains, but I was different”), where as strong as his defiance is, so is his desire to prevail. This theme recurs in the EP, presenting in different situations: about growing up, in ‘Afterhours’ (“Sharks in the dark trying to spark with the kids in their heart / Do my things from a broken home / But never lose your soul”); on coming to terms with the life choices we’re forced out of the guarantee of security versus pursuing passion in ‘No Sleep’, featuring a guest spot from rapper Simian; and in his title track, ‘Failing Forward’, where he fosters his faith with fight (I’m putting my faith in God / This spirit is all I got / But let me show what I do / You know He’s doing magic when He working through you”). While ‘Lookin Up’ is Curtismith thinking out loud and spitting rapid thoughts as they came, the track that best captured his headspace is ‘Note II Self’, which includes a sound bite from a 1996 Tupac interview. This is a song to and from each of his personas, as Mito and Curtismith, of self-love and preservation, of finding and living his purpose.
In the John C. Maxwell book, Failing Forward: How To Make the Most of Your Mistakes, there is a palpable message that cuts through its namesake EP, one that separates achievers from average people: their perception of and response to failure. Indicative of potential, Failing Forward EP had Curtismith carve out his own place through his music, using his own missteps to advance further and forward. (Mary Christine Galang)
This review also appears on Decibawl, Mary Christine Galang’s personal blog.