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Portland rapper salutes his roots with newest song “Big Flip”

Talilo Marfil, a Portland-based rapper who has dedicated his life to mentoring youth through art and music, celebrates the city’s Filipino American community in his latest single, “Big Flip,” featuring Swiggle Mandela, Taryn, and JayRThaBarber.

“Big Flip” not only amplifies Filipinos in Portland but aims to connect Filipinos with their language, culture, and heritage through food, martial arts, spirituality, and music. With the help of his manager Javonnie Shearn and funds from a Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grant, Marfil brought the spirit of Bayanihan to the music video, welcoming businesses, cultural performances, and talents from community members of all ages. “Big Flip” — which featured hip hop artists Nump and Bambu, Miss Philippines USA 2021 Cheska Angeles, comedian Rex Navarette, and actor Joey Guila — also holds special significance. The song is in remembrance of Marfil’s son, who would’ve been 15 years old this year, and his Lolo Weniefredo, who passed away in 2021.

“I want to be a part of a movement that helps the next generation remember their roots,” Marfil said. “My inspiration was more in tune with reviving our culture and helping us remember our language, our history.”

Reconnecting with one’s roots is deeply personal to Marfil. Growing up, the West Bisayan and Filipino American hip hop artist always wanted to tap into his culture but often felt disconnected from his Filipino identity.

Marfil was born to a Filipina mother and an American father in the Philippine city of Iloilo, located on the island of Panay. But he traces his ancestral roots to Bacolod City on the island of Buglas, the pre-colonial name of what is now known as Negros Occidental — Spanish invaders named the island Negros after the Ati people, who are the original inhabitants of the area. In 1992, Marfil immigrated to California with his mother, thus beginning his journey of diaspora.

For nearly a decade, Marfil called the East Bay his home. He experienced homelessness during much of his childhood, bouncing from one 925 city to another, but found camaraderie among his Black and brown friends in Antioch and Concord.

“Getting out of the house and kicking it with the homies, getting into trouble was a normal thing for me,” Marfil said. “It intensified when [my parents] uprooted me from Antioch. I have all of these friends, then boom. I get uprooted to a southern Oregon, predominantly white town.”

Only 12 years old at the time, Marfil felt disconnected once again. Living in poverty and longing for a community, he ran with a gang and stole the cars and pistols that belonged to his mother’s boyfriends.

“Fighting with her boyfriends was a normal thing for me. There was a lot of friction with her significant others because I noticed how they treated her,” Marfil said. “I didn’t understand the complexity of colonialism and how it affected my reality at that point. I didn’t really get in tune with it until after I got out of prison.”

Talilo Marfil poses for a photo outside of the Department of Justice in Portland, Oregon. Marfil is featured in the public mural painted by Alex Chiu, representing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, leaders, and members. Photo: Thy Tran

Marfil was sent to Portland after being expelled from school at 15. Shortly after, he became homeless, and at 19, he served a two-year prison sentence before being released at 21. He was free, but not totally free. His dreams of becoming a firefighter were promptly extinguished due to his past conviction. So Marfil tapped into music, a passion he honed growing up in the Bay, Klamath Falls, and Portland, Oregon. He enrolled in college to study music, and it was there that he found his calling.

Mentorship programs like Outside the Frame — which gives marginalized and unhoused youth opportunities to tell their own stories through film — played a critical role in Marfil’s life. In 2016, he made his first music video that was screened before a crowd of over 600 people at Armory Theater in Portland.

“For a young adult coming out of prison that has very low self-esteem, thinks he’s going to go back to prison, and doesn’t know what he’s doing in life — that was huge for me,” Marfil said. “After the show, I felt like I could do anything I wanted to in life.”

Today, Marfil serves on Outside the Frame’s board of directors and is the program manager of Ascending Flow, a program that mentors youth and young adults, all while building skills using music, art, and self-expression.

Raised on 90’s era hip-hop, Marfil immersed himself in the sounds of California rappers such as Tupac, Brotha Lynch, and Spice 1. He credits Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Tech N9ne with influencing him stylistically. At 16, he began to take pride in his Filipino identity by listening to ​​Los Angeles Emcee and community organizer Bambu DePistola, who he eventually opened for during a show in Portland. Before long, he was reciting poetry over beats in the company of his friends.

Being exposed to those varying styles enabled Marfil to forge a style of his own. Delivering frenetically-paced, blistering rhymes in both English and Hiligaynon (also referred to as Ilonggo), Marfil’s music pays homage to everything from Portland hood street culture to Filipino liberation movements.

“When I rap fast, I feel like I’m letting it out, and it helps with my mental health to let those emotions out in a more positive way,” he said. “Hip hop became a form of survival for me.”

Marfil remembers spending hours in the Apple Store as a homeless youth making beats on GarageBand. Hip-hop became Marfil’s form of survival.

“Survival was what sparked it, and then it became a lifestyle for me,” Marfil said. “It gave me food. It gave me peace. It gave me a way to express my emotions. That’s how it saved my life. It was there for me when no one else was.”

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