To loyalists of the rap battle conference FlipTop, Skarm, or Philip Pacheco, is known for his lyrical flow and consistency. He’s also regarded as one of the best local freestylers in the English language today. But recently, the 27-year-old decided to conquer the music scene more than the underground. For this, he struggled to detach himself from his rap battle days and reintroduced Skarm as a musician.
“A lot of people combine the two. I don’t,” Skarm says as he begins to explain his decision to leave his FlipTop battle days and advance as a musician. His latest album is called “Playground Tactics.” It was released last March and was a radical departure from what he has produced for the last 10 years or so.
“What I’ve learned in the long run [is] it’s a rare occasion for one artist to carry both skills … being a great musician and a great battle rapper. Majority of the time if you’re good at battling, it’s not a given that you’ll be a good musician … I want to be a hip-hop artist.”
For the first time, Skarm did not produce any of his songs. Instead, he rolled the dice by messaging 15 producers he respects and admires, and like “winning the lotto,” one of them replied. Anitek, an international trip-hop producer from New Jersey who’s also an Oscar-nominee, took an interest in his style and produced his whole album.
For Skarm, his latest work reflects the kind of music he always wanted to work with— less emotional and more positive. He was able to focus on his lyrics with Anitek on the helm of producing. Skarm, after almost a decade, finally gained his momentum.
His stint in the rap battle conference proved to be a double-edged sword. While it has helped him gain enough following to spread his music, it has also limited him in so far as being labeled as only a freestyler, which Skarm finds frustrating. Nonetheless, it was an obstacle he’s willing to overcome—so much that he decided to quit his job and pursue music full-time.
From a bank manager to a full-time rapper
While his peers from the underground scene know him as Skarm, he’s “Sir Philip” during the day when he’s running the second biggest branch of a prestigious bank.
Before quitting, Pacheco works for 13 to 14 hours a day, and smokes a pack of cigarettes everyday because of stress. Eventually, this took a toll on him badly that he collapsed in the office on the spot. Pacheco developed asthma and pneumonia at the same time.
“The doctor goes, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I help run that branch beside you’ and he says, ‘Get out. You’re so unhealthy,’ and I swear, the moment he said that, the only thing I wanted to do was start writing. The banking consumed so much and I can’t even explain it.”
Jack of all trades, master of none?
From performing for John Lloyd Cruz’s birthday to writing a song for Damian Lillard, Skarm glides through the scene like a jack of all trades. After breaking free from the shackles of an office job, he has rocked bars, music festivals and corporate shows. He considers his performance at the Music Museum, where he jammed with rapper Curtismith, as his biggest gig yet.
Skarm views his fluidity as an advantage rather than a sacrifice for being a master of none. One might even consider him as a realist and an optimist at the same time. While he understands that there is a little to no chance that his music will be radio staples, and he becomes a household name, he also believes that everything is a learning curve.
“Bruce Lee said be like water. Weakness ‘yan ng artist sometimes eh … As for me, I wanna keep pushing myself,” he says.
But despite the versatility of the shows he does, one thing has not changed since Skarm’s conception—his style. You can hear a heavy New York influence from the 27-year-old who is a huge fan of Nas in terms of lyricism and themes of social consciousness. Despite having his own braggadocio raps, he also draws inspiration from the hip-hop duo Atmosphere, coined by some as the “God of Emo Rap.” Production-wise, Skarm likes the ’90s vibe.
He shares, “I can’t take that away from me [his style], even if I tried … I really know my style is hard to comprehend, hard to be liked—it’s different. But I know sincerity and relatability are there. I think that’s enough.”
After almost a decade in the industry, Skarm is done with, what he describes as, “trying to rip someone’s neck” through aggressive rap battles. For him, it’s now the question of how he can send a good vibe and a nice message, and motivate his listeners. This responsibility, together with carrying the torch of the good ol’ ’90s boom bop music, is something he’s willing to carry on his shoulders.
But before that, he needs to fortify his brand first, and from the looks of it, he’s doing a good job at it.
Perhaps, the story on how he got his alias is a good metaphor for his career at present— spontaneous, bare and one hell of a ride:
“I was riding the G Liner one time and I fell and there was just glass everywhere, and blood. They were like ‘uy, may scar ka sa arm, we’re gonna you call you Skarm’ and that never left. Ironic too because the first three albums I made, I was rapping about my scars. It actually ended up making sense.”