Lakas ng amats ko
(I’m on a super ‘high’)
Walang halong kemikal
(no added chemicals)
Amatz/amats = “tama” which in Filipino is the root of “tinamaan,” meaning “it hit me straight away” like the “kick” from drinking lambanog (Filipino “coconut vodka” which 80 to 90 proof, or as high as 166 proof after second distillation, they say).
What’s wrong with that — it’s your liver, not mine. But “tama” for the older generation and “amats” for the younger generation could likewise refer to the “high” from abuse of forbidden drugs.
That’s what’s wrong with the now-viral “Amatz” rap song by this Shanti Dope, an 18-year-old grade 10 student in a Cavite school — “the lyrics of the song promotes the use of marijuana which runs contrary to the Duterte administration’s crusade against illegal drugs,” Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said (ABS-CBN News, May 23, 2019).
Aquino said the song may mislead the vulnerable youth to think that it is all right to use drugs. He submitted a letter to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), and the ABS-CBN Corp. to prevent the airing of “Amatz” and its promotion in the different media stations throughout the country. The PDEA also recommends that similar songs should also be banned from airing” (UNTV News May 23, 2019).
Shanti, through his managers, asked the PDEA to “listen to the whole song, and not just take a few lines out of context” (ABS-CBN op. cit.). “None of it promotes marijuana use; in fact it clearly shows the persona taking a stand against illegal drugs, pointing out that what has made him ‘fly’ (so to speak) is not drugs, but music” (Ibid.). Sean Patrick Ramos (a.k.a. Shanti Dope) had previously written another rap song “Norem,” a commentary on the war on drugs (Ibid.). He is best known for “Nadarang,” a rap life-and-love song, which won the 2018 Awit Award for Best Rap/Hip Hop Recording. Shanti is popularly listened to in Spotify and YouTube.
How can you censor Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, or other social media apps, many now free? Netizens are angry. Mainstream media (which can be censored) is even angrier at the implications on freedom of expression being curtailed, as if the country were under a dictatorship. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa had been arrested in February on a cyberlibel charge, “a dramatic escalation in government pressure bearing down on Ressa and her website Rappler, which was already facing tax evasion charges that could shut it down” (philstar.com/headlines/2019/02/13). It comes after Duterte has cracked down on high-profile critics in the press and legislature who dared oppose his signature anti-drug campaign that has killed thousands (Ibid.).
The anti-drug campaign is sacrosanct to the administration, and we understand why 18-year-old Shanti Dope is now in hot water for rapping so raptly about marijuana, albeit he admonishes his audience not to start on it, for the sureness of getting hooked: “Payong kapatid pag tumikim di na madali tumakbo sa halik niya” (Brotherly advice, if you even taste it, it will be hard to turn away from her kisses). But why on earth did this supposedly reformed teenage user choose the damning name of Shanti Dope?
Shanti is a typical confused and still-evolving member of Gen Z — “the group of kids, teens and young adults roughly between the ages of seven and 22” in 2019 (Holman, Jordyn [25 April 2019]. cited by Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 April 2019). A 2017 study conducted by Kantar Millward Brown titled “AdReaction: Engaging Gen X, Y and Z” described Filipino teenagers compared to global counterparts of the so-called Generation Z as “harder to impress than the older generations” (BusinessWorld Feb. 17, 2017).
Both Holman and Brown analyzed Gen Z in terms of business marketing — with Brown focusing on Gen Z reactions to advertising as these reflect idiosyncrasies of their generation compared to Gen X (35-49 years old) and Gen Y or the Millenials (20-34 years old). Generational marketing has perhaps never been more critical to the distribution systems of businesses and services than now, when technology has created a virtual infinity pool of communication in digital social media. Gen Z, the generation “born with gadgets in their hands,” is now coming of age (2013-2020), and Brown’s conclusion in its study is “Gen Z is shaping the future.”
Social research has found Gen Z to be more conservative and risk-averse than the previous cohort, the Millenials. Gen Z are mostly the children of Gen X and a few of the Millenials, and have subconsciously imbibed the anxieties of their parents during a time of disillusionment marked by high divorce rates, rising cases of AIDS, phony values (materialism), and the corporate greed of the 1980s (Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, 1991). Columnist Mary Meehan observes that generations go through alternate pendulum swings of optimism and skepticism — when the Baby Boomers were exuberant, liberal and optimistic, the Gen Xers were pessimistic and dissatisfied (see where the Baby Boomers brought us), then the Millennials after them coped with the pendulum swing of a “live for the moment” liberalism (forbes.com/sites/marymeehan/2014/04/15).
Meehan and other researchers predict Gen Z will swing back to traditional values and a more-planned life, helped much by good education and, yes, a more sedate and discerning use of technology. In the Brown study on online ads and their effect on generational groups, the Filipino Gen Z were less easily impressed with new formats such as augmented reality or sponsored lenses and their least favorite formats are the invasive kind (BusinessWorld, op. cit.). These young Filipinos wanted marketers to respect their online space.
Perhaps Shanti Dope’s now-controversial “Amatz” rap song says it for Gen Z — they want not only online space, but space and attendant recognition of their values and principles, as soon they will be leading their own independent lives and shaping their future. Like not wanting pop-ups and other ads inflicted on them in their online space, Gen Z does not want their thoughts and their art to be usurped. “I have always been keen about my surroundings. When I sense something wrong that I cannot accept, I express it through my songs. I write my opinions about society,” Shanti Dope said in an interview before PDEA’s shut-up (lifestyle.inquirer.net April 21, 2018). “There are still many people who question my message because they think I am still young and I do not know what I’m talking about,” he said (Ibid.).
Gen Z is still in school. Interestingly, it is this generation that has expressed interest in entrepreneurship as an economic way of life, and the educational system has responded by installing entrepreneurship as a major college course in their curriculum. It is a priceless opportunity to firmly establish and strengthen in the rising Gen Z the proper values, principles, and even time-tested Filipino traditions and practices of living an honest, peaceful, and happy life in the country we all love and honor.
And we parents, friends, and all in society have the sacred responsibility to hoist and save Shanti Dope from his expressed frustration as at the closing verse of “Amatz”: “Kawalang gana na (I’m losing hope).” Feeling the collective effort to make our country a better place for all will be the ultimate “amats” for our Gen Z.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.