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Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

Aldus Santos

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Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap
The Agassis released a total of 25 tracks in 2023. That’s more than two full-length albums’ worth of material. You don’t stretch a joke for that long while keeping a straight face. 

Now that you’ve read all the year-end essays of the people that matter to you – your fam, your squad, whatever snappy thing kids call their designated peer groups these days – let’s talk about how 2023 was, in ways both funny and laughable, the year of two unlikely people: Carlos Agassi and Sarina Agassi. 

Seemingly out of nowhere, the husband-and-wife duo just started churning out singles on a regular basis, blessing our feeds and group chats with much-needed GV and hilarity. Their songs were easy hate-listen fodder, but people connected to them in a way Bible quotes, TikTok dance routines, and Ben&Ben songs just couldn’t. 

Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

When the couple first dropped the decidedly risqué “Milk Tea” – and “risqué” is perhaps too tender a descriptor, with the song’s barely-veiled references to, erm, oral matters – I imagine we all thought, “Haha, one-off joke track. Okay, well, moving on.” 

Were we wrong. So, so wrong. 

The Agassis continued to unilaterally gift us with prolificacy, releasing (pretty much) a tune a week on streaming and socials. Most tracks were accompanied by videos of the couple working the cameras: Carlos and his abs, Sarina and her…whatever snappy thing kids call being “extra” these days. The videos were rife with bling but, you know, domesticated.    

A quick Spotify audit shows the Agassis released a total of 25 tracks in 2023. That’s more than two full-length albums’ worth of material. You don’t stretch a joke for that long while keeping a straight face. 

So, for what it’s worth: Yes, I think they’re dead serious. Yes, I think they’re really that way. But also: No, I don’t know why people – from both sides of the approval coin – are drawn to their stuff like onlookers to a car crash. I mean, if there was a car crash on every street corner, would you stop and ogle each one?   

Well, a lot of us did stop and ogle each one. Perhaps because each car crash, despite sporting the same tells, provides consistent entertainment across an array of touch points. 

Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

There’s sex, naturally (“Luluhod Na,” “Tok Tok,” “Pusa”), but also love (a much less gallant brand of it, but oh well – “Babe,” “Lablab,” “Tinarantado”). Often one can detect an ounce or two of misogyny in these – granted, the guy does appear to have his wife’s stamp of approval, nay, active, unbridled participation – and arguing otherwise is like hitting your own head with a chipped brick. 

Agassi was, incidentally, called out for the supposed transphobic subtext of “Milk Tea,” a charge he denied and defended by saying it’s “a romantic comedy song” and that art should be “open to interpretation and criticism” (as reported in Inquirer.net).  

The gall is, indeed, a thing of wonder. 

Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

There’s also the swagger-ific material (“Who Rocks,” “Cute Ako,” “Tabi,” “Meme”), which is practically requisite for hip-hop of a certain bent. Swagger is, of course, intrinsic to the idiom. But like ‘80s- and ‘90s-era professional wrestling, the bluster projected in the Agassis’ material is more blinding than the actual luster. In these songs, Carlos and Sarina are the center of the universe, and they’re not glib about it; they spew it like textbook truth. Which is precisely how you should do swagger material: without breaking character. 

Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

And then there’s the topical stuff (“Halimaw,” “Problema,” “Pera,” “Chismosa,” “Plastik,” “OTW,” “Utang,” “Dami Utos”). And by “topical,” we don’t mean Seeger or Dylan verses and rhymes that glimmer with beauty and insight. We mean vitriolic diss tracks of the tallest (and pettiest) order: diatribes against the galling gossipmonger, the beatific backstabber, the leeching liar. 

Keeping up with the Agassis: A year of polarizing tracks from the Amir of Rap

But what takes the cake – the category so obvious it’s a mystery not enough artists do the same – is the seasonal material (“Pasko,” “Happy Birthday,” “Happy New Year”). If Jose Mari Chan can milk Christmas ad infinitum, you’d think artists with serious ambition would explore doing one or two red-letter occasions. I mean, who wouldn’t want to send a YouTube link to “Happy Birthday” to a friend to cheer him up? And this idea of pegging each non-working day (“Walang Pasok”) as a banner occasion worthy of getting enshrined in song? It’s just *chef’s kiss*.  

The Agassis’ draw isn’t inexplicable; it’s the same quality that gets people roped in by cult leaders, populist politicians, and pyramid marketers: confidence. And this roping-in occurs despite damning things that stare them right in the face. In the case of the Agassis – and it’s funny considering this is supposedly a music piece, and I’ve held back to the bitter end – the “damning things” mostly involve the music.  

The self-styled “Amir of Rap” does have history in the form and it shows, and his wife does display an often-surprising, dulled-blade acumen for spitfire verses. But many of the melodic parts are tone-deaf, several verses (laid atop very basic beats) are off-time, and the chest-thumping moments often fall flat. Similarly, the videos have a handmade, homespun goofiness that runs antithetical to the megalomania. 

But the general back-and-forth between online commenters are about the matters of self-awareness: how it’s all calculated, how the baiting is as clear as day. Some days I agree, and other days I don’t. 

@sarinaagassi Ang dami kong problema, dumagdag ka pa. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Problema • Carlos Agassi & Sarina Agassi #problema #carlosagassi #sarinaagassi #amirofrap #mrmrsagassi ♬ Problema – Carlos Agassi

Today, though, is the day that I allowed the Agassis to get inside my head. As one of their better-known tracks goes, “Ang dami kong problema / dumagdag ka pa.” – Rappler.com

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Aldus Santos

Aldus Santos is an independent author and musician.