Review Misha Lecaros
Interview Denise Mallabo
Images Joel Limchoc, Ivan Despi, and Maya
Debuting online via a lyric video on YouTube posted by Universal Records Philippines, followed by a full music video two days later, Shanti Dope’s hit song Maya is an energetic tribute to the art of the hustle in modern society. To date, Maya has racked up nearly four million views, with comments praising the song’s inspirational messages and the music video’s incredible production values. What the public didn’t realize was that they were taking part in a well-known brand’s transformation story as, months later, it would be revealed that Maya was actually the first promotional phase of payment app PayMaya’s transformation into a full fintech platform, Maya.
And therein lies the brilliance of the campaign strategy: Had the song been launched concurrently with the rebranding, it ran the risk of being dismissed as an overly cynical exercise in celebrity endorsement, something akin to Chance the Rapper’s unfortunate 2019 Doritos ad. Given the ferocity with which credible rappers protect their reputations, it made sense to give the song time to stand on its own and be judged on its own merits. Of course, given what we know now, the included Maya branding is incredibly obvious, but back then, devoid of context, Maya was just the latest blockbuster release from a beloved performer.
And what a performer he is. Since breaking onto the scene with tracks like Nadarang, MAU, and Amatz as Gloc-9’s heir apparent, Shanti Dope was a star before he’d even turned 18. But the phenom’s delivery of rapid-fire verses and compelling hooks took a backseat to his ability to infuse lyrics with blistering salvos of social commentary. Encompassing a myriad of influences, Dope’s tracks are unabashedly optimistic in their defiance, serving simultaneously as voice and (much-needed) outlet for Gen Z’s frustrations.
In the case of Maya, the song is pure, unfiltered Shanti, infusing the listener with an anthemic ode to the passion that drives hustle culture and the power of perseverance. From the opening lines associating personal success with freedom, and the notion that our talents empower us to move forward, Maya grabs the listener’s attention and holds on for dear life. Even if this track had nothing to do with anything else, it’s undeniable that the track just straight-up slaps. With the added layer of the platform launch taken into consideration, every line takes on additional weight, a testament to the wit with which they were written.
As helmed by award-winning director Joel Limchoc, Maya’s music video is a veritable tour de force, packed to the brim with inventive imagery and a sense of movement that provide us with visuals worthy of Shanti’s prodigious prose.
The video features Shanti atop Manila landmarks, clad in a Maya green jumpsuit, his look anchored by Philippine flag kicks. From there, we are introduced to a number of unconventional characters, each looking to rise above the big bad streets of Manila to achieve their dreams. Through impressive camera moves and motion graphics, we meet a tattoo artist whose ink makes a statement, a one-legged caregiver with a love of freediving, and even Shanti himself as a street vendor pushing merch.
We go from the top of a speeding MRT car to a ring light-lit live seller hawking her wares. From there, a stylized segue moves us to a pride parade and drag queens living their best lives before we’re hurled into a full-blown 3D-animated sequence of a gamer slaying a beast. An IRL rooftop party brings everything together as Shanti launches into a verse on treasuring the ones whose love makes every hustle worth it, no matter how high we fly.
All throughout, the passion that drives these characters is palpable, with Limchoc’s propulsive sense of movement effectively conveying the drive that keeps them going. These characters represent the next iteration of Pinoys, a generation that’s already doing what it takes to chase their dreams, no matter what expectations tradition or society may place on them.
All told, Shanti Dope’s Maya stands as a stirring, rip-roaring expression of Pinoy passion, triumphantly making the statement that neither the song nor its accompanying video is any kind of cash grab.
This is a hustle, and we can’t wait to see where it goes.
Sa tuwing tinatanong ng “Ey, kamusta?”
Eto ang pitaka, laging may pamusta.
Parang maya na malaya ang lipad,
Habang tumataas, lalong lumalalim ang bulsa.
When I’m asked, “How you been?”
I show them my wallet stacked to the brim.
I’m free as a maya bird,
The higher I fly, the deeper my pocket goes.
“Yung okay sa pagiging underdog, mas may freedom to take risks,” says Maya’s head of creatives, Apol Sta. Maria, an 18-year veteran of the advertising industry. “The music video was just a music video; months pa bago kami magrebrand. May logo ng Maya, tas mabida pa sa lyrics, pero hindi “ad” ang pinakikinggan ng mga tao. Boses lang ni Shanti.” [“Being the underdog gives you more freedom to take risks. The music video was just a music video; it came out months before our official rebrand. So, the Maya logo is there, and our brand name is mentioned multiple times, but people weren’t listening to an ad—just Shanti’s rap.”]
“The brief was very tight, very inspiring. When we got it, it was complete,” says Angela Nuñez, Senior Account Director at Bates CHI & Partners, the ad agency that worked on Maya’s marketing campaign and music video. The vision for the campaign was clear: it had to be in its own league. “They wanted Maya to be a different animal. The tonality and the brief didn’t sound like the regular bank,” adds Nuñez.
“It’s all about coming up with fresh, edgy, never-seen-before, na medyo risky work. Since I came from advertising, I can see the client’s communication objectives—what’s the role of the brand? What’s the equity of the brand? So parang nada-dissect ko siya, and it’s easy for me to conceptualize,” says Film Pabrika’s Joel Limchoc.
“We choose our projects,” declares Ivan Despi, creative director and founder of Acid House, who said he was delighted to work on the music video because of the people involved. The motion design and animation company specializes in live-action compositing and motion graphics and has done projects for Nike, Araneta City, Nagaraya, MYX, Coke, and other big names. “We need to make the most of the client’s time and, of course, we need to make the most out of our time as a designer and artist. When you accept a project, that means three weeks of no sleep, so you might as well do something you’re happy with.”
Sean Patrick Ramos, better known as Shanti Dope, signed under Universal Records when he was only 16. He has more than 75 million streams on Spotify, a song featured in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and has collaborated with local and international artists. He remembers how, at the age of 13, he would see his rap idols Loonie, Ron Henley, Abra, and Smugglaz recording at his uncle Klumcee’s studio and stick his ear to the wall to listen while they worked their songs. And now, he’s recorded with almost all of them. “Hindi ako makapaniwala. Nakakapressure kasi bata pa po ako pero yung expectations sa akin ng mga tao parang sobrang [mataas]… Kasi sabi nila lyrics ko parang matanda raw akong magsalita, kaya dapat ganun din ako sa personal.”
The interviews with Maya‘s creatives were conducted on Zoom and condensed for publication.
Part 1. The Campaign
Nagpaulan ng talento ‘yung panginoon
Sa bago kong henerasyon.
Ang isipan na nakalabas sa kahon;
Kapag isa ka sa ‘min, alam mo na ‘yon.
Kahit lumaki sa kalsada, ‘di pa rin nawalan ng pag-asa.
Para sa kabataan ko na kababayan, wala kang hindi makakaya.
God made talent rain
On this generation that thinks out of the box
If you were one of us, you’d know this to be true.
We were raised by the streets, yet we never lose hope.
There’s nothing this generation can’t do.
Ange Nuñez: Maya is the type of client who would really inspire the creative. Their campaign isn’t the cookie cutter type. They gave a really inspiring brief for a campaign that would push boundaries.
Apol Sta. Maria: We aim to work exclusively with local creators. Galing ako sa ad agency side, kung saan mas mahirap makapag pa-approve ng choice of talents. But now na nasa brand na ako, may freedom na magdecide who to work with. And this time, for this point in the rebrand, choosing Shanti was a no-brainer. Huli niya ang boses ng generation, sumakto talaga sa Maya. [Working in advertising, we had less control over the choice of talents. Now that I’m with brand, we have the freedom to decide who to work with. Choosing Shanti was a no-brainer. He captures the generation’s voice; he was perfect for Maya.]
Nuñez: There were back and forths, but it was part of the process. Maya’s Chief Marketing Officer Pepe Torres said, “It’s like jazz; we improv along the way.”
“I start with character references, what they wear, how they move, and where they are—I imagine all of that. That’s how I do my board.” – Joel Limchoc
Part 2. The Anthem
Na para bang ibon na maya, malaya sa himpapawid gustong lumipad.
Ano mang pagsubok ang makasalubong ay kayang dalhin, kahit mabigat.
At bagong pag-asa ng bayanm gumagawa ng kasaysayan
‘Di basta nagpapatangay sa agos, meron din gustong patunayan
Like a maya bird, free to fly high in the sky,
No challenge is too heavy to carry.
The hope of the country, creating history,
Going against the current, we’re out to prove our worth.
The brief for the music and the video was it had to be revolutionary, cultural, and anthemic. It would be defiant and optimistic—a tribute to inspired self-starters and young Pinoys who are progressive, driven, and brave.
Nuñez: January 2022 was when we were all clear we’d get Shanti Dope. Before briefing Shanti’s team, we already had a concept in mind and jump-off point lyrics. We told Shanti, “Jump-off point lang itong lyrics na’to, make it your own.” Shanti would work his magic. Two weeks later, he came out with the lyrics. He worked with Klumcee, his partner composer and arranger. Once they had something, they aligned with Direk Joel. When they were good, we had our song alignment with client.
Shanti Dope: Nung binanggit sa akin ng manager ko, nag-game agad ako. Nagustuhan namin yung concept na in-offer nila sa amin kasi pwedeng ilagay sa album yung ganung concept ng kanta tungkol sa kabataan at social awareness. Hindi siya hard sell, hindi siya tunog na may pino-promote.
Sta. Maria: We told Shanti Maya was going to be the anthem of his generation. Even though the song’s focal point was financial independence, it was important to show everything that goes with it—relationships, health in all aspects, and equal opportunity. Money plays a big part in a person’s health, so if that aspect of your life is in good shape, hopefully, the other aspects would be too. So that was the theme, and that’s what Shanti did.
Shanti Dope: Nakakataba ng puso tsaka nakakatuwa na ngayon ko nakikita na may nakaka-appreciate ng music ko. Dati kasi, hindi ako aware e. Parang “Ganun na ba ako kasikat talaga?” Ngayon ko narealize na nagsisimula pa lang talaga ako. Dati kasi, marami akong gig, may pera ako, pero wala akong goal. Dun pa rin ako nakatira sa bahay ng mama ko, wala akong goal na magkabahay. Ngayon ko nakikita na kailangan seryosohin ko na ito, tingnan ko na siya sa mas malaking larawan talaga.
Dito sa kantang ito, ang daming kabataan na makakarelate. Conscious rap yung naging dating niya sa akin kaya pangbalanse siya ng vibe. Hindi yun tingin ng iba na pag rap puro enjoy lang. May tatlong version pa kami ng chorus na nagawa sa sobrang gusto namin yung concept.
Part 3. The Creative Brains
Malaya ang pag-iisip bukas ang puso at diwa
Sangkatutak na ideya sa utak ang nakapila.
Diretso ‘di tumitigil madami ma’ng humihila
Pababa ay positibo pa din dalang enerhiya.
Free thinkers with an open heart and spirit
And minds filled with ideas,
Unyielding and undeterred,
Charged with positivity.
Sta. Maria: Joel Limchoc was the only director who could bring this to life. We were in agreement: ayaw namin na magmukhang conventional TV spot. Walang forced branding. Very sleek and polished yung visuals, kaya rin Acid House ang nilapitan namin. Proof talaga ‘to that local talent is more than capable of producing global work. [We were in agreement: we didn’t want a conventional TV spot, no forced branding. Just sleek and polished visuals, which is why we also chose Acid House.]
Nuñez: Client was very clear they wanted Acid House and Joel Limchoc. There was no bidding. It was like, “Get Joel, period.” Joel is the type of director who picks projects and is always super booked. So a month ahead, we told him to please free his schedule for Maya. And then, when he found out it was Pepe, he was, “Okay, cool.”
Joel Limchoc: Bates approached me to work on the relaunch. I have a good partnership with them; I work with them a lot. Then I found out they wanted a music video pala. I’ve been directing for 11 years, probably done more than 500 ads, and films with music, but I hadn’t yet done a music video. When someone tells you that, you say yes right away, right? The bonus was Apol and Pepe were the clients. I knew it would be a great project. Kapag si Pepe ang katrabaho ko, nasa edge ako palagi. Bawal ang pangit. I’m always on my toes.
Ivan Despi: We were busy with the rebrand collaterals for Maya when Direk Joel Limchoc contacted us to work on the music video. When I saw it was for Maya, I told Joel, “Direk, masarap silang ka-work. Ka-work namin sila currently. Tapos kung kayo yung gagawa niyan, game din kami.” [“Direk, they’re good to work with. And if you’re doing the project, we’re in.”]
We’d worked with Direk Joel before, but nothing like this. The initial board from agency was different from anything we’d seen. So that was our buy-in: we had an excellent working relationship with the client, we would work with Direk Joel, and of course, the board. As in game na game kami.
Part 4. Free Rein
‘Di nawawalan ng gasolina, kahit malayo ang biyahe,
Nakakabingi man ang mga busina, makina mainit pa sa kusina,
Para sa kinabukasan gusto ko makita, bago sa kama dumilat.
‘Di nila mapipigilang kasabay ng bagong araw sumikat.
May puso, talino, may sipag, madiskarte.
Sa iskwela, estudyante, ‘pag sa bahay, negosyante.
Nakalatag ang maraming pambenta sa garahe
Bangketa sa tanghali, ang presyo kalahati.
All fueled up, no matter the distance or deafening noise.
Our drive served hot from the kitchen
Towards a future worth waking up to.
A future that can’t be stopped, just like the rising sun.
We got heart, smarts, drive, and finesse.
Scholars at school, at home, we hustle.
With sales lined up in the garage and the streets,
under the sweltering heat at half price apiece.
The director’s revised storyboard
Nuñez: The clients are the type who give creatives free rein. They don’t box you in. We agreed on pegs of how we envisioned the music video, what scenes we’d like to capture, what character profiles we’d like to feature, and the overall look and feel.
Sta. Maria: It was a true collaboration between Bates, Joel, and the brand team. Basta aligned lahat ng creatives sa brand values and identity, ‘di talaga namin nilagyan ng unnecessary guardrails: basta mabigyan lang ng justice ang lyrics ni Shanti. [All creatives were aligned on brand values and identity, there was no need for guardrails so long as it did justice to Shanti’s lyrics.]
Limchoc: The most critical part of making a film is the thinking process. In my head, I think about that for one week. I think about the characters. The best way to show Gen-Z is to represent them with characters. Luckily, I have a stepdaughter, Snow, who belongs to that generation. Our relationship is like we’re barkada [buddies]. Her friends are at the house a lot. I see them; I interact with them. I did research with my daughter, and, in fact, I based my character on her. The character I’m talking about is the online seller in the music video, and actually, that was Snow. Kaya siya sobrang perfect because that’s really her now. She quit her job; she became an online seller. The characters are based on real people from all walks of life. I assigned a character per stanza. Then you have the brand ambassador here and there, Shanti Dope opening it, then closing it.
Despi: The director’s board showed us how enormous the task was. There was so much CG work and VFX work. It spurred so many questions from our end—are we doing this in post? Post ba to? Post ba to? Post ba to? But thankfully, the collaboration between prod, TD and PD with post was tight. Saluhan talaga. Ibang klase siyang project talaga.
Then, Direk Joel told us, “Yung mga gusto mong gawin dati na hindi mo nagawa, dito mo gawin.” Ah, talaga, ha? [“Everything you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t, do here.” Oh, really, huh?] So we gave suggestions for every scene. It was very collaborative. Very, very collaborative. That’s the most essential ingredient—a client and creative collaborators who trust you.
Limchoc: Ivan had lots of input. He actually made changes to my board, but I completely trusted Ivan and his team. I always tell my producer, “Kung okay na si Ivan, okay na ako.” Ivan and I think the same way—good enough is never good enough. You have to always set the bar high.
Nuñez: We knew Pepe wanted to give them free rein, that this was a music video, an anthem for Gen-Z, not a brand launch video. After Direk made his storyboard, we aligned before showing it to client. Ayun, aligned din naman. They didn’t edit out the creative inputs. Talagang, that’s the very definition of giving you free rein. There were a few cautions, though, like, “This part is looking a little too dark,” stuff like that, but most of the director’s initial storyboard is what came to life.
Limchoc’s revised storyboard timed to the music
Part 5: The Making of the Music Video
‘Di natatakot sabihin ang gusto sabihin at walang piring sa mata
Hatid ay liwanag sa bawat silid na may kadilimang hindi makapa.
Buong kalawakan napapabilib dahil malupitan na talaga.
Mga kabataang napakasolido, kahit na di mo pa halata.
Outspoken and fearless, never blind to the truth.
We bring light into every darkened room,
Impressing the world with skills unparalleled.
This generation has greatness even if you can’t see it yet.
Limchoc: We shot for four days. It took that long because there were strict COVID protocols to follow, and shooting hours were limited. And I do a lot of takes. My average is 20 to 30 takes per scene. Like the kissing scene there, we did a lot of takes. It had to be believable. The first few takes feel staged; you can almost hear the acting director say, “Action! Tinginan! Tawanan! And cut!” I don’t like that. I don’t like scenes that are too perfect. I experiment with nuances before I’m satisfied I’ve captured the right moment.
There were a lot of scenes added that weren’t on the board, like the scene at City Hall and the drag queen dunking the ball. I always shoot extra frames because it’s easier to edit them out than to go get more.
Shanti Dope: Yung mga ibang acting-acting naninibago lang ako, yung pinapangiti ako na may hawak akong cellphone. Hindi ako sanay sa ganun. Pang artista na talaga ito! [Laughs] Pero nandun na ako, nagpakabibo na lang din ako sa kanila. Ang angas nung music video, sa ibang eksena, para akong super hero. Masayang experience din siya. Ang galing na ganun pala gumawa ng music video na may mga effects. Kasi napapanuod ko lang yun sa mga international na music videos e, kila Kendrick Lamar, kila Jay-Z, kila Kanye West. Ganun pala talaga gawin yun, matagal pala siya. Napakalaking karangalan maging parte nito.
Limchoc: I love that kid (Shanti Dope). He’s such a pro and down-to-earth. That kid will go far. When you see him, he looks like a normal, Gen-Z, cool guy, but he’s got that star factor when he starts rapping. So many fans were watching the shoot because we were out on the streets, and many wanted selfies with him. He was very nice to them.
Despi: From the get-go, we knew the music video would need a wide range of visual styles, and we would have to hire artists because our studio wouldn’t be able to cater to all those different styles. We’re a core group of five in Acid House. For this project, we scaled up our team to ten or eleven people.
Direk wanted an original artwork for that pride parade scene, a reinterpretation of Malakas at Maganda [a Filipino myth about the first man and woman], where Malakas at Magandaevolve to include all the genders, not only binary. That’s when we thought of commissioning Chinny Basinang. Sobrang lakas ng artwork ni Chinny! We hadn’t worked with her yet. I came across her work on IG during the election campaign and thought I’d really like to work with her someday. We also got Augs Fontanilla to do all the graffiti work in the music video. Thankfully, both were game, and the schedules aligned.
To make Chinny Basinang’s artwork transition into the Pride float, Acid House waited for the set piece to be constructed, the scene and talents to be shot, and worked their way backward to link the two illustrations.
Limchoc: As much as I can, I prefer doing practical effects, meaning doing things on set. When we can’t do it on set, that’s where the magic of Ivan and Acid House comes in.
Despi: Direk Joel was very thorough. He does everything that production can do to reduce the load on post. It’s very humbling. Like, grabe naman, they did that? One example is the miniature room, the doll house. When we were analyzing the board internally, we said, “Naku! The fashionista girl, Snow, turns into a doll!” We asked Direk, “So we have to make a mannequin that looks like Snow? And the room where the doll’s gonna be in, we’re doing that in CG? And he said, “No, no, no, production will take care of that.” Then, when they were setting up for the shoot, I didn’t see the ring light in the dollhouse. So I asked Direk, “Are we adding the ring light in post?” He said, “Nah, we have a miniature ring light!”
Limchoc: The agency asked me to hide alphanumeric codes in the music video for people to find and win prizes. That’s such a great idea, making it interactive and giving it replay value. Tinago ko pero nasobrahan ng tago, hindi na makita! (Laughs) [I hid them too well they couldn’t be found!]
Despi: In the middle of some of the passes we made, agency came in and specified scenes where we had to input these codes into the animation. They were very particular. It was finding the right balance of hiding the codes and people being able to find them if they were actually looking for the codes. Ang ganda nga ng idea ng client and agency. May visual na eye candy ka, tapos maghahanap ka pa ng code. It’s like finders’ keepers; you’d have to search the video frame by frame.
Shanti Dope: Favorite kong mga eksena yung sa MRT tsaka yung mga nakatungtong ako sa mga matataas. Hindi pa ako nakakagawa ng ganun e. Kadalasan talaga ng mga music videos namin simple lang. Kaya nung naka experience ako ng sobrang laking production para sa music video, ang galing din, nakakainspire gumawa ng gumawa.
Limchoc: I love the opening when Shanti was on top of the electric pole. Lulang lula siya dun! Nanlambot yung tuhod nya. [It made him dizzy, he felt weak in the knees.] There were mattresses at the foot of the pole, which was only ten feet high, but when I went up there, nakakalula din. We were on a rooftop, so what you see there is the real skyline; it wasn’t comp. I wanted to shoot it at sunset, and we were so excited to shoot because the sunset was beautiful. When it was time for Shanti to go up, he was really nervous. But he was so game. Whatever I asked him to do, he was just so game. Sobrang bait. Sobrang cool.
Despi: We enjoyed the CG in the alleyway with “Maya Man” fighting the crocodile. There’s this Arcane action-adventure series on Netflix with fantastic animation and visuals, painting, and lighting of the models. We’re big fans of that series and had been figuring out how to reverse engineer that look. Ganun kasi kami, pag may nakitang maganda, gusto mo malaman kung paano ginawa, right? The music video presented the perfect opportunity to finally put what we’d been studying to work.
There was a push to overdeliver in the air because everyone over-delivered. We could have said, “O, let’s not do this shot because that’s over budget.” But we had no inclination to say that. We were all game, game, game! That was the climate we were operating in. Plus, all this stuff we were adding is stuff we wanted to do. When we completed the scene and previewed it internally, we were all super, super happy because that’s what we had set out to achieve—the action, the pacing, the animation. It all paid off. I’m also super happy for the team because they have something awesome to add to their portfolio.
Shanti Dope: Dine-dedicate ko ito sa mga kaidaran ko, sa henerasyon na madeskarte narin sa lahat. Napapansin ko kasi na ang mga kabataan, ang dami nang pinagkakakitaan. Tulad ko, ang aga ko rin nagsimula; nanggaling kami sa wala. Ang dami ko ring nakikita na bata pa lang, nagtatrabaho na. Para siya sa henerasyon na malaya dumiskarte, malaya magisip. Nakakaproud lang din yung generation ngayon na sobrang solid tsaka iba narin sila um-appreciate ng art at music. Hindi tulad dati na ang tingin nila sa mga rappers mga balagbag lang. Iba na rin magappreciate talaga ng music ang generation ngayon, kapag gusto nila, gusto talaga nila.
Limchoc: Working on this music video was about pushing our creativity and keeping within the brand’s values. You can be edgy while advocating Pinoy values. That’s what was so satisfying collaborating with Maya. We were working with the best talent, and that made the material so rich in texture, art, symbolism, and meaning. That project was a culmination of music, filmmaking, animation, art, production design, and graphic design—different disciplines and arts put together in one film.
Di papatalo kapag ang usapan ay sining at teknolohiya.
Pinakabago, hindi nakapako na lang sa mga makalumang ideya
Parang bukas na libro, walang itinatago, paningin ay klaro
Sa mga gusto pa maging sa tuwing haharapin
Taong na sa salamin.
Dahilan kung bakit nagsusumikap pa nang husto,
ay hindi lang dahil sa yamang materyal sa mundo,
kayamanang matatawag ay kung meron ka nito,
pamilyang nagmamahal, kaibigang totoo.
We’re unmatched in art and tech,
We’re cutting edge, old-fashioned ideas we reject.
We’re like open books with nothing to hide.
We’ve got visions of the future so clear,
Whenever we see ourselves in the mirror.
The reason we hustle hard
Isn’t only for material things the world can offer,
But also for those we most treasure,
A loving family and real friends. •
Director: Joel Limchoc
DOP: Mycko David
PD: Nina Torres
Online Editor: Dolps Fernando
Production House: Film Pabrika
Post-Production: Acid House
Jeff Hazel Ombrete
Kim de Guzman
Sean de la Torre