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Filip Filipi (left) prepares to give a speech at the UN.
Filip Filipi (Left) prepares to speak at the UN (Photo: Supplied)

Interview: Q&A

From Hitmaker to Humanitarian: Meet the Canadian Philanthropist who used hip-hop to change the world

As a teenager, drawn to rap music for its raw sense of honesty and expansive sound, Filip Filipi began sampling beats and produced his first mixtape at 18.

By his nineteenth birthday, he was producing with The Diplomats, placed a track on the finale of So You Think You Can Dance, and wrote a song performed by tennis champion Ana Ivanovic and Collie Budz.

The road to music stardom seemed to be opening before him when an international incident convinced him to take an entirely different path—that of philanthropy.

 
Humanitarian Day: Filip Filipi used rap to change the world

World No. 1 Tennis Champion Novak Djokovic & Filip Filipi (Photo: Supplied)

Filip sold his music to raise funds to buy and deliver aid to people living in poverty in the Western Balkans. His movement—supported by other young people looking to make a difference—evolved into Canadian non-profit organization today known as 28. Jun.

Over the last seven years, 28. Jun delivered $7 million to the Western Balkans, ensuring people received everything from food, bedding, to, at times, homes.

In 2014, they airlifted 15 tons of emergency aid from Toronto during the Balkan Flood Disaster. They became the first humanitarian organization operating in the region to be granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations and their 500+ members across 30 countries oversee a network of 1.8 million newsletter subscribers and social media followers.

On this World Humanitarian Day, we sit down with Filip to discuss his fascinating story.


Q&A: Filip Filipi

HipHopCanada: You started producing as a young kid. What drew you to rap?

Filip Filipi: I started rapping along to songs and people kept telling me I had the lyrics all wrong. I realized the lyrics I had in my head felt more personal than the actual lyrics in the song. That’s when I started writing my own stuff. I also enjoyed finding rare samples to flip and being part of the entire creative process, from cover art to marketing. And at 18 I released my first project, Sizzerb Mixtape Vol. 1 with DJ Vlad.

HipHopCanada: That mixtape did well, as my memory serves. It sold 12,000 copies and soon you were featuring some big names on your tracks. How did it feel, gaining traction so young?

FF: (Laughs) Let’s see how much I can remember. It was awesome. I was young and passionate, and it felt amazing to create something people were enjoying listening to. I loved that entire process. My friends from New York were telling me my mixtape was being bootlegged on Canal Street and this was like 6 months after I started rapping, so it was cool. I also got to work on that project with my close friends, Jonathan Lee, Liam Perry-Corbett and Khalid Al-Askar. Those guys have helped me enormously with the organization. We’re big on loyalty.

HipHopCanada: And you were doing pretty well then, right? Collaborating with the Diplomats, releasing a single for So You Think You Can Dance, featuring Ana Ivanovic in what was her prime in some ways. And one day you just.. Gave up?

FF: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say gave up. I like to think I pivoted.

HipHopCanada: Right, yeah. You completely turned to philanthropy. But why? How does someone decide to make such a big switch?

FF: Well, it was kind of a gradual shift.

Rap turned to electro, but I felt the material I was putting out near the end was more keeping up with trends. I was looking for something that was meaningful to me. I did a song called Kosovka back in 2011 with Deezle (who produced Lollipop for Lil Wayne), and we used a Balkan sample on the beat. And the proceeds from that were donated to humanitarian causes. And from there, my life just sort of took on a new direction.

 
Humanitarian Day: Filip Filipi used rap to change the world

Filip Filipi (Photo: Supplied)

HipHopCanada: What inspired you to donate those first proceeds?

FF: I saw a TV report about the Balkans. That entire region was recovering from conflict and people were out in the streets because they needed basics..food, clothing, some sense of justice. It inspired me to write the song. And then I realized I could try to use my music to help their situation. I honestly felt privileged to have emigrated to Canada, to be doing what I love.. So I decided to donate the proceeds.

HipHopCanada: And that grew in what today is known as 28. Jun?

FF: Yeah, we sent a container of aid from that first song to people in that region. And then we realized that all over that part of the world, people were living in extreme poverty. So we started crowdsourcing to raise more money.

We incorporated in 2012 and sort of just kept working to raise money and donate supplies – food, medicine, basic hygiene supplies. Sometimes we pay for education, or contribute to someone’s surgery costs. Sometimes a family in a village needs a washing machine, a cow, a small house and we do what we can to help.

HipHopCanada: Wow. That’s really amazing work. How does it feel to be spearheading something like that?

FF: It can be overwhelming, you know, because we’re completely volunteer based but we have some extremely dedicated people who have been there from day one. People from all over the world contribute their time and it takes a lot of effort to keep us all organized, and it’s not always perfect. We’ve had people try to bribe us, attempt to extort us, all sorts of hangups.

I was just a kid when I started. So every day, every mistake, was a lesson. I’ve learned so much along the way. And recently, we started working with the UN and that’s given us the opportunity to stand in front of a large, international body and advocate on behalf of people who are impacted by events far out of their control.

But at the end of the day, all of the hard days feel worth it.

HipHopCanada: Can you touch more on the hangups? Specifically, the extortion you’ve experienced?

FF: We recently had a situation where a gang of customs officials attempted to extort about $50 grand from us for a container we tried to import. Luckily, we worked with the authorities to thwart that attempt, but the container has been held up all summer.

HipHopCanada: What was in the container?

A lot of social services are underfunded, so we try to send them aid, such as medical supplies for a clinical center. A monastery runs an orphanage for kids who were either abandoned or lost their families. They need things like diapers, creams, cereal; Basics that we take for granted. There are also supplies for a little girl who needs catheter replacements due to kidney failure. So things like that.

So things of that nature is what we ship and unfortunately, it’s been stuck at customs for months and months now. So we’re hoping it will soon be cleared.

 
Humanitarian Day: Filip Filipi used rap to change the world

Filip Filipi (Middle) (Photo: Supplied)

HipHopCanada: If someone reading this wants to support your humanitarian work and help with this container, how can they do it?

We’re really grateful for anything people can give. You know, monetary contributions always help, words of encouragement, support. We really want this container to clear, because these kids really need some help. So spreading the word and hopefully getting some support for the container to clear would be enormous.

HipHopCanada: Getting back to hip-hop, are you still in touch with some of your collaborators from the old days?

FF: A few. A lot of those guys have gone on to have awesome music careers. Smitty, who produced a lot of tracks for me is now the DJ for Post Malone and his crew Track Bangaz worked with 2Chainz, Snoop and more. Dystinkt Beats has been producing for Keeping Up With The Kardashians for the last few years and did Lil Tecca’s new single. Coby is probably the hottest producer in Eastern Europe right now and has produced for Rick Ross. Nikola and Vladan of Moonbase have done branding for A$Ap Rocky, Juicy A, Khalid and Jessie Reyez. I had some solid A&R skills!

HipHopCanada: Since you left the game, Toronto has taken over the rap world, any thoughts on that and the Canadian scene overall?

FF: I think what Drake did for the Toronto scene was a monumental thing in the history of hip hop. Most people don’t remember but before ‘So Far Gone’ Toronto wasn’t such a hotbed for rap. Both Drake and I worked with Nickelus F in the mid-00s and Nick’s manager told me to keep an eye out for this kid, because he was going to be huge.

10 years on you’ve got Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes running pop, Drake running rap, Weeknd and PND running R&B, Jessie Reyez and Belly running the writing, and dozens of Toronto producers shaping the sound of what’s in right now. I really feel Canada should do more to honor this current movement because to have one city dictate what’s cool in the world for a decade doesn’t happen too often.

HipHopCanada: Finally, are you thinking of returning to music any time soon?

FF: (Laughs) I do miss it but it’s hard to find the time. That being said, I continued writing all these years, and you’d be surprised how similar a UN speech is to a song! All jokes aside, despite finding my calling in life in philanthropy, I would love to do something creative again and plan to release a music project soon.


If you’d like to learn more about Filip’s organization, hop over to 28jun.org. Donate today and save lives.

 
Humanitarian Day: Filip Filipi used rap to change the world

Filip Filipi (Photo: Supplied)


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Jesse founded HipHopCanada.com in 1999 and is currently the organization's Co-President & Editor-in-Chief.

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