Filip Filipi’s music is good for the world. No, seriously, it’s a veritable good-deed-doing machine developed to generate funds for humanitarian work. It also happens to absolutely fucking bang.
As the founder and president of 28 Jun, an international organization that has raised over $7 million worth of humanitarian, medical, and disaster relief aid for the Western Balkans, Filipi has been raising money and awareness for causes close to his heart and home for nearly a decade. His latest LP, Nine Roses, for example, will benefit a technicolour, environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art public basketball court in Akron, Ohio, which is dedicated to his late manager.
We called Filipi at his home on the Canadian West Coast to talk about the new albums—including the single we’re dropping right here, Kosovka, featuring an intro with Gucci Mane—how a WhatsApp convo with the Serbian President freed up hundreds of thousands of dollars of crucial medical aid during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, and why he hates his biggest track of all time.
Where are you now?
Currently, I’m trapped on Vancouver Island with ferries to America canceled and ferries to Vancouver very limited. Lucky, actually. It’s one of the safest places on Earth right now, BC.
So you’re a rapper and a humanitarian. Neat combo. Which came first, the humanitarian work or the music?
I started doing music first, but there was just kind of like a drive inside me to always want to do more. Do you remember Myspace? Back in the days of Myspace I had released like one song and maybe had 500 friends. So like, like no authority on nothing. And I remember there was a kid in Bosnia that had a brain tumor, his name was Victor. And I remember someone sent me that and was just like, OK, 500 people know who I am, let me get this story out to 500 people...
I was hoping to give like $500, you know, just some symbolic gesture for some help, but it exploded and there was this big movement. It turned into the organization, 28 Jun, which I built.
How’d you get your start in hip-hop?
Back in junior high in BC, my friends and I had this little rap group. It wasn't very serious... we rapped on computer mics and I don’t even remember where we got beats from back then. My thing was more basketball back then—I was really obsessive about it and even played a bit of college ball. But then I hurt my thumb in my late teens and got back into music. This was around the same time that Drake was coming up in Toronto, but the Toronto rap scene was not popping at all like it is now. Kardi was kind of doing his thing, and we had guys like Mad Child on the West Coast making money. That was kind of the scene I came up in... I released this mixtape called Sizzerb Volume 1. I was born in Serbia and immigrated to Canada when I was seven, so I used some Serbian samples... The Dipset movement was huge at the time, so there were a lot of those pitched samples. Then I did three more volumes and some more mixtapes, and eventually had some pretty good underground buzz.
"Mac Miller came through, and instead of even looking, he's just like, 'This pile right here is the greatest shit I've ever seen.' And then Mac Miller took every single thing I'd put on hold for myself."
What’s your “biggest” track of all time?
The biggest thing I did was a track called "Boom." I absolutely fucking hate the track. It’s the worst song I've ever done, and when it comes on I get embarrassed. But it was picked up by So You Think You Can Dance and it aired on the finale, which was the most watched show in the world at that point or something. It did tens of thousands of downloads and the video had millions of views, so in terms of commercial success, that’s the biggest thing I did.
We haven’t seen new music from you for almost a decade. Are we calling this a comeback?
Yeah, I haven't done any music for nine years. And nine years in the rap industry is a lifetime, which makes me feel like a new artist. Most people know me now for my humanitarian work, so it should be interesting.
So not so much as a comeback as a rebirth?
It really is. It feels like a rebirth.
Why the name 28 Jun for your humanitarian organization?
June 28 is a very important date in Serbian history. It goes back to the year 1389 and an epic battle between the advancing Ottoman empire and the Serbian empire that sort of defined the Serbian people. Basically the Serbian empire was told, "Look, you're going to have to accept the fate of the Ottoman empire, subjugate, lose your faith, surrender, and lay down your arms." And Serbian leadership at that time was just like, "No, you know, it's better to die than to be subjugated." The date has other consequences, too, like the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which started World War I. So it's a very important date in Serbian history, but to me it also symbolized freedom and the fight for freedom.
The organization is a “special consult to the United Nations.” What does that mean?
That's probably my biggest success in the humanitarian realm. Special consultative status means that basically we're allowed to have 29 annual passes to the three bodies of the UN in New York, Vienna, and Geneva. My organization consults with UN bodies to tell them about our theatre of expertise. Around 5,000 organizations in the whole world hold this status, out of about million. It’s definitely my proudest achievement in the humanitarian field, besides of course being able to help all the people we've helped over the years.
Has the organization been assisting in the fight against the COVID pandemic?
This is actually an interesting story: Last year, we sent a large 40-foot container of medical equipment and aid to a Serbian hospital, and a lot of that medical equipment ended up being the famous N-95 masks, which would become about the most valued thing in the world during the virus pandemic. When the container arrived, we were actually victims of an extortion attempt. A group tried to extort about €37,000 ($56,000) under the pretense of “clearing paperwork.” We didn’t pay, reported it to local authorities, and so it delayed things even longer.
When the pandemic started, the container had still been unclaimed. So as the situation in the country was getting worse, and we were seeing that pretty much every country had a shortage of PPE, I leveraged all of my connections to try and make direct contact with the head of government. Eventually, I did get a direct hold of the Serbian president, and I let him know that this container had crucial equipment. We didn’t immediately hear back, but the government did use our supplies, so we were eventually able to provide some of the most necessary supplies.
Before that, we also organized a massive translation of a COVID-19 treatment manual that was downloaded by 100,000-plus medical personnel and first responders. We also co-ordinated with Serbian embassies and citizens who were stuck in various countries around the world to create a database and help deliver emergency supplies and accommodations to them.
You’re currently working on a basketball court project, right?
Yes, we want to make the craziest basketball court in the world. We want to make it really colourful and environmentally friendly, so we’re using the Nike Grind premier surface court materials and bringing in Strawberry Energy smart solar benches that have WiFi generated by solar power. The court is going in Akron, Ohio, and is in memory of my friend and manager, Zoran Djakovic, who passed away a couple years ago.
We’re debuting the track "Kosovka," featuring an intro with Gucci Mane. Tell me about that track and video.
It’s the single I chose to highlight with a video, which features Sports Illustrated model Bo Krsmanovic, because the Balkan-ethno sample fit the spirit of the project. In a time where ethnic minorities are at the forefront of social change, it shows it’s OK to be yourself. It’s produced by my good friend since junior high, YEAROFTHELEE. The song features Gucci Mane on the intro, which was really important for me because my manager worked his ass off when he was alive to get me that intro.
And how exactly does the LP support the basketball court project?
All of the proceeds from the LP go to building the court. Not “part of the proceeds.” Everything. I’ll even pay out of pocket to finish the court. No gimmicks.
Where did the music on Nine Roses come from creatively?
It's made up of songs that I've been putting together for a long time. I don't know why I was like this, but during the mixtape period I was doing, I must've done maybe hundreds of tracks. I'd just pump them out. And with this, I was able to put together the 10 tracks that I'm most proud of. If people don't like it, I totally don't care. You know what I mean? I put out 10 tracks that I think are good music. "Boom" is not on the LP. [Laughs.] I talk a lot of shit about my music, but fuck it, I hate that song. This is music that I enjoy. I put a lot of effort into the lyrics. The beats are not mainstream, but I feel they're very musical.
I read you’re big into thrift shopping for your wardrobe.
Oh my God, yeah. I’ve got some vintage clothing stories, for sure. One time Vancouver’s F as in Frank let me hit up their warehouse and pick stuff. I put together the coolest collection: vintage Polo jackets, overalls, snapbacks... it took me like seven hours and it was the greatest collection of vintage shit that you will ever see in your life. So I tell my guy that I'm going to come back tomorrow and pick it up, and this is where I became, rest in peace, Mac Miller's unofficial stylist. Because Mac Miller came through, and instead of even looking, he's just like. "This pile right here is the greatest shit I've ever seen." And then Mac Miller took every single thing I'd put on hold for myself. And that was that. I was like, "Fuck it! I'm glad I got to dress Mac Miller."