Rapper M. Born embraces his successes and, even, failures

Perpetual rebirth in search of self

No pens, no paper—just freestyle honesty.

No pens, no paper—just freestyle honesty.

photo by bobby mull

Catch M. Born on Saturday, January 17, at 9 p.m. at Pour House, 1910 Q Street. Stevie Nader and Duplx are also on the bill. No cover. For more information, visit www.manilaborn.com.

Carlo Nuevo’s stage name M. Born holds a few meanings. First, it stands for Manila Born. Nuevo was born in Manila, capital of the Philippines. But the local rapper doesn’t want the name to strictly refer to himself—he wants to connect with anyone from Manila, and really, anyone who has ever felt disadvantaged.

M. Born also lends itself to the phrase “I am born,” which Nuevo describes as “the philosophy of being reborn every day.” Constant opportunity around every corner. He believes the mantra, and he’s got the tattoos to prove it.

At 30, Nuevo is a little older than most of Sacramento’s up-and-coming rappers—particularly considering he started just four years ago. A lot changed for Nuevo back then. Beyond transforming his love for poetry and creative writing into raps and beats, it marked his return home to Roseville after stints in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego. It also marked his first return home to Manila—ever—since he moved to the United States at age 11.

“It changed my life,” he says. “I didn’t really know who I was until I was there.”

And he felt compelled to tell his story—what he calls the everyday underdog’s story—in rap form.

“I’m trying to find my identity,” Nuevo says. “Trying to make as many mistakes as I can so I can better myself and the legacy I leave behind, whether that be through kids or music.”

His latest collection of stories—told in poetic, soulful raps over mid-tempo, jazzy beats—comprise The Born Experience. The 11-track mixtape—his second full-length rap album—is now available for free on iTunes, and notably features appearances from local emcees Rasar Thejeli (formerly Random Abiladeze), Bigga Bud and electro-soul singer Stevie Nader. The album-release celebration takes place Saturday, January 17, at Pour House. Soon after, Nuevo flies out to Manila again, perhaps to return to Sacramento with another big surge of inspiration.

Unlike Nuevo’s debut ReBorn (and his previous all-instrumental releases) The Born Experience doesn’t use his original beats. It’s still got that jazz-inflected, easy-listening sound—definitely not party music—but Nuevo wanted to focus on his words. He spent more than a year writing, in part because his songwriting process is so time-consuming. He doesn’t use pens or paper. Instead, he listens to beats in his car and freestyles over and over again until lines start to stick. It’s the ultimate filter. Plus, there’s no danger of ever sounding like you’re reading instead of rapping if there was never anything from which to read.

In any case, Nuevo seeks out more complex, emotional and truly personal thoughts in The Born Experience, delving into topics like young love, immigration, poverty and immortality. But some stories are just stories. After all, Nuevo considers himself a writer—a storyteller—first and foremost. His favorite track, “Alone in the Rain,” moves through vignettes following different homeless, lost individuals.

“It’s not my story but it’s rooted from the same struggle,” he says. “My family was always poor. Growing up, there were five of us and my parents had to work their butts off to get us here. It’s the same story—it’s the underdog’s story.”

Nuevo works full-time as a software programmer. Even if he’d rather dedicate himself fully to his craft, he can’t give up the career. Not when his parents sacrificed so much. As the only person in his family to pursue any sort of creative endeavor, he already doesn’t fall in line with expectations.

“Make money, finish college, become a doctor—I’m not necessarily doing that,” he says. “Success is subjective. I’m pretty successful in my own eyes and I think my parents are finally realizing that as well.”

“Someone’s got to tell our story.”