James Reid has a plan: total domination.

It is not one that is fueled by ego nor a ludicrous sense of entitlement, but one that is grounded on a clear, set dream.

We all know the story. A group of like-minded friends set out to gather and celebrate what they love—music. Then a beach side inside joke caught on and thus brought the nomenclature to what is now an established, enthusiastic bunch of young people, working tirelessly to leave an indelible mark in mainstream Filipino music–Careless Music Manila.

Celebrities coming out with ventures from fast food stalls, make-up lines, bars, and even malls is not at all new, but a record label from a bona fide teen heartthrob, graduating into becoming a sincere, global artist is as surprising as it is exciting. A breath of fresh air, to borrow the cliché.

K/M Embroidered Striped Pajama, Kelvin Morales.

It was in 2017 when Reid dropped “Palm Dreams”, an album that ultimately caught everyone off guard. The sound was current and familiar, and, in local context, groundbreaking and cathartic—one that got people asking, “Wait, that’s made in the Philippines?”

“For me, I found passion in music and that’s what has been occupying my time. That’s what gives me purpose.”

The nine-track record saw Reid flex his musical genius, far removed from saccharine, bubblegum fan service hits that pretty much characterized the beginnings of his and reel-turned-real life partner, Nadine Lustre’s careers, that earned them an army of screaming fans to this date.

INSIDE JOB

More than five years following his ascent to A-list status, Reid continued on to brave new frontiers, boldly living according to bars he has set for himself, far from the time he, and Lustre, under the ever-glorious portmanteau #JaDine, did while trying mightily to go through the motions of the highly-competitive and fickle industry.

Rank talked to Reid months prior the Create Issue cover shoot about his evolved sensibilities as an artist and says this of his ongoing devotion to celebrating what he loves on rules he writes by himself, for himself, “I am definitely more mature now. I think when I started, I just wanted to do something in life. I just wanted to be successful—just like most young adults who want to be successful in something. But if you work hard enough and you’re lucky enough to make that happen, you will eventually start to see that that’s really not the point. You really didn’t just want to be successful at something, what you really want is to do something you are passionate about.”

He emphasized, “For me, I found passion in music and that’s what has been occupying my time. That’s what gives me purpose.”

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The entrancing hip-hop and R&B record had him writing his own songs and breathing life to a distinct sound that fluctuates from smooth to invigorating—with tracks that delve, in great lengths, into young love and life, for that matter. With lyricism that is remarkably young and sincere, “Palm Dreams” triumphed in ridding each track of any form of pretense–separating him from the tired flock that make up mainstream music. The album was well-made, with rich nods to his influences, and yet it stands on its own.

“Palm Dreams” was such an aural masterpiece with execution and presentation that crossed genres and schools of music-making that it evidently merited a second look not just on Reid’s evolved musicality, but on the label that gave birth to this new, refreshing sound.

Zip polo shirt, Haute Stuff Original. Playtime corduroy jacket, Factory Manila. Black denim pants, Kelvin Morales.

His education on the goings-on in the industry prompted him to the disruption in the entertainment scene, that only someone with well-defined muscle and clout can do—an inside job of sorts. Reid’s stance to go for the jugular and topple down a constricting ideology from an age-old system that limits the industry with a particular formula was a risk that made the payoff all the more satisfying.

The brand’s DNA of current flavor and carefree artistry ultimately gives international acts a run for their money.

In an interview, he notes, “I think it’s time we just keep up with the rest of the world. There’s good hip-hop music, rock music, and R&B music in the Philippines and I think a lot of people—I mean companies are scared to take a chance and experiment. They like to stick to the formula but I’m trying to create a new formula.”

On Narez: Plaid, easy pants, Haute Stuff Original. On James: Short-sleeved leopard cabana button-down, Haute Stuff Original. Black denim pants, Kelvin Morales.

With the success of “Palm Dreams”, then came the Careless Mixtape in 2018, with 15 tracks that bulked up from additional talent in their roster of fellow renegades Dubai-born model turned rapper Luke Hassan a.k.a. AstroKidd, Dumaguete-based Haissam “Massiah” Morton, rapper-entrepreneur Mito “Curtismith” Fabie, and, at the time, Tacloban native Sofia Romualdez—all making up the brand’s DNA of current flavor and carefree artistry that ultimately gives international acts a run for their money.

The mixtape was well-received, albeit ran and worked on by a lean team of young ingenues, without the flashy promotional tours and intensive campaigns, but one that simply banked on its ethos of bringing a wave of change within the local industry but more importantly on the music-listening public’s consciousness. The result then impressively brought them millions of streams collectively, with people responding to the bevy of tracks that the record dropped, from laidback cool, to high-octane rap, to neon-lit pop.

WELCOME TO ISLAND CITY

On Narez: ’96 Brilliant bomber jacket, Nina Amoncio. Structured cargo pants, A-Z.

“In the beginning, it was all the stress of getting all the artists together and the stress of making these tracks and handling all the stems on the music. Everything was messy at the start. We didn’t even know what Careless was until we finished the project,” Reid divulged, talking about starting the music collective.

“In the end, I realized that it is definitely all about what we wanted to do. I don’t think so much about trying to please certain audiences. It is showing the people our identity and that will essentially translate.”

In a number of interviews, the group likes to joke about the collective as a living United Nations ad. But jokes or not, one look at the young men and women operating CMM and it is hard to miss it as a poster group for diversity and representation—not only because it is peopled by a completely varied lineup of individuals of different geographical origins and even skin color, but also of diverse musical interests and skills that they wholeheartedly bring on the table.

On August 31, CMM proudly unveiled a new mixtape—their sophomore offering—which coincided with the group’s unveiling of Island City PH, an inclusive music platform that aims to provide a one-stop-shop on everything that’s happening in Filipino music.

With Chief Executive Officer, Narez La Fuego, at the helm, the launch was every bit an explosive artistic mélange that combined visual and aural creations from local artists and brands that showed support for the new venture.

“Careless as a label has a very simple vision. We aspire to redefine and elevate the standards of Filipino music and artistry to new heights, by international standards. WE want to eliminate the lines that separates OPM and international music. We want to do this by providing talented and driven artists the resources, support, and spotlight to create and develop their own sound and personal brand,” La Fuego writes.

“We really want to work with a rich roster of artists from unknowns, to up-and-coming, to those who are already in celebrity status and what we want is to give equal chances for everyone and just continue pushing culture in the Philippines.”

Following his introduction to Reid in 2013, the trajectory of his affair with music evolved from freestyling and slaying rap battles with his group of friends in Australia to coming back to local shores with the urging of Reid as a talent first for CMM, then ultimately providing structure in and for the collective.

Now, with Island City PH, La Fuego’s thrust in the scene remains in tune with that of Reid’s—upping the ante for local music and giving a platform for artists, by artists.

Drippin’ slime shirt, Kelvin Morales. ’96 multi-oversized pocket coat and multi-laced jogger pants, Nina Amoncio.

Reid, as chairman of the latest undertaking, expounds, “Island City is a multimedia entertainment platform that we’re starting that’s really focused on local music here in the Philippines. We want to create more options for artists when it comes to content. So, we’re doing live sessions, ciphers like rap ciphers, podcasts. We’re doing artist features, producer features. We really want to cover what’s going on in the local music scene.”

In the past month alone, Island City PH has featured Jason Dhakal, Kiana Valenciano, and CMM’s very own, Curtismith, in the multimedia platform. Reid adds, “We really want to work with a rich roster of artists from unknowns, to up-and-coming, to those who are already in celebrity status and what we want is to give equal chances for everyone and just continue pushing culture in the Philippines.”

Now that the Herculean task of building the foundation for a kingdom that is rightfully theirs has come to fruition, with the help of friends and allies with the same vision, James Reid, Narez La Fuego, Careless Music Manila, and now Island City PH, have all shown us a glimpse of the future. And it never looked brighter.

Produced and overall direction by LEO BALANTE
Video direction and videography by 
Mark Valido
Video editing by 
Ithiel Figuerrez

Photography and creative direction by Rxandy Capinpin
Styling by 
Gee Jocson
Assisted by 
James Bradlee Gomez and Steph Krizelle Meria Aparici
Grooming for JAMES REID: 
Mac Naig Igarta
Grooming for Narez La Fuego: Cecile Vibiesca
Shoot Assistants: 
Bhernn Saenz , Joe Andy , Niko Gonzales
Shot on location at 
Work/With PH with thanks to Thea Dahiroc