Manila Grey may have only surfaced two years ago, but their musical relationship started nearly a decade ago. Childhood friends Neeko and Soliven grew up with their eyes glued to their television screens, as they soaked up the sounds of Outkast, Maxwell, Usher and Musiq Soulchild while watching RapCity and Vibe on MuchMusic. Then, in the summer of 2009, they began making music together. “There were definitely a lot of takes, a lot of laughs and a lot of hours online looking for beats,” Soliven remembers. “It was a time of discovery.”

But Neeko and Soliven took their musical ambitions to the next level in 2016 when they officially formed Manila Grey, an act that paired modern hip-hop production with Neeko’s rapping and Soliven’s singing. Much of this new chapter in their musical career, the duo notes, is thanks to collaborator and producer Azel North. “He not only produces the beats, but he also pushes the sound design for Manila Grey,” Neeko explains. “The man is very dedicated to his sounds, and that really pushes us to cross some boundaries and dive deeper into these records.”

The resulting songs are some of Canada’s most polished and confident in current hip-hop, at times reminiscent of The Weeknd and Majid Jordan. But, of course, there’s one difference that makes Manila Grey stand out from their R&B contemporaries: their unabashed embrace of their Filipino culture. Neeko and Soliven aren’t afraid to admit that their culture informs their approach to their music — in fact, it fuels them more now than when they first got into songwriting.

“As we got older and the music started progressing, there’s always been a duality between the stories of our past life in the East, and our current life in Vancouver, that we just had the constant urge to tell – but couldn’t tell until now,” says Neeko. Soliven adds, “We realized that this is a big opportunity and outlet to introduce the people to something very unique.”