Rapper Figgy Baby on stage.
Photo by Samantha J. Magat

Rapper Figgy Baby’s Quest to Heal Toxic Masculinity

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It starts with compliment rap battles and turquoise polish on his nails.

What does battling toxic masculinity look like? What kind of work does it take? Rapper, performance artist and community builder Figgy Baby knows first hand. He’s committed to battling toxic masculinity onstage and off.

Tonight, that battle takes him to Historic Filipinotown’s RECESS, an open mic night at the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, or SIPA, community center.

By the time he takes the stage for his set, Figgy has already been challenged to a compliment rap battle. His opponent lyrically lauded Figgy as not only “intellectual but also sexual,” which Figgy later returned with “thoughts of you just continue to pile up in my head, I want to be close to you, take you to bed.”

Following Figgy’s set, a freestyle centered around the pressures of leveling up to the artistic standards set by his fellow artists, one performer dedicated his time onstage to an “Unpaid Advertisement to Figgy Baby T-shirts.” For three minutes, he danced while sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Figgy’s outstretched hands, featuring turquoise-painted fingernails over a gold chain.

It’s clear that people know and love each other here, especially Figgy. Host Arianna Lady Basco jokes that the night is Figgy-themed.

“I am a man, an often masculine-presenting man and a rapper that paints [his] nails,” he says. “I paint my nails because I like it, and I think that’s the most powerful point. It’s as simple as that.”

When Figgy’s not on stage, he facilitates monthly masculinity healing meetings, composed of a curated group of masculine-identifying, male-bodied members who confront their own fragility through dialogue and outside assignments. Assignments like complimenting other men on the street, dissecting why it doesn’t happen more often and what it feels like to go against the male social script and put a positive spin on it.

“Toxic masculinity and the violence that is done on our culture and communities is usually on women and femmes,” Figgy says. The masculinity healing meetings create a safe space where men can be patient with each other and “call each other in” — as opposed to calling out. “We realized that men had very little … camaraderie,” he says.

Figgy Baby, born Andrew Figueroa and nicknamed Fig since kindergarten, grew up in Orange County with his immigrant family. He displayed an early penchant for hip-hop, and his Tia bought him his first rap album — Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” — when he was 10 years old. “Which was probably way too early,” Figgy says, but he fell in love with hip-hop culture anyway.

He wrote his first poem in high school driven by the death of a childhood friend. But he didn’t take the craft seriously until other artists provoked him in their rhymes when he was a student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

“They’d talk shit in their rhymes to me just so that I’d write one back,” Figgy says.

Later on, his hip-hop theatre piece “Mixed-Race Mixtape,” which he wrote and performed, was picked up by a production company. This set the stage for him to pursue a career in hip-hop.

To Figgy, building community is integral to his artistic pursuits.

“As an artist, it’s so important that we contribute back to the communities that supported us through our careers,” he says. “Community building is such a huge part of what I do, and I always want to contribute back to different spaces, hold space, put on events for other artists, mentor other artists, have an aspect of education in my work [and] work with youth, because that’s what hip-hop’s all about.”

Along with his monthly masculinity healing meetings, Figgy also regularly speaks at schools and works with Alivio Open Mic, a grassroots safe space dedicated to celebrating the working-class community of Southeast L.A. Recently, Figgy posed for a photo with a seven-year-old boy who also paints his nails. “He has my signed poster in his house,” he says. “I can’t even begin to tell you what that means to me.”

Los Angeleno