Ez Mil: The rapper’s ‘Gapo beginnings & rockstar roots 2
Ez Mil with Eminem and Dr. Dre. Photo from Ez Mil's Instagram account
Culture

Ez Mil: How a boy from Olongapo, son of a jukebox hit maker, caught the attention of rap royalty

As early as 5 years old, the young rapper behind the global hit “Panalo” knew when his rock star father was hitting the wrong notes
RHIA GRANA | Aug 02 2023

Everything seems to be looking up for Las Vegas-based Filipino Ezekiel Miller, or the rapper known as Ez Mil. Two years after making waves performing the song “Panalo (Trap Cariñosa)” on the Wish USA 107.5 bus (now with 79 million plays on YouTube and 16 million streams on Spotify), the 25-year-old Olongapo City native has broken into the global music scene. 

Grammy-winning artist Eminem recently posted a photo of himself and Ez together with American rapper and record producer Dr. Dre on Instagram, announcing the Pinoy rapper’s partnership with Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records. It will be remembered that the duo helped cement the rap royalty status of 50 Cent. The news came alongside the revelation that Ez's DU4LI7Y: REDUX (Virgin Music), the deluxe edition of his 2022 LP, will drop on August 11. The album includes the new single “Realest,” featuring the Eminem alter ego Slim Shady. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ez Mil (@ezekielmiller)

It was in February when Ez Mil released the music video for his DU4LI7Y single “Up Down”, which was directed, produced and choreographed by Trybe founder and former Jabbawockeez CEO/Director, Phil Tayag, known for his award-winning work with artists like Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak & Paul McCartney on videos like “Finesse” and “Leave the Door Open.” The video caught the attention of Eminem, who later met with Ez Mil and Dr. Dre in Los Angeles. 

Both Eminem and Dr. Dre agree there is something special about the boy from the Philippines. “We’ve never been out there signing a lot of artists, and one of the great things about how we built Shady is how selective we’ve been,” remarked Eminem. “And it’s even rarer that Dre and I sign something together – but I heard Ez’s music and was like, ‘this is really special' so I took it to Dre. We both agreed it would be a great fit and we wanted to work with him right on the spot.”

Dr. Dre added: “I’m really only interested in working on shit that sounds different from anything else going on out there, and only if I feel I can really bring something to it. Em played me Ez and I had that feeling…that thing that happens when we both know we’ve found something special. And that was it….let’s get to work.”

Music is in his blood

Ez literally grew up around rock music as both his parents were rakistas in Olongapo City back in the day. Remember the lead vocalist of the popular 90s rock band, RockStar (which later became Arkasia), known for the hit songs “Parting Time” and “Mahal Pa Rin Kita”? That’s Ez’s father, Paul Sapiera. The boy’s mother, Hazel Miller, is also a veteran band performer and has a powerful voice.

In a YouTube interview with US-based PHLV Radio, Paul talked about his son’s ear for music which he’s noticed as early as when Ez was five. “Gigising yan, naririnig niya akong nagre-recording. Maliit pa lang siya, yung tenga niya very sharp na,” said Paul. “Dad, the kick is too loud,” Ez would tell his dad. “Alam niya kung sharp or flat,” recalled the father.

According to Paul, Ez started tinkering with the guitar at around 10 years old. As a kid, Ez listened to R&B and hiphop singer Chris Brown and later discovered rap thru 2Pac. In his early high school years, the urge to master the axe kicked in as he discovered the video game Guitar Hero. “I wanted to learn the songs of a band called Winger,” Ez shared in an interview with Denise Laurel on YouTube. Since he didn’t have an electric guitar then, he initially used an acoustic guitar whose strings he replaced so he could learn the heavy metal songs on Guitar Hero. He practically taught himself how to play the instrument. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ez Mil (@ezekielmiller)

From heavy metal, Ez moved on to deathcore, a combination of hardcore and death metal. It’s also around this period when he started learning the ropes of music production and recording which led to him starting the Slashmouth YouTube Channel. 

Ez moved to Seattle when he turned 17 to be with his mother and siblings who had been based there for a few years. He started making music again when the family moved to Los Angeles the following year.

Ez realized it would be difficult to go mainstream in the music industry with heavy metal and deathcore. So since he also has an interest in rap, hiphop, R&B and reggae, he decided to tap into that side of him and learned to make songs in the said genres. For his rap and R&B persona, he decided to use the name Ez Mil. Mil is from Miller, the surname of his great grandparents who were American soldiers.

In early 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the aspiring rap artist participated in the 24 Bars Mark Beats Challenge, a platform for up-and-coming rappers created by Pinoy hiphop musician and producer Mark Beats. One of the most notable entries in the challenge was Ez’s “Dalawampu’t Apat na Bala,” which garnered 8.6 million views on YouTube. 

To establish his music career, Ez learned the entire process of writing, producing, recording and even mastering his own songs. Thru FFP Records and Management, which he himself set up, he has so far produced three albums—Act 1, Resonances, and DUALI7Y.

In this interview, Paul says he’s very proud of his son. “He’s a metallist, a rapper, a video editor, a composer. He plays guitar, piano, bass, does all the editing, recording, arrangements. He can create cinematic background for movies, orchestral background,” said the former RockStar frontman.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ez Mil (@ezekielmiller)

Panalo

“Panalo (Trap Cariñosa),” the song that catapulted the young rapper to fame, was created with his mom’s idea to incorporate old Filipino folk music into Ez’s rap.

“Mom is a very big influence when it comes to decision making,” Ez told Boy Abunda in an interview. “Kapag pinapanood ko lang siya dati onstage at kung paano siya mag-alaga ng mga kapatid ko, parang doon ko nakukuha ang lakas ko. Kung paano ako maging kuya sa mga kapatid ko…” 

The song is angsty but also hopeful, expressing his pride in his Filipino roots. “Dito nag-set in ang thoughts ko na this is all or nothing,” he said to Abunda. “Yung lahat ng frustrations [na-express] ko doon. I was so mad at the world, so mad at everything. And also a mix of I’m not gonna let this get me down. The bad and the good, I just put them all there.”

Paul said he and Ez’s mother had an inkling “Panalo” would become a big hit. “Na-feel na namin e. Kasi tumatayo ang balahibo namin kapag pinapakinggan namin yung song,” he recalled. So when the song became viral, Ez’s parents weren’t exactly shocked. 

The kid, on the other hand, felt the song could possibly make a mark but didn’t expect it to be a massive hit. “I was just making the songs,” he said. So when the numbers blew up, he was panicky and anxious. “Mauulit ko ba ito ulit?” he thought to himself then. But he said it’s a challenge he was willing to take.

Ez has since built a huge following on YouTube, no small thanks to his song “Dalawampu’t Dalawang Oo,” which is an homage to his hometown Olongapo City. The title was a play on the city’s 2200 zip code. The song “27 Bodies,” which expresses a lot of his pent-up grief coming from the Covid crisis and the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, was also well-received. 

In the official video of his new song “Up Down (Step & Walk),” Ez showed his knack for dancing hiphop. It was revealed in the video description that in his younger years, Ez used to watch countless videos of America’s Best Dance Crew and that was how he first came across founding member and former Jabbawockeez CEO/Director, Phil Tayag. So Ez sure was thrilled the Filipino-American choreographer directed, produced and choreographed the video for “Up Down (Step & Walk).”

Could Ez be the next rap global superstar? It’s highly possible. With his musical talent, good looks, and the support and guidance he’s getting, there’s no way to go but up.