Vietnamese musicians destigmatizing rap with gentler version

By Long Nguyen   November 24, 2020 | 08:27 pm PT
Combining rap with other genres and making the lyrics gentler and without the darkness traditionally associated with it, Vietnamese rappers are winning over fans.

On November 14, the finale of Rap Viet, a TV reality show meat to discover talented rappers, attracted more than 1.2 million viewers, a record number for an entertainment show.

In the show’s YouTube channel, one of the most viewed performances is ‘Bac Kim Thang’ by Ricky Star. The rap version was inspired by a popular folk song in the Mekong Delta, and became an instant hit.

"I did not imagine I would enjoy rap music, but this combination of rap and traditional music is golden," one person commented.

Rap Viet’s Youtube channel has more than two million subscribers, and many videos get millions of views.

Ricky Star, 26, is not the only one to try and give rap a new appearance.

Ricky Stars earns a lot of kudos after his performance Bac Kim Thang hit TV. Photo courtesy of Rap Viet.

Ricky Star’s rap taken on a traditional song "Bac Kim Thang" is a big hit on TV and YouTube. Photo courtesy of Rap Viet.

Many artists have been combining rap with other genres, both traditional and modern, to take the edge off a genre of music generally associated with street culture and gangsters.

RTee based his ‘Ram Thang Bay’ (Ghost Festival) on hat xam, a folk music that used to be popular in the north.

The combination of rap music with cai luong (modern South Vietnamese folk opera), western opera and songs of the legendary Trinh Cong Son is increasingly winning over people.

Established singers like Cam Van and Que Tran were invited to perform with rappers Nhat Hoang and Captain in TV show ‘King Of Rap,’ and TV audiences were wowed.

Van, who sang Son’s famous ‘Huyen Thoai Me’ (Legends of Mother) on the show, says: "I was worried because I was afraid rap and Trinh Cong Son’s music would not mix." But things turned out well and she even admitted to being "excited."

Rappers are also trying to eliminate stereotypes about their genre which traditionally features swearing and topics such as drugs and sex.

In 2011, when ‘Rac Roi’ (Trouble) by Karik became popular, the rapper community faced a backlash because the song was too dark. Others like ‘Thu Dam’ (Bad Autumn) by LK and ‘Phieu Be Ngoan’ (Rewards For Good Children) by Mr. T and Yanbi were also later stigmatized for their darkness.

But their kind is gone, and replacing them are songs with poetry and romance.

Binz, nicknamed ‘poet of Vietnamese rap,’ says many rappers now research and learn more Vietnamese to make their music gentler.

Composer Vo Thien Thanh points out: "Any genre of music, when going through a new culture, will change itself to adapt to local sensibilities, giving rise to a new version."

Beyond 2020

The effort to give rap a new face has paid off, taking the genre to audiences like never before and giving a glimmer of hope for a new generation of rappers.

Binz says: "You turn on your TV, go to YouTube or Facebook, you will see rap everywhere. Rap is not just a hobby, it will become a whole new culture for a generation."

A pop singer like Tung Duong also enjoys rap music, saying it gives artists more opportunities to expand their creativity.

"Rap appeared late in Vietnam, later than that in many other countries. Globally, many rappers have huge influence and are rich."

According to music researcher Nguyen Quang Long, rap music is at the beginning of a long journey, and Vietnamese rappers know they have a lot to do to keep their music in the hearts of people.

After the two rap competitions found their winners on November 14, both musicians and audiences are looking forward to the rise of a new talented generation.

"Young rappers nowadays have access to modern recording technology," established rapper Young Uno says.

But fads die out and only something with genuine artistic value will survive over time, he added.

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