Thai hip hop stars on the rise

  • Thailand
  • Monday, 20 Jan 2020

Reaching out: DaBoyWay performing at a concert in Bangkok in November last year. — Reuters

BANGKOK: In geography and in culture, the rice paddies of northeastern Thailand are thousands of miles away from the birthplace of hip hop in New York City’s Bronx, but for Thai rapper RachYo, the language of hip hop is universal.

A recent video features the 18-year-old artist rapping in a rice field, sitting on an old truck as he laments in Thai about jealousy over a girl. It was viewed 57 million times on YouTube.

“I rap about things that really happened to me, ” says RachYo, who is based in Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeastern Thailand and whose full name is Rachayothin Pengjunta. He says he mostly sings about girls.The rising popularity of hip hop in Thailand has created stars that have drawn the attention from music industry players.

Def Jam Recordings, the flagship hip hop label of Vivendi’s Universal Music Group (UMG) that is home to Rihanna, 2 Chainz and Kanye West, last year opened branches in Thailand and Singapore.

One of the first artists it signed was Thai rapper DaBoyWay, who has one million Instagram followers and is releasing a new album today.

It has also signed five others from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Def Jam plans to sign four more Thai artists this year, said Paul Sirisant, who heads UMG and the label’s operations in Bangkok.

Thai artists stand out from others in South-East Asia because the language innately rhymes in daily speech, lending itself to rap and hip hop, Sirisant said. It’s also spread to the country’s rural areas, he said.

“Thailand has already tipped in a big way – it’s the paddy fields and hip hop, ” he said, adding that top-tier rappers can earn around 40 million baht (RM5.3mil).

Broadcaster Workpoint Entertainment launched a reality TV show in 2018, The Rapper, a contest to find the next rap star.

The competition was hugely popular, familiarising the public with the genre.

“The Rapper made hip hop a household name. It was big among teenage boys and then it became a household name, ” Sirisant said.

A group called Rap Against Dictatorship released a song in 2018 that drew millions of views on YouTube with lyrics like “either eat the truth or bullets”, calling out the military junta that ruled until last year.

Klong Toey by 19Tyger and H3NRI is about life in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum.

Record deals are the dream for many artists, but not for RachYo - whose recent video Nok (the Thai word for bird) clocked 80 million YouTube views, more than Thailand’s population of nearly 70 million.

He says he raps to express himself, but he’s not interested in signing with a label. — Reuters

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