Rapping the Truth in Vietnam

Af Kiki Hynding Hansen

Hip-hop has historically been known as the voice of the oppressed and as a revolutionary tool. So, how is hip-hop thriving in a country where so much is done to keep the voice of the people oppressed and the chance of a possible revolution down?

Vietnam is a great example of such a country. The communist party is, according to the population, monitoring them in every possible way, whether it concerns politics or not. Therefore, it is not very easy to be a political hip-hop artist in Vietnam. After quite a bit of searching, I found this Vietnamese political hip-hop artist called Nah, who agreed on meeting to tell more about what it is like to be a hip-hop artist in Vietnam. Nah shared his story but only under the condition that we met face to face and in a place he chose, where he knew we could talk freely.

Nah is one of the few hip-hop artists in the Vietnamese hip-hop scene that actually addresses politics in his lyrics. He is, however, not doing this without any risks, of which he is more than aware. After having written some relatively harmless lyrics with critical political undertones, he received a warning from a good friend with relations to the communist party. “Stay low, stay down, because they have their eyes on you!”. He explained that a warning like that is not something you should take lightly, since a lot of people who had been critical of the state, had tended to disappear mysteriously…

Rapping the Truth

In most Vietnamese homes, the history of the family has a great impact on the way you look at the communist state, and it is especially important which side your family supported during the war, just as it is the case in Nah’s family. However, Nah does not consider his work to be criticizing the communist state, but rather just telling people the truth. He believes his main goal is to provide people with the right information so that they themselves can form their own opinion.

Unfortunately, with the current political situation in Vietnam, there is not a lot he can actually publish. Every Vietnamese publication has to be approved by the state, word by word. Therefore, Nah is selling his CDs through small hip-hop shops and uploading his music to online sites. Furthermore, he writes his most critical lyrics in English, which causes the state to ignore most of his songs, or maybe they just don’t care as long as the majority of the population does not understand the revolutionary lyrics anyway. The title of the newest album from Nah, is called exactly that, “Revolution”, but spelled backwards.

Even though most of his music can be found online, his biggest hits on youtube.com do not have as many hits as it deserves, which accurately portrays the popularity of rap music in Vietnam.

A few days after meeting up with Nah I went to a concert with him and a couple of other main names within the Vietnamese hip-hop scene. It was a really unique concert with some really unique artists that are still fighting for the truth and using hip-hop as the revolutionary tool it started out as. We need change, they say, and one day it will come, they believe!

Kiki Hynding Hansen
is a member of the RAPOLITICS’ board. She was involved in RAPOLITICS-projects in Bolivia and Denmark, and has studied the rap scene in Vietnam during the last four months. kiki@rapolitics.org