On Apr. 19, Saigon’s rising bilingual rap star Suboi took to the stage, opening for R&B superstar Kelly Rowland at the ColorMe Run race’s musical finale, to a crowd of 5,000. A few years ago, Suboi was virtually unknown by the mainstream masses, with only a cult following in the still heavily underground hip hop and rap scenes in Vietnam.

 

 

But with international influence and western hip hop elements making their way onto Vietnamese airwaves, the country’s own home-grown rappers and hip-hop talent began emerging into the mainstream.

 

“V-pop, for a long time, was about mushy love songs,” says Huynh Thi Huyen ‘Nar’ Hanh of YanTV, who suggests that younger, more music-savvy locals have grown tired of bubblegum-pop sameness. “Hip-hop is young and fresh. I think people [here] wanted to start hearing local music that followed those international trends.”

 

The road towards bigger and more mainstream audiences was paved by artists like Hanoi’s Kimmese, the northern city’s hip-hop queen, who had a similarly underground start. Now she has caught the attention of more mainstream audiences in Vietnam, by integrating R&B and ballad-style lyrics to her otherwise less accessible music.

 

The same can be said for R&B and pop crossovers JustaTee and Mr. T, who both still add a certain pop sheen to hip hop-inspired sound. But with pop and hip hop crossover tracks like JustaTee’s Xin Anh Dung that featured rapper Lil’ Knight, more underground elements are slowly making their way onto Vietnam’s pop stage.

 

Regardless, fiercely independent hip hop crews in both Saigon and Hanoi deliberately operate out of the spotlight, and keep the underground rap and hip hop scene still partially in the shadows. For now, Vietnamese hip hop and rap artists seem to follow in the path of their western counterparts. Only time will tell how the country’s underground scene might bring forth a uniquely Vietnamese sound. 

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