music • 21 Aug, 2015
Suboi: Saigon’s Rap Star On The Rise
Acting, Influences and The Next Album
Rap’s diverse these days. Everything’s allowed, from oversize guys like Action Bronson to transgender rhymers like Mykki Blanco. And they’re both making it where it all began, in the home of hip hop, New York.
Round the world people are rapping in languages no one previously thought would embrace hip hop. Take Suboi, our own rap heroine, she switches flows between English and Vietnamese, and appropriately, the Saigon hip hop original ended a recent US tour in Brooklyn. “I think every Vietnamese person in New York came along!” Suboi reminisces.
Her first album was called 'Walk', then she made ‘Run’, so flying back to the source makes sense, “Put it this way, my third album is definitely not going to be called Fall!” she laughs. “For my third album, I think I’m going to switch the concept, and go for something different. I’ve been working with Demon Slayer. It’s sounding really cool.”
2015 has been huge for Suboi so far. Like we said, the young rapper went to SXSW and played in the US, getting acclaim from American critics and audiences alike. She’s got a role as a professional hacker alongside Kate Nhung and Petey Majik Nguyen in Ham Tran’s film ‘Bitcoins Heist,’ set for release in November. “It’ll be really fun,” she enthuses, but can’t give away any more than that.
I like that Nas line “If you’re scared to take chances, you’ll never have answers”. I’m definitely in transition thinking where I wanna go, and what I wanna do next.
If I was a boy I definitely wouldn’t have called myself ‘Sugirl’. I think tomboyish girls are probably more accepted than feminine guys, in rap anyway.
American interviewers always asked me about politics, but it’s fine, because I don’t usually get chance to talk about that. Strange thing is though, people’s perception overseas is still ‘Vietnam’s a war country.’But I’m like ‘We’ve moved on!’
It was a luxury for me, being in New York, encountering new styles of rappers, catching shows. I came back listening, though they’re guilty pleasures, to Rae Sremmurd and Big Sean. He’s not really new, and he’s so misogynistic. I see it from a rapper’s point of view, so I don’t get too offended.
I think New York was the best show. It was at a place called ‘Baby’s All Right’, and the soundsystem was so good. But for audience participation, San Francisco was up there too — I’d joke in Vietnamese and people were laughing, I’d shout ‘xin chào’ and they’d shout ‘xin chào’ back! I did two performances at South By South West
My rap Frankenstein would have a crazy brain, part Lauryn Hill, with a bit of Biggie. Then the voice of Kendrick Lamaar, with an extra bit of Eminem (but maybe with some of the anger taken out). For the heart Tupac. And the body of Method Man and Redman for the dance moves! Oh, and for the lungs, Wiz Khalifa of course!
Listening to rap lyrics never made me act irresponsibly. But maybe it has some effect. For me rap is a chance to express anger or my stronger feelings, and I connected to rappers whose feelings mirrored mine. A lot of hip hop’s money, cars and hoes, but that’s not really Vietnam.
At the Suboi Rap School, we’d teach how to freestyle. I love to freestyle, though not every rapper’s into it. It’s an inspiring part of the art.
I normally just rap into my phone when an idea comes to me. And I usually write at home. Or anywhere I can be alone. I’m never like ‘Now I’m going to write a song.’ I prefer to pick a beat that I like then write to it.
Illustrations by Ivan Kamensky
Photos by Kyanh