What you need to know
As Vietnam’s underground hip-hop scene begins to emerge into the spotlight, one of its rising stars joins forces with an up-and-coming foreign artist to create a track for worldwide release.
Chalk it up to youth, excitement, caffeine or creative inspiration, but in the hour we spend together, the stars of Piu Piu Records’ latest collaboration are full of energy. Amid the heavy humidity of a Thursday afternoon, French musician KillASon and home-grown hip-hop outfit 95 Generation 95G for short shake hands and crack jokes with reporters, pose for pictures, and bounce around to the music briefly blaring from a speaker by Piu Piu’s rooftop bar before I ruin the fun and ask to cut the music in order to record our interview.
It’s been a long week for the two up-and-coming musical acts, who have stuck to a rigorous schedule of studio time and media interviews, and yet no one seems the slightest bit worn out. In fact, KillASon, whose real name is Marcus Dossavi-Gourdot, and Mojo and Long, two of 95G's 10-member crew, seem to feed off the commotion around them, staying on high alert as they approach the weekend when the musicians will unveil the new track that’s kept them so busy.
For Lee Lam, owner of Piu Piu Records, this is the fledgling label’s second such collaboration between local and foreign musicians. By reaching out to consulates and cultural centers around the city, Lam and Institut Francais were able to make the connection between 95G and KillASon, whose Vietnam visit marks the end of a stint on the Asia-wide French Miracle Tour. When tour organizers reached out to request a Saigon performance venue for the French artist, Lam proposed a collaboration with local musicians and the rest quickly fell into place: over five days, the two musical acts would meet, record a track and shoot a music video.
Now that those five days are up, 95G and KillASon are preparing to unveil the result of their collaboration tonight at Piu Piu. The timing of the project is particularly meaningful, not only for the artists themselves but for Vietnam’s own hip-hop scene: as independent local artists gain more visibility thanks to social media and online music platforms, such opportunities for collaboration bridge the gap between Asian musicians and their counterparts around the world.
On an individual level, KillASon and the 95G crew are also well-matched, both acts having achieved considerable success early in their careers. Ever since the release of his first album, The Rize, in 2016, the multitalented KillASon — he’s a rapper, singer, beat maker and dancer — has enjoyed a steady upward climb, gracing international stages and connecting with other up-and-coming musicians around the globe. 95G, formed in 2015, has also skyrocketed to success, amassing a strong online following as Vietnam’s hip-hop scene gains more widespread popularity.
For Mojo and Long, projects like these are a sign of the evolution of Vietnam’s hip-hop scene.
“Viet rap has been around for a long time, but now there’s a new era of hip-hop in Vietnam,” Mojo tells Saigoneer in Vietnamese. “There’s going to be more collaboration between Vietnam and other countries, and maybe more hip-hop cultural exchange.”
Prior to the collaboration, KillASon himself was unaware of the Viet rap scene but is happy to have been introduced to the local brand of hip-hop.
“It was certainly unknown to me, and that’s a shame because I bet there’s a lot of great artists in Asia and different countries,” he says, “but you cannot [make a] connection with them [unless] someone does it for you.”
In the studio, 95G and KillASon bonded over a mutual love of trap music and appreciation of the same artists, despite the language barrier.
“Personally, I wanna go worldwide,” says KillASon. “I want to be an international artist, so it comes with international collaborations, and even though I do not understand what they’re saying I feel them. I am truly feeling the spirit of what they are spreading, and that is the most important thing.”
Though the song was produced on a tight deadline, their in-studio chemistry helped to move the creative process along.
“Usually we do projects on a more relaxed schedule, so five days was a bit fast,” Mojo explains. “But thanks to a good collaboration, the production went pretty quickly.”
According to KillASon, the resulting track embraces their differences while also serving as an example of how artists from varied backgrounds can work together.
“This collaboration is historical,” he says. “Having a French artist rapping with Vietnamese rapper. I think it can be a good message to other artists, not only rappers, to say: ‘Yo, we are sharing the same culture so why shall we stay in our boxes?’”
For 95G, the project is also a mark of Vietnamese hip-hop’s growth in recent years, just one of many promising signs for the future. “[Hip-hop artists] will begin to invest more professionally into what they are doing and have a clearer direction,” Mojo predicts. “They’ll be more decisive with everything that’s coming up in hip-hop.”
Meanwhile, KillASon continues to tour around the globe, connecting with fellow artists in unexpected places and has no intention of remaining in his comfort zone.
“Everybody love hip-hop,” he says. “We love hip-hop in Vietnam, we love hip-hop in South Africa, we love hip-hop in China, in Russia, in the US, in Latin America, so why should I stick to one place?”
The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article. The original can be found here.
TNL Editor: Olivia Yang