In 2021, there was a rare, fleeting moment when Vietnamese rap infiltrated the feeds of people across the world. It came in the form of a viral TikTok remix of “2 Phút Hơn,” which bubbled out of tiny phone speakers over 15 seconds of goofy dancing from people of every demographic imaginable. As fun and surprising as it was to witness and engage with, it’s clearly not the best format for people to learn the roots of where something like that comes from.
The entire world keeps an eye on the cultural powerhouse that is American rap, but people within the US rarely look beyond their own borders (with the most recent exceptions being Latin trap and UK drill). Why would they, when there’s so much of it right at home in its birthplace? But it’s a shame, because there are creative pockets of rap all over the globe, and something like “2 Phút Hơn” was bound to happen sooner or later.
Vietnamese rap is currently thriving all on its own. Every rap fan is familiar with Jamaican-Vietnamese-American rapper Tyga (who jumped on a remix of the TikTok song) and more underground listeners are probably aware of Kid Trunks from Members Only. But the number of artists within the Southeast Asian country’s borders has skyrocketed alongside a similarly fast-growing community of directors, photographers, and fashion designers. Together, they've developed an engaging and solid scene.
Vietnamese rap has roots that stretch back to the late ’90s, with many locals referencing a Vietnamese-American rapper from Seattle named Thai Viet G for sparking local interest in rap. Forums dedicated to Vietnamese rap were created by overseas Vietnamese fans like the Viet Rapper forum—which originally revolved around a rap crew of the same name that included Thai Viet G—and later another popular forum called DaRapClub. Local aspiring rappers would adopt lofi techniques like using gaming headsets to record tracks over beats from SoundClick and then embed them on the forums.
In 2007, Saigon rapper Blak Ray started one of the country’s early collectives called Street Doktorz which featured some of the biggest names still active today, including Suboi, DSK. "When hip-hop first showed up in Saigon, there was a lot of newspapers trying to say hip-hop culture wasn't good. They were worried about the anarchism of it," Blak Ray says. But of course, that’s exactly the type of thing that teenagers would gravitate towards.
By 2010, the scene was going mainstream, with packed mid-sized clubs dedicated to rap and artists like Suboi, Ha Okio, Kimmese, and Antionios Maximus performing on television. Toward the end of the decade, a new wave of artists appeared on SoundCloud, doing their own thing without knowing too much about what happened locally before them. The platform gave them unlimited access to global music and American rap inspired most of them. Some artists, like Larria, a producer who works with local rap artists but also makes dance music, started exploring sounds including Jersey Club and baile funk, combining the rave scene and rap worlds effortlessly.
In 2020, rap competition shows like King Of Rap and Rap Viet (which is about to launch its third season) both debuted, and gas was poured on the wildfire of local rap music. "Now, even old people know about rap artists,” Saigon-based producer Teddy Chilla laughs. “My mom can even name some of them!" The shows made new stars, rekindled interest in some OGs, and inspired even more fans.
In the spirit of cultural transmission, we’re proud to share a look at the vibrant scene in Vietnam. Below are seven of the many active artists worth keeping an eye on right now.