This content is also available in: Vietnamese
Vietnamese rapper, songwriter, and actress Suboi is our cover girl this issue. Dubbed Vietnam’s “Queen of Hip Hop,” Suboi is adored and idolized by Vietnamese youth for her outspoken, feisty nature that manifests through “coded” song lyrics on the highs and lows of life, family, social pressures and illegal substances. Suboi generated a lot of buzz back in May when she snatched the opportunity to rap for, then interview United States President Barack Obama at a session involving young leaders in Ho Chi Minh City. Aside from her fame, she is no different from other 26-year-olds struggling to find balance and make a living while enjoying life. Read our exclusive interview with Suboi, also known as Hàng Lâm Trang Anh.
Name 5 things you can’t live without.
Air, myself, water, food, music.
Who inspired you growing up, and who are they now?
Then: Eminem, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Eve.
Now: Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, Ice Cube, Method Man & Redman, A Tribe Called Quest, ASAP Rocky, Young Thug, and many other non-American, non-hip hop artists.
What’s the advice you live by?
In short, be happy. Be yourself. You can only care and love others once you love yourself.
What is your favorite song to rap/sing at the bar/in the car/for karaoke?
Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal. It’s fun!
You went from being a music artist, to owning your own record label and starring in two movies. Ten years from now you will be…
Continuing to have success in my own way. I’ll be a better artist, better human being.
For our readers who have never heard your music, explain your sound in five words:
Just listen to it.
What was the biggest break for your career?
I made a lot of money when I was 22. I got high on my ego, surrounded myself with the wrong people and expected to be understood. I thought that I could do everything on my own. I wasted my money and wasted my time on those who were not there when I was my ugliest.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs and what’s your favorite part about the process?
I have to feel a beat, a type of music. I write poetry, I study rhymes, I come up with a melody or flow. There is no order to everything I listed.
You broke a lot of barriers being a female rapper in Vietnam. What advice do you have for any young artist who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I’m not the first one and I’ll never forget those who went first. Things are getting easier for the next generation because they have seen somebody do it before. Learn to appreciate, respect and educate yourself. In the end, it’s not about how good you are, it’s about what you will do for others.
For all the guys who low-key have crushes on you, who would you say is your ideal partner? What qualities does Suboi look for?
I don’t want a guy. I want a man who does what he has to do, has responsibility but doesn’t forget to have fun!
You were the first Vietnamese artist to have ever been invited to the SXSW, not once, but twice! How has that impacted your career?
I got my eyes and my mind opened. SXSW was really an honor. Getting into SXSW was not easy it gave me the chance to really think about my direction and experience music even more. I got to see other amazing artists from everywhere in the world. They inspired me to continue doing what I do, I gained more faith in myself.
When President Obama visited Vietnam and you gave him a short rap medley, you talked about how even a rich person with a nice house and cars can still be unhappy. How did you realize this and what do you think is the key to happiness?
I was nervous the whole time. I raised my hand every time he said “next question” and when he said “last question” I thought “It has to be ME!” I stood straight up and thought to myself, “I believe in will power!” So I got picked, I could finally ask my question. “This is the most epic moment in my life right now,” my brain screamed. Then President Obama asked me to rap for him. I quoted my lyrics from “Trời Cho.” This song really meant something to me after all the ups and downs in my career and private life. From experiencing sexual harassment to losing trust, questioning myself as an artist versus wanting to be relatable. Should I build a wall or just be there for people, managing money and ego? It was more than anything I’ve ever described in any newspaper. And that was happiness. This is also happiness right now, when I know I’m alive. I mean really alive. I have the most basic things to be able to survive on this earth and am doing what I’m doing – experiencing the good, bad and the journey in between.
For young Vietnamese artists like yourself, where do you see the future of the music industry?
Hum … Industry, if there is one. I’m kidding … I’d love to see hip hop artists make money, too. In a country like Vietnam there are some unwritten laws. Vietnamese culture is different from the culture which created hip hop, so young Vietnamese artists have to really understand that. You need to dig back into history from many sides. Yeah, show off your skills, how “gangster” you are or how special you are, but in the end you have to ask, “What makes me do this? Where do I go with it? What would I do without it?” Educate yourself, know that knowledge is infinite and life is life, people are people and things are things. Focus on yourself. Know that you are lucky if you have passion. Remember to only judge things based on what you know. The world you come from is just a tiny grain of sand in this universe. Be ready to open your mind.
What’s in Suboi’s next step? Any new music? New movies?
I’ll be releasing some new music soon. I’m trying to put out more videos and to perform more. I want to go anywhere in the world where people and music collide.