Hip-hop in Asia is nothing new, although it's an art that's almost always categorized as a non-mainstream genre or indie. Throughout most parts of Asia, oral traditions are a popular yet dying art form. In this context, hip-hop has become a non-conventional way to narrate stories appealing to youth.
Take Yacko from Indonesia for instance, a female MC who's also a university lecturer and a mother. For over a decade she's been breaking the stereotypes of what a modern Indonesian Muslim women can do and wear. Her latest track “Thang” talks about how she'll be doing things she loves without pressure or judgement from others. Yacko almost always raps in English.
Only 17 years old, Jakarta-based Brian Imanuel (a.k.a Rich Chigga) debuted his single “Dat Stick” earlier this year and went straight to the number 4 spot on the Billboard Bubble Up chart during its first week. This makes him the first Indonesian vlogger to break into the Billboard Chart. His self-produced video clip portraying him rocking a pink buttoned-up polo shirt and a fanny pack, and bouncing on what appears to be his parents’ sofa received a positive review from well-known American rapper Ghostface Killah. Later on, Ghostface Killah, one of the original members of East Coast rap group Wu Tang Clan, made an appearance on the remix version of Dat Stick.
From the Lusofone world comes Anuku Lorosae. Forced to leave his war-torn hometown in Timor-Leste at the age of 9, Paulo Egidio Carvalho Dos Santos (his real name) is now based in the United Kingdom.
He began to rap in Portugal with a group called Rap Firma in 2002; that's when he took up the moniker Anuku Lorosae. “Anuku” is his nickname at home. “Lorosae” is a word in Tetun that means “sunrise”. This alludes to Timor-Leste, which is known as The Land of Sunrise.
He raps in three different languages: Tetun, Portuguese and Creole. In his recent song “Kata Intimida,” Anuku talks about his personal struggle and Timor Leste's history facing Indonesian occupation. The lyrics express his indignation against abusive politicians and the shameful disparity between the elite classes and the poor in a free and democratic state.
When asked about what message he intends to put across with his music, Anuku says;
A vida é assim prega nos supresas, a minha vivência, experiências q tive é óbvio relatar a realidade que ronda em nosso redor principalmente na minha pátria timor Leste. Quero fazer que poucos hoje fazem hoje em dia que é tentar abrir mais visões para os mais novos.
This is how life is, it trick us with surprises, my life, my experiences obviously report the reality that surrounds us, especially in my country East Timor. I want to do what few do nowadays: try to open more views to what's new.
Artists of Filipino descent probably were the first ones to break into mainstream hip hop. Filipino American (shortened to Fil-Am) luminaries include Chad Hugo from N.E.R.D and Allan Pineda Lindo (who goes by the stage name apl.de.ap) from the Black Eyed Peas.
Philippines MC Mike Swift, born Michael Olave, combines his love for rap and basketball with activism. Through his project Pinoy Hoops, he brought basketball superstars like Lebron James, Jordan Clarkson, and Paul George to Tenement, an urban poor community in Taguig City, Philippines.
Mainland Chinese hip hop group Higher Brothers has been all the buzz on the underground scene despite web censorship.
They're one of the few Chinese talents using the Sichuan dialect from a province located in the southwestern part of the country, away from the Chinese hip hop epicenter of Beijing.
Their most recent work, Isabellae, talks about ambition and hard work. The song was produced by Ernest Brown a.k.a Charlie Heat, who previously worked with big chart toppers such as Kanye West, Ty Dolla $ign and Pusha T.
Growing up in government housing project, rapper Kohh said that he initially chose hip hop to avoid street violence and drugs. Despite the fact that hip hop is unpopular in Japan, he's determined to make the genre more accepted by the public. He raps about personal experiences and hardships that he and his friends grew up with.
Dumbfounded, who is of Korean descent, brings hard-hitting topics into his lyrics, such as Hollywood's white washing in his track ‘Safe‘ and gun violence in chart topping ‘Harambe’. The latter went to the top of on Global Spotify Viral chart.