According to music streaming service Spotify, hip-hop is the most listened to genre on earth. Hip-hop takes the crown as the top genre by nearly 140 million subscribers. The musical movement that began in the early 1970’s is here to stay.
The rise of the popular artform has spread extensively. Hip-hop began in the rugged borough of New York City called the Bronx. Hip-hop’s origins are rooted in African American, Latin American and Caribbean American cultures. The genre relies more on rap than singing and while rapping does make for an extremely unique sound, it also makes for an extremely accessible sound.
Hip-hop’s increasing acclaim and growth hasn’t neglected Thailand. Thai groups have been using hip-hop as an outlet for expression at an expanding rate. In late 2018, Thai hip-hop collective Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD) released a highly political song called ‘Prathet Ku Mee’ or ‘My Country Has’. The track made waves in the Kingdom for criticizing Thai government and the track went viral collecting over 90 million plays. The outspoken rap song inspired artists all over Thailand to start sharing their thoughts on politics, as well.
Chiang Mai’s hip-hip group Triple Edge has recently emerged as one of those leading contemporary rap collectives.
The group consists of roughly 16 rappers with a goal of bringing people the truth about local issues. Many of the members come from the countries of Southeast Asia. Triple Edge was started by Chiang Mai local brothers Kan Kyi (known as KYI) and Non (TIGER King). The group has released multiple songs and videos via YouTube with subjects ranging from issues relating to Burmese refugees to LGBT and women’s rights.
“We started this rap collective because of our love of Hip Hop and how it can represent struggle and bring people together,” said KYI, “We wanted Triple Edge to send a message across the world about the situation of our people, our country and the state we’re in. Rap can help by bringing people together. It can also become a beacon or a symbol of resistance that people can stand behind. We haven’t heard people rap about our situation so we decided that it is important to shed light on it. To remind people that shit still goes on over the border and the people are marginalized and forgotten.”
In keeping with the roots of hip-hop, KYI and the rest of the crew come from all over. Because most of the artists originate from multiple locations around South East Asia they each have unique messages for listeners. Like famous New York City based hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, Triple Edge artists support each other’s art and collaborate on tracks with one another.
20 year old rapper and Triple Edge member Warantorn Wongpratang (Butter) said about her group, “Triple edge is a space for you to be yourself. You can show the world anything you want,” she said, “Triple Edge is also education. I get to hear the struggles of the other rappers in Triple Edge and I now take Human Rights classes in school. I recently did a presentation in class about the Burma situation because of the messages I heard from other Triple Edge members.”
Butter and her 20 year old friend Suttida Sukboonsang (Nook) are the first females to join the group. Both girls rap about women’s rights in Thailand, “We just want equality, but some people, they don’t want equality. They think girls want to be on top. We want to abolish the patriarchy. We want to try and empower all women,” said Butter. When both rappers were asked if they were scared to speak up on the issue Nook said, “I’m not scared. It’s not even in my brain. I never think like that. To be scared as a woman rapper, no way. Don’t be afraid to do whatever you want to do in your life. If someone tells you ‘Don’t do it.’ then just choose your own path.”
In addition to releasing songs on YouTube, the group has also begun performing live. This past September Triple Edge teamed up with the Change Maker Anti-Racism Coalition for an open mic night where a few members performed songs and freestyle rapped about their struggles.
“I rap about my hardship and refugee life, how difficult living here is and my rights in Thailand,” said 22 year old performing member Jamza Jongkham (3Kao); Jamza’s rap-name was derived from the three seasons Thailand experiences every year. “I have rights but they aren’t the same as other Thai people. Sometimes people hate me because I am Shan. They think migrant people just grab their jobs. Some migrants are like that, but most migrants are kind and not like that at all.”
3Kao’s parents are both Burmese and he was born in the bordertown of Wiang Haeng. He is considered ‘stateless’, “I don’t have a Thai ID card or Thai passport,” he said, “I don’t have a Burmese passport, either. I have an ID but not a normal Thai ID; Mine is pink colored. Normal Thai IDs are blue but mine just shows that I’m a person that lives in Thailand. The pink colored ID means I don’t have the same rights as normal Thai people.”
While KYI, TIGER King, Butter, Nook and 3Kao share different backgrounds and struggles, they all know the importance of community. “Rap is all about community,” said 3Kao, “It’s all about your people or village or town. I’m not a gangster OG rapper. But, rappers like Nas and Kendrick Lamar aren’t gangster. They talk about their life and they are so real. I try to rap about life and hardship and try to make my music meaningful to make people think. I want people in the community to think about the truth that I speak.”
Triple Edge rappers are all aware of the dangers of using their voices. Thailand has some of the strictest censorship laws in the world, “Sometimes I’m scared because of some of the things that I rap,” said 3Kao. “They might put me in jail if I say something wrong. If I blame the government a little bit or an officer a little bit I might get a problem. But, I want people to understand why we are here, we do it for a reason and we stand up for something. Rap is not a crime.”
Mindful of the danger, the group remains hard at work writing lyrics and making beats. KYI said about the group’s upcoming projects, “We have a new all-women’s-track coming out soon about women’s rights and another track about the working class people. We’ll probably have a concert at the end of this year inviting other local indigenous rappers and bands in the area, too.”
Triple Edge has also raised an impressive amount of donation money. The money raised goes right back into the community, “We’ve raised half a million baht for the refugees along the border so that was another great accomplishment we thought we could never amount to,” said KYI, “As we raise the bar, more is yet to come for us. We are going to keep on making noise. Hip-hop is always representing and giving back.”
The passion and love for hip-hop in the group is strong. The members see rap as an outlet and a positive contribution to the community of Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. They are dedicated to telling real stories about their culture and environment. “I love rap because it’s raw, it’s real and it’s straight from the heart. If it aint straight from the heart, it aint going to work,” said KYI, “I love rap that speaks on real things and their struggle and to me it’s powerful. Hip-hop can give people insight, inspiration and information. You can learn a lot through a location’s situation through it’s local rap scene. From the Bronx, to the slums of South Africa or from here, the Golden Triangle. You can hear the lives of people through their poetry. Rap can help bring people together.”
The Triple Edge collective continues to release rap music and videos regularly. With big plans for the coming year, KYI and the gang remain optimistic about the future of the group. New members with powerful messages and stories are welcomed with open arms. As the collective’s diversity broadens, they continue to gain strength.
Southeast Asia better watch out for Chiang’s Mai’s rendition of Public Enemy; Triple Edge is fighting the power with no end in sight.
To keep up with new releases and events you can check out the group’s Facebook page below:
Triple Edge Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tripleedgehiphop
Link to RAD song mentioned in article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZvzvLiGUtw&feature=emb_title&ab_channel=RAPAGAINSTDICTATORSHIP