Myanmar Hip Hop strives to thrive despite obstructions & censorship
Dive into Burmese Hip Hop
Hip Hop has been, and will always be political. It’s a form of expression that not only rallies folks together, but also acts as a vehicle for change. Take the seminal likes of Public Enemy and N.W.A. for instance. Tracks like ‘Fight The Power’ and ‘F Tha Police’ directly addressed issues of the marginalized people in America, which not only gave voice to the voiceless but also forcibly shed light on matters that might get swept under the rug.
We were given this glorious gift of Hip Hop back in 1973. 50 years have passed since, and of course, the genre has been molded and shaped to fit this capitalistic world we live in today. Commercialism is something that cannot be escaped, but that’s not to say that we’ve completely lost the way Hip Hop acted as counterculture.
Here at LiFTED, elevating Asian Hip Hop is what drives us. Whether it’s dope MCs, dancers, graffiti artists, or DJs, we are trying to be the pulse of it. The Asian Hip Hop circuit is thriving right now, from South Asian heavyweights like India and Pakistan putting themselves on the map to the East Asian industry-driven likes of China, South Korea, and Japan cultivating great local music consumption and nurturing world-dominating stars.
However, when you take a microscopic look into the small, but immensely diverse region of Southeast Asia, an anomaly sticks out. You have the massive land of Indonesia that boasts talents all around itself, the [only] THC-friendly country that is Thailand, which is not shy of stars, then you have Malaysia, which has a strong historied and strong foundation of Hip Hop. Not too far away is Singapore, with stars and underground cult heroes alike driving its scene. There is also the lone star of Vietnam whose MCs are consistently killing it, and the Philippines who are running their Rap game.
What do those six countries have in common? A strong Hip Hop scene that is not only backed by their people, but also internationally. Def Jam Recordings, an American record label, also has a Southeast Asian imprint that houses those very six countries. But where does that leave the rest? More specifically, where does that leave Myanmar?
For the uninitiated, from 1962 to 2011, Myanmar has been ruled by the military. The military, led by General Ne Win marked the start of a one-party rule that dominated the political landscape of the country. There are two major parties in Myanmar, the National League of Democracy [NLD], and the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP]. Although the former had won elections within this period, the military never handed governmental powers to them. Instead, in 2011, the military junta transferred the powers over to the latter, a far-right and ultranationalist party.
To make matters worse, the government heavily censored any sort of music that was coming out of the country. Thoughts of imprisonment loomed over the heads of MCs if they were to ever speak out against the military junta, but did that stop them? No. One of the pioneering figures of Myanmar Hip Hop is the group called Acid, comprising Yan Yan Chan, Anegga, Hein Zaw, and Zayar Thaw. The four-piece dropped an album titled Beginning in 2000, which dominated the Burmese charts for over two months.
Zayar Thaw, who was executed by the junta last year, was described as, “one of the first to bring the Hip Hop genre to Burma, a step that has proven inspired in many ways; combining a combative, angry style with indigenous poeticism,” by the Democratic Voice of Burma in 2009, one of Myanmar’s largest independent media organizations.
In many ways, one might feel that Myanmar is in the shadows of its neighboring countries when it comes to how successful its music scene could be. Many obstructions have come in Myanmar’s way and a whole lot of repression that artists have to weave through. To a certain extent, it seems like they’re being forgotten, while the rest of Southeast Asian Hip Hop is blossoming.
But that’s not a chip in the shoulder that the Burmese MCs carry with them. No, they’re resilient in their craft. The militaryhas taken away rappers or even called in airstrikes at music festivals, but there is no stopping them. The Burmese strength and belief is unmatched. In a time where expression is increasingly dangerous, and censorship with obstructions are rife, While the political landscape is in peril, they’re still striving for their Hip Hop circuit to thrive.
One of the leading lights of the scene is the YouTube channel called Rap Against Junta. The collective made up of MCs, DJs, sound engineers, dancers, graffiti artists, promoters, producers, and organizers, acts as a creative resistance to the military junta. On its YouTube description of the channel, Rap Against Junta wrote, “We are all leaders using Hip Hop elements to reject military coup. We could be shot in the head or brutalized if arrested, but, f*ck it, we would rather die than to live in fear.”
Similarly, there’s Burmarapofficial, an Instagram account that uploads snippets of the latest and dopest tracks from Burmese MCs. Aiden, who runs the account, is consistently pushing the MCs to be seen beyond Myanmar, and he is dedicated to doing just that.
All of these figures, alongside the everyday people of Myanmar, are facing the possibilities of their freedom being taken away, just because they’re indulging in the sort of music that we all love, every single day. While we could afford to do the same, with zero repercussions, these Burmese MCs are quite literally putting themselves in danger. If that doesn’t scream Hip Hop, I don’t know what will.
Below are select cuts from Myanmar that we’re currently loving. From Jersey Club beats, to Drill, R&B, Trap, and everything in between and beyond, here’s a glimpse of what Burmese Hip Hop has to offer.
Zayar Thaw - Generation Driven by Faith
Released posthumously via Rap Against Junta, Zayar Thaw’s ‘Generation Driven by Faith’ perfectly encapsulates what the MC-turned-politician stood for. At the beginning of the track, a voice note of Zayar plays, and he shares that he wrote these bars whilst he was serving his prison sentence. He also mentions that he never really got it finished, hence the rawness of the track.
The fact that it never got finished is poetic. Zayar Thaw paved the way for a generation after him, and they’re carrying his work on. He might not be here anymore, but in many ways, his spirit lives on in the Generation Driven by Faith.
As Rap Against Junta perfectly puts it, “He was the pioneer of Hip Hop culture in Myanmar. He ran so we could walk. Now is the time to unite again, just like his lyrics ‘nothing will happen when we are together’”
TRIGGER - DON'T KILL MY VIBE featuring 223
Trigger, alongside the duo 223, absolutely tore up this Jersey Club beat with a blend of fast-and-furious spitting, alongside auto-tuned sing-song flows. There’s a sense of an ode to the acclaimed Kendrick Lamar track because of their name – but there’s as far as the similarities go.
13 THREE, XMA, CEYYIE, ABET - R U N
Drill has the world in its grasp right now, something LiFTED predicted for this year. Myanmar is no exception to this current phenomenon. This thumping Drill heater, titled ‘RUN’ is a four-way collaboration between 13 THREE, XMA, CEYYIE, and ABET. Best believe that it’ll tear any function up.
GRACEe - Zat Poh
Here, GRACEe showcases a brilliant blend of Hip Pop and R&B all at once. A smooth Lo-Fi beat comes through, and GRACEe gracefully [pun intended] sings and raps over it. There’s a wide range of sounds coming out of Myanmar, and GRACEe is a testament to that.
Yung Hugo - Waytaku Bwar Kanyaw
The young cats are doing their thing as well. On this track, Yung Hugo floats over a minimalistic Drill sound – trading the usual fiery approach one might go with, for a relaxed take. In this music video, the young MC is dripped out with all his homies on a basketball court, having the absolute time of their lives.
Arr G - SMD
One thing that stands out from Arr G as an MC, is how ferocious he is with it. There’s a real sense of animosity when it comes to Arr G, and you can’t help but feel completely riled up listening to his tracks. If it’s energy from an MC you’re looking for, one that could fuel your day up, it’s Arr G.
ReLoad, KN - Eyez On Me
Just like the legendary 2Pac, this track is called [all] ‘Eyez On Me.’ It’s a collaborative effort between ReLoad and KN, and the duo knows exactly how to flow through a wavy beat. It comes across as effortless when they intertwine and match with each other’s energy. It’s a dope track with dope visuals. Definitely one to kick with late at night.