Relentlessly real rhymes with Cambodia’s RuthKo
“I like to compare my life to a lotus, born out of the mud into a beautiful flower.”
You would be forgiven if you missed one of 2022’s best Asian Hip Hop projects – DJ Chee’s Me EP featuring the hard-as-nails vocals of RuthKo – as there was a lot of smoke coming out of Cambodia from another rapper who was also putting the country’s Hip Hop scene on the map. That six-track EP was nothing short of a masterpiece, and even though it was Chee’s autobiographical story, it was RuthKo’s relentless rhymes that made it so real and emotional.
Both artists come from the KlapYaHandz label in Phnom Penh – the country’s first Hip Hop label and the home of its earliest Rap talent. RuthKo joined the label in 2018 at the age of 17 and has racked up some big hits in the years since. His single ‘Change Pt 2’ has nine million YouTube views and counting. Now at 22, he has established himself as a real one, and a voice of the streets.
RuthKo’s latest single ‘Stay the Same’ is an ode to the streets and the kids who live in them. The video was shot by French director Kim Chapiron in partnership with the NGO ‘PSE’ [For a Child’s Smile] which is dedicated to training Cambodian youth with creative life skills like producing, directing, shooting, and editing music videos. RuthKo wrote the song especially for this purpose and it’s a moving track and video.
We caught up with him on the eve of our second anniversary, and we couldn’t think of a better artist for this unique cover, as RuthKo represents what LiFTED is all about - an Asian Hip Hop MC repping his country and keeping it really real.
Yo RuthKo! What’s good, brother? We just peeped your latest single and video – congrats man!
Hi. Thanks. Glad you like the MV, and thanks for having me.
You know we love KlapYaHandz. You guys have been keeping it Khmer for a while now and always turning out quality music. How did you first get signed by the label?
Back then, I was doing Vine on Facebook making people laugh, then SOK Visal, the founder of KYH saw my talent and reached out to me saying we should work together in the future. I listened to a lot of French, English, and Khmer rap. Later on, I started posting Rap content because I was ashamed of my Vine videos because they exposed a darker side of myself. I didn’t make it through my studies in France, so I decided to come back to Cambodia, and eventually, SOK Visal signed me as a rapper
What was your first big hit for the label, and what was the Khmer Hip Hop scene like back in 2018?
Last year’s Me EP you did with DJ Chee was incredible, we gave that almost a perfect 10. Your vocals mixed with Chee’s beats is truly a winning combo. Does he produce all your songs?
For that EP he did produce all the songs, but in general, I collaborate with different producers, DJ Chee just being one of the recurring ones.
Your lyrics on ‘Stay the Same’ go in hard, “I don't change ‘cause of fame/Still fuck with the gang/ never change or Forget who I am, bitch I stay the same/No reason to show off/I'm not like those whack ass stars.” Damn. Sounds like you’re beefing with someone. Are you?
Not one person in particular. ‘Stay the Same’ was written for new artists who act as if they were more than they really are. I’d view it as a piece of advice for the next generation of artists, to stay humble no matter how big a star they might become.
What was it like working with the NGO and street kids?
I’m very proud of the PSE students, working with them was an amazing experience.
Tell us about your single ‘Lotus’ what’s that about?
I like to compare my life to a lotus, born out of the mud into a beautiful flower. ‘Lotus’ is about what I had to go through in France before leaving for Cambodia. I really hit rock bottom. However, several years later I went back to France as a star singing on stage. It made my French homies and my family really proud for coming this far.
Who were your biggest Hip Hop influences growing up? What language did you rap in first?
I first rapped in Khmer but many international rappers like 50 Cent, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop, Tupac, Booba, PNL, and Nekfeu have all influenced me very much.
What does the rest of 2023 look like for you? Any plans to tour outside of Cambodia?
I have an album on the way this year. For a tour outside of Cambodia, no plan yet but who knows? Anything is possible.
Thanks for taking the time!