VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Volume 4 is a cross-section of Asia’s thriving Hip Hop scene
b2 Music and VIBE magazine release their fourth compilation in the series
b2 Music, with NEXT Records and The Orchard, has released the fourth installment of the Urban Asia series with iconic VIBE Magazine - an album with tracks from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Singapore, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China.
Representative of Asian Hip Hop’s ever-widening scope, the first single from the album is an exclusive track ‘M For Tha Money’ from Mongolian star Mrs M - sung and rapped in English and produced by New York heavyweight beatmaker Harry Fraud. Most people couldn’t find Mongolia on a map, but such is the current state of Asian Hip Hop that Fraud found Mrs M on YouTube and invited her to record at his Brooklyn studio - and ‘M For Tha Money’ is the first track they’ve released
Another rapper making big waves across the region is Singapore’s Yung Raja, an ethnic Tamil Indian raised in the city-state. As part of Def Jam Asia’s expanding roster, he has real crossover appeal and flows effortlessly in multiple languages, including English. His track ‘Mami’ is a send-up of Tamil and Singaporean cultural mores, with a funny video featuring Indian, Chinese, and Malay hotties. With his dyed green hair and youthful good looks, he raps, ‘Mami wear a sari, not a skirt/Mami lookin’ like she sweeter than dessert’. He embodies youth, multi-culture, and fun and could not be a better South East Asian Hip Hop ambassador.
The current Asian rap game is refreshingly eclectic due to the numerous cultures involved. In a country like India that has 22 official languages, there are Hip Hop scenes popping up in every state and dialect - ever since the meteoric rise of DIVINE and subsequent Hindi film Gully Boy. It is mind-blowing to find rappers like Tre Ess from tiny Jharkhand in the country’s northeast making DIY tracks and videos like ‘Bicycle Thieves’ Featuring Gravity - with a smooth, confident English and Hindi flow over a sampled, chopped up beat reminiscent of jazzy Boom Bap from the 90s.
Another queen on the Asian scene is Vietnam’s Suboi, who has been rhyming since before she dropped bars for President Obama [who beatboxed!] during a youth forum when he was touring the region in 2016. That put her on the map, and since then she has released a string of quality singles and a wildly popular EP, making her one of the leading lights of the Viet Hip Hop scene and an OG before turning 30. On her song ‘Cho Khong’ she switches smoothly between rapping and singing about the ironies of life and success, over a four on the floor beat that would work for Missy Elliott or Doja Cat.
Hong Kong’s Haysen Cheng has one of the illest voices in the Asian game. His gruff baritone flow is seamless on ‘Restart’ as he rhymes about deciding to be a rapper after a promising basketball career with lines like, ‘used to want a pair Brons til I got ‘em/used to wanna go to college in the autumn/born rich had to start again from the bottom.’ Meanwhile in Shanghai, former Keith Ape collaborator CHARITY SsB has a skill set that includes designing clothes, making beats, and dropping hot tracks. On ‘Hit On My Old’ he turns in a dark, druggy Trap banger over a sinister beat that will make you want some of what he’s having.
Reezy is already Cambodia’s best-known rapper at age 25. Part of the young and authentic Klap Ya Handz label, who are putting Khmer Hip Hop on the Asian map, Reezy displays a knack for old school party Hip Hop on ‘Z Back’ – complete with funky wordplay and an up-tempo groove that will have you ready to break out the roller skates. Japan-based Kazuo is even younger and spits rhymes in English and Japanese, having honed his bars at open mic nights in his native New York. On ‘Watch Out!’ he lets you know he’s in a unique space - being half African-American and half Japanese. With tongue firmly in cheek, he proclaims ‘I’m the new face of J-rap’, and he may well be.
Vietnam’s King of Rap TV show posted astronomical ratings during season one, and one of the brightest stars to come out of it was 22-year-old Hieuthuhai, who is featured on Volume 4 with his simple and catchy ‘Bat Nhac Len’ Feat. Harmonie, which has racked up over 16 million YouTube views this past year. Elsewhere on the album, Tarvaethz is a Thai newcomer signed to Def Jam Thailand. His ‘Go Hok’ [Liar] is Emo Trap with tight bars and a dark video. Shuwu is also brand new from Mongolia – and produced by Mrs M’s production company. His ‘Go Away’ is also Emo-oriented but with a big singing hook that reminds us of early Linkin Park in a good way. Taiwan’s FRαNKIE阿法 comes in hot with ‘Dude,’ an ode to everything that’s fire on the streets. Another banger, 'Blue Face,' has Young Dragon and YZ trading lines about stacking those almighty dollars wherever they go. The album also features two instrumentals - the glitchy ‘Cascades’ by India’s Owlist, which is an earworm, and the funky, India-cinematic ‘SHAANTi’ by Koothu, which uses samples, spoken word snippets, and lots of masala.
Finally, the album has a bonus track by Mos Def’s DJ/Producer Preservation from an album put together purely from old Chinese vinyl he found crate digging in Hong Kong. ‘Dragon Town’ is a dirty piece of Cantonese funk with dusty samples, snatches of spoken word, and scorching bars from Hong Kong rapper Young Queenz. It will transport you back to the mystery and wonder of watching Enter the Dragon or The Five Fingers of Death for the first time, and It’s the perfect ending for an album that touches so many different styles and sounds.
Listen to VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Volume 4 here or on Spotify below.