Our second edition of HipHopDX Asia’s Best Music of the Week caps an eventful end to the first month of 2022. This busy week saw the return of SXSW’s in-person music showcase festival after an unprecedented cancelation last year—with a strong representation of South Korean artists, including AOMG artists (including newest signee, Coogie), Balming Tiger (as a unit and individual performances of several members).
Indo MC RAMENGVRL opens up on her stay-true-to-yourself anthem “WHO DIS?,” Toro Y Moi’s nod to his Pinoy roots take shape in his upcoming album—with two new singles out now, and Filipino rap hit-maker Bugoy na Koykoy drops a surprise EP.
Lastly, we had a chat with Cambodian rap superstar VannDa about his deep sense of Khmer pride and how it translates to his music and art—which in turn, led to his meteoric rise in a country with a young hip hop scene.
With so much music (and so little time), we plucked the best from the bunch this week. Enjoy.
Words by MC Galang and Sofia Guanzon
Toro Y Moi – “Postman”
“Postman” is an endearing postcard to the Philippines from good ol’ U.S.A. The Filipino-American producer, along with director Kid.Studio packed the 3-minute video with a wistful representation of the millions and generations of Filipinos whose lives are rooted in two cultures. I grew up with these vividly specific sights and sounds: the heft and smell of balikbayan boxes, the taste of Sweet Corn (a corn-flavored puff snack), and the unmistakable funk and grit of Manila Sound, among other things. It may be set in San Francisco, California, but it doesn’t make it less Pinoy. It’s love—Mahal, which Toro Y Moi named his album after—just ask anyone who’s sent and received a balikbayan box. — MG
AMAZUMI – “RIOT”
AMAZUMI’s “RIOT” is abrasive, volatile, and crushing: one of the best kinds of hip hop. With pouncing bass, the Belgium-based Nepalese artist delivers the same spunk that made her 2019 steampunk rap single—a personal favorite—“Hadouken,” bombastic. “RIOT” cranks up the attitude, commanding any room it blasts in. — MG
ABANGSAPAU, Charlie Lim – “Boyhood”
Grief comes in the form of reckoning in ABANGSAPAU and Charlie Lim’s “Boyhood”—a poignant picture of regret, loss, and missed opportunities. In it, the Singaporean rap artist wrestles with the guilt that plagues his youth, particularly on how the death of his father has profoundly affected his relationships, most especially with his mother and himself.
Written with crushing tenderness and vivid contemplation, “Boyhood” is a coming-of-age song about self-discovery brought upon by tragic circumstances as much as, if not more than, the choices we make. “If I’d lost my way / Would you still take me in? / Just take a chance for a change,” singer-songwriter Lim sings beautifully. ABANGSAPAU’s “Boyhood”—inarguably this week’s best track—offers no promises, no answers, but there is comfort, even peace, in shared grief. — MG
Shurkn Pap (MaisonDe) – “MY HOOD”
Japanese rapper Shurkn Pap offers his take of hometown love in the groovy and highly replayable, “MY HOOD” (prod. DOPFunk).
Shurkn Pap proudly wears his Himeji City pride on his sleeve—sharing the spotlight with his childhood friends and ride-or-die crew MaisonDe. It’s a joy of a track and demonstrates how much Himeji means to the rapper. — MG
VannDa – “Khmer Blood”
At HipHopDX Asia, we’ve covered artists throughout the region extensively. We’ve seen how they’ve managed to reinvent hip hop, exploring cultural nuances and employing genre-splicing sensibilities to craft a truly diverse music experience.
With Cambodia’s VannDa, we’ve met no shortage of such creativity. To celebrate his 25th birthday last January 22, VannDa premiered the breathtaking visual for his new track, “Khmer Blood.”
The song is a love letter to his home, and more notably, fueled by a spirit of generosity to the larger global community. While Cambodia might not immediately come to mind as a leading hip hop nation in Asia, VannDa reminds us that authenticity prevails and sustains the genre.
Featuring everyday citizens along with cinematic shots that envelope the Cambodian countryside in romantic vignettes, the visual immerses viewers into their culture while reintroducing themselves with regal pride. Beyond this, VannDa’s performance and lyricism shines and feels like a celebration of his artistry in itself. — SG
Kid Milli ft. Jay Park – “Summer”
South Korean rapper Kid Milli makes a surprising collaboration with veteran rapper, singer, producer, and K-pop idol in a past life, Jay Park. “Summer” is peppered with sparse production and distorted samples of ambulance alarms, creating a precise canvas for the rappers to switch up frenetic beats and flows.
Most refreshingly, listeners are treated to Park in full rap mode. Veering away from the more clearly drawn R&B sounds Park has turned to in recent years, the single feels charged with reciprocal synergy as the duo calls out and answers to one another with mastery that feels honed by time and mutual respect. — SG
SACAR aka. Lil Buddha – ”Dangerous Girl”
Nepalese rapper SACAR a.k.a. Lil Buddha has always had a penchant for penning frenzied verses throughout his work that simultaneously feel meticulous and calculated in their arrangement. This eye for attention earned him a spot on our Best Songs of 2021 and has eventually bled into a knack for creating music that feels like a purposeful amalgamation of genre, performance styles, and themes.
In “Dangerous Girl,” the self-acclaimed “King of Nep Hop” borrows influence from rock, R&B, and jazz and feels less tightly coiled in terms of lyrical creativity. The rapper’s easygoing delivery and wordplay that doesn’t take itself too seriously pulls you in to keep listening and invites us to watch out how he takes these sensibilities further in the future.
Def. – “Sunset With You”
GOT7 leader and soloist JAY B has proven his own capacity as a solo artist since his debut last year. Now under a new persona as Def., he refines his own sound with the brand-new EP Love and its standout track “Sunset With You.” The South Korean singer, rapper, and producer unveils a new layer of intimacy in the single, narrating the simplest of wishes with a lover by his side.
For Def., to see the sunset with a partner is a promise, and the track feels like a covenant – feeling too lush and too private to be heard as an outsider. “Sunset With You” is Def.’s inner world breathed to life, with all pretenses of celebrity and K-pop idol wholesomeness traded for disarming vulnerability. — SG
Header image: Collage from press images and artists’ YouTube/Instagram accounts