We’re nearly halfway through 2022 and if you’re in Southeast Asia, you’re likely parched from the summer heat.
The scorching weather has not stopped those who are keen and fully vaccinated to troop down to live events as many Asian countries gradually allow crowd gatherings—indoors and outdoors—to take place, including last month’s second installment of Urban Gathering, which was headlined by Mr. “Pahinga” himself, Al James.
Speaking of returns, South Korean sensation Psy is back with a brand-new album, featuring the already record-breaking “That That,” featuring and produced by BTS’ Suga.
Another high-profile collaboration that’s currently dominating the charts is the Thailand and Cambodia hip hop team-up between F.HERO and VannDa with “RUN THE TOWN,” featuring Thai rap superstars 1MILL and Sprite.
In the Philippines, Morobeats artists including JMara have been keeping busy with releasing song after song in time for the May 9 Philippine national elections.
These, and more have made it to our best music of the year so far, the May edition. Read more below. Also, don’t forget to check our past two editions.
Words by MC Galang and Sofia Guanzon
Sica – “Dark Out”
Sica’s balmy new single, “Dark Out,” is built on loosely textured moods, anchored by a cloud rap beat helmed by Arch Beats & Pxyche.
The Filipino rapper and producer who first made his name as a member of rap group Kartell’em doubles down on the theme with a preference for idleness or at least resisting the impulse for being occupied all the time.
In the age of pandemic where self-isolation is not a choice, it’s not a surprise that many people tend to prefer the quiet to be the norm, tune the world out, and keep it dark out. — MG
JMara – “Mahal Kong Pilipinas”
Released a day after “Hunghang,” JMara delivers the impassioned “Mahal Kong Pilipinas” (Philippines, My Beloved), a nearly 7-minute undertaking on the everyday hardship and enduring hope of the Filipino people. He asks, addressing his country, “Mahal mo ba ako?”(Do you love me?)
The circumstances that made “Mahal Kong Pilipinas” extraordinarily powerful, beyond a timely and life-changing event occurring on May 9, is a palpable collective yearning for good, unyielding change despite overwhelming odds and threats.
JMara offers no answers in “Mahal Kong Pilipinas,” it’s not up to him or one president, not even under the guise of working together—it’s a conscious effort and action towards resisting corruption, protecting and upholding the truth, and being guided by history. It’s up to all of us. — MG
Palos – “Hunghang” ft. JMara
The Morobeats artists prefer to center the national elections around their fellow citizens more than candidates. While the tone in “Wala” is more pleading and urgent, “Hunghang” (Idiot)—and this writer’s personal favorite of the three—the April 12 track by Palos, which was co-written by JMara and produced by DJ Medmessiah, the title itself is a pointed indictment of the current sociopolitical situation in the country, as well as tackling the deadly war on drugs sanctioned and engineered by the outgoing Duterte administration (“Pag mayaman negosyante tawag pag mahirap tulak / Benta mo palasyo mo para may pambili kang utak!”; Translation: If they’re rich, you call them businessmen; if they’re poor, you tag them as pushers / Sell your palace so you can buy yourself a brain!)
One can look at the subject (the “idiot”) in two ways: those running for public office and their false promises and long history of using their position and status for personal gain. The other subject can be the electorate: those who put the former in power. — MG
Various Artists – “WODA NO.6” Volumes 1 and 2
The “WODA NO.6” cypher boasts to be the “biggest cypher in hip hop history” not just in scale (49 local rappers from six states in Nepal) but very clearly, in ambition.
The YOUNG NIMA-led first volume serves as a fitting introductory salvo to the three-volume project: swerving from atmospheric SoundCloud rap to drill-inspired verses.
Volume 2, which was released two weeks later, was flanked by WAIBA BUDDHA and RAYSON LG. The former opens the nearly 9-minute cypher with a swagger reminiscent of early- to mid-2000s Lil Wayne. Unlike Volume 1, the beat switches in the sequel are more menacing, more exciting. The third and final installment is yet to come, likely mid-May, but if you haven’t been paying attention to Nepali rap, then now is the time. — MG
A$tro – “Larawan” ft. Alisson Shore
A$tro’s “Larawan” chases the ghost of a relationship’s past. Thanks to a soulful assist from singer-producer Alisson Shore, the Pinoy rapper and Owfuck member shows the complications of two people being in two different places and paces while in a relationship, and ultimately, ideas trump reality until the latter catches up with you.— MG
PSY – “That That” (prod. & feat. SUGA of BTS)
In 2012, Psy became a global icon for arguably one of the first viral hits of the decade with “Gangnam Style.” Before Blackpink performed at Coachella and K-pop became the global phenomenon it is today, the singer, songwriter, producer, and rapper was already transcending cultural barriers with the satirical hit.
A few records, singles, and his own music label P Nation after, Psy returns with thunderous applause in “That That.”Produced by and featuring no other than rapper Suga of K-pop behemoth BTS, the track infuses Psy’s fondness for kitschy visuals in a western-meets-70s-funk alternate universe and addictive, undeniably genre-bending sensibilities that are commonplace in the K-pop genre.
In what feels like a homecoming gone full circle, “That That” fulfills Psy’s unlikely legacy of becoming one of the first South Korean hitmakers to cross over to mainstream Western success is fulfilled by Suga, and BTS as a whole, who are arguably the biggest musical act in the world right now. –SG
F.HERO, VannDa – “Run The Town” ft. 1MILL, SPRITE
In a cross-country collaboration like no other, Thailand hip hop veteran F.HERO joins forces with the face of Cambodian hip hop at the moment VannDa in “Run The Town,” featuring Thai rappers 1MILL and SPRITE. Not only serving as a bridge between the two cultures but as an opulent amalgamation of the rappers’ individual sounds wrapped together in the high-energy track.
The collaboration also marks a historical turning point in Southeast Asian hip hop as the rappers from these countries that share borders, make a broader statement of solidarity together – whether consciously or otherwise. –SG
JRLDM – “Pansamantala” ft. Loonie
Filipino experimental artist JRLDM recently released his debut album Mood Swing via Music Colony Records with the single “Pansamantala” (In The Meantime) featuring rapper Loonie.
While JRLDM has been making music for a few years now, his newer music is a reintroduction of his sound to a larger audience who may have been unfamiliar before. Gritty and atmospheric production envelopes the track, serving as a more expansive canvas for Loonie’s verses to take center stage in the latter half.
Striking, dramatic, and masterfully created, the track also quickly trended on YouTube’s music category. Read more about JRLDM’s debut album here. – SG
BIBI – “Best Lover”
South Korea’s BIBI has been a frequent collaborator with American label and collective 88rising, which has brought out a more playful sound from the singer. “Bite on my neck, learn my dialect / Show my love language some respect / When we’re intimate my love / Don’t be intimidated,” she croons on the sensual track, which is also part of 88rising’s new installment of the ‘Head In The Clouds Forever EP.
Premiering with glitchy pixel art and Y2K-inspired visuals, “Best Lover” is another foray for BIBI into more experimental themes and sonic palettes colored by global influences. – SG
La Cima Cartel, All3rgy – “ធាត់គេលែងមើល” (Obese People No Longer Look) ft. PhanRong
Cambodian rap collective La Cima Cartel prove their inventiveness and continue to cement their place as a fixture in the country’s burgeoning hip hop scene. Their distinct sound earned them a spot on HipHopDX Asia’s list of 10 Cambodian Hip Hop And R&B Acts To Check Out Right Now, and if you’re looking to understand why they did – look no further than their latest track “ធាត់គេលែងមើល,” which roughly translates to “Obese People No Longer Look.” Building on their flair for interspersing traditional Khmer sounds with trap and an equally witty visual, La Cima Cartel should be on your radar. – SG
Header image: All artist photos courtesy of YouTube, except for Sica/Facebook and A$tro/Instagram