It’s hard to overstate F.HERO’s influence in Thailand’s hip hop scene. The Thai rap veteran has been making music for over two decades—more than half his life. His legacy-building was made possible thanks to the country’s highly engaged hip hop audience, which has witnessed F.HERO actively and purposefully cultivate not just the local community but also foster strong relations with artists from neighboring countries in Asia.

But while he towers above in status—and one can’t miss F.HERO in a crowd—he shows genuine curiosity and interest in being a spectator just as much as he is with commanding leadership (he is the founder of the newly established HIGH CLOUD Entertainment, home to some of the most exciting indie artists in Thailand, primarily making hip hop and pop music). His name wasn’t even announced as part of the lineup at the ASEAN Music Showcase Festival (AMS), where his label’s artists, BOOM BOOM CASH and Pun, performed.

He did, however, make a surprise performance during “Run The Town,” his collaborative track with VannDa, and brought onstage all the AMS artists present at that time. Mid-set, he staunchly proclaimed, “We just want to spread love. We are [the] Asian sound.”

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It was a powerful moment—the scale of combined reach many of the performers have in their respective countries is one thing, but to bring them together for a weekend showcase festival where everyone is on equal billing speaks volumes. It’s a collective statement from musicians of different backgrounds and cultures but with shared goals and aspirations.

With over 20 years of experience under his belt, F.HERO unsurprisingly wears many hats: he is a mentor, a leader, an entrepreneur, and a bonafide pioneer. But he tells us that he enjoys being a collaborator the most. “I started rapping when I was 20, and now I am 40. That means I’ve been in Thailand’s hip hop scene for about 20 years now. I’ve made more than 100 songs, and I’ve done all the collaborative things I wanted to do,” he explains.

Indeed, the Thai hip hop OG has worked with multiple high-profile artists throughout his career, from  Cambodia’s VannDa and Thai rapper and K-pop superstar Bambam of GOT7 to Thai rap superstars YOUNGOHM, 1MILL, and MILLI, among countless others.

He adds, “My collaborations this year are like going back to the beginning. I’ve started learning new things from the new generation and discovering new countries and cultures. This is like a new challenge for me as a 40-year-old man: to go back to being a student and learn about the new hip hop culture once again.”

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When it comes to artists he wants to work with, he named Vietnam’s Suboi, Andree Right Hand, and Rhymastic’ Zamio P from Laos; kiyo from the Philippines; Joe Flizzow from Malaysia; ShiGGa Shay from Singapore; as well as JP The Wavy from Japan.

As a seasoned performer, he gave us his thoughts on how he believes Thai hip hop can connect with audiences abroad. “Right now, I think the language barrier has been destroyed since K-pop music made its way onto the Billboard charts.” He shares similar sentiments with kiyo, who performs in Tagalog, and also believes K-pop’s success was instrumental in globalizing non-English-language music.

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F.HERO adds, “Before that, we’d think that the only way to go worldwide is by making an English song. But the K-pop industry showed us that the world will acknowledge you if you have enough quality and identity that’s why I think that languages can’t contain us anymore yet it’s the culture that will be connecting all of us.”

“Today I’ve seen foreign rappers perform. Though I might not understand their languages, I understood their music, their vibes, and the mutual cultures that connect us together. I believe that we live in that era now and how I prepared my artists was just telling them to do their best.”

Eager to share Thai hip hop with a broader audience, he explains that he hopes non-Thai audiences will be able to appreciate how they interpret hip hop. He describes how the phonology of the Thai language is a key feature of the Thai hip hop sound. “For me, Thai hip hop is an open door that merges pentatonic sound and international sound.”

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He went on, “The Thai-style pentatonic sound is like the sound that you can hear from YOUNGOHM or ILLSLICK which you can hear the unique Thai-style pentatonic sound when they start rapping melodically. But we are also open to more international sounds because [HYPE TRAIN producer] NINO’s beats also have an American vibe.”

“At the moment, the Atlanta and [MF] DOOM sounds are starting to be popular in Thailand’s hip hop scene. So I think Thai hip hop is a combination of the old and the new sound pentatonic and international sound.”

F.HERO considers platforms like the ASEAN Music Showcase Festival important in bringing together artists he won’t normally get the chance to connect with and potentially work with, speaking to the artist discovery value such festivals offers.

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He tells HipHopDX Asia, “I’m excited for us all to be met because… with Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand—we don’t get to see each other much already. But talking about the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore… meeting them today was like making new friends that [I] have never met before. I’ve met artists from Malaysia and the Philippines who I really like and for me, it was like I walked into a different world for the ASEAN countries to collaborate on something new.”

Watch the full interview below: