This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. Sonic portraits of young minds re-shaping the country’s future.
Something like that right
This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation and you’ve probably guessed who that is, seeing that she is one of the biggest influencers and most instantly recognisable individuals of her generation. She is on of the few born and bred alternative Vietnamese voices to have found ears outside of her home country. For our 19th episode we travelled to Saigon for a day to talk about everything but Kenzo and Obama with Suboi.
Actually my name at home is just Su. My sister is Si right. And then people like hey I never see you like a girlie girl at all, I’m gonna call you Suboi, but you’re not a real boy so the y turned into an i.
She has gone through a few familiar stages of rebelling against gender norms
I wished I was a boy
Do you still?
I love begin a woman now
She took her first tentative steps into Vietnam’s budding rap scene 10 years ago in all boys crew.
I tell you this, when a guy put out a song, put on a hat instant favourite rapper and when a woman do it, you have to show really you have skill, not just your face, you don’t sleep with nobody until you get anywhere so I’m the only girl in the crew, but I’m the one who really wanna make good music.
Did it allow you to break through stereotypes of what a woman should be?
Oh definitely that’s why I’m with it.
She says there are more and more rappers, but there is one gap that isn’t closing
I don’t see any girl coming up yet. At first I didn’t want to draw the line between no my skill is rapper like just call me a fucking rapper. My skill is the same, my delivery is the same now I kinda changed like a little, you know just own it, you’re female rapper ok female rapper
Is there also down sides to being one of so few and having no, not just competition but allies as well to learn from?
It’s actually exactly what my life is about. Cause ok I don’t want to be the only one. I want to be the number one. But to get there you have to like beat somebody too. Me, I don’t have nobody to look up to. That’s why I was angry. At first I was like this country is so funny, I think it’s stupid. Now I don’t say that anymore. All my message is about this. It’s about you’re from a really small country, but don’t think that you’re not the same with everybody else in the world. I show people ok I can be on a billboard in New York and I’m from Vietnam. Nobody believed that shit. When I discovered rap I was like woah, this music is so fucking angry and it’s ok you know. I am angry.
What were you angry about?
I was like a teenager you known i didn’t know shit and I couldn’t talk to my friends I wasn’t in the popular kids in the school, I don’t hang out with a group of friends, I’m kinda just like by myself all the time and when I come home I couldn’t talk to my parents or I couldn’t talk to my sister. She always yell at me.
Suboi stopped being confrontational and found she could and should use her voice for bigger purposes than telling the world how crappy she found it.
People think about fame it’s just like ok I’m famous, blah blah blah, people follow me. Ok and what’s next? Does it help anybody? I read this book “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” written by Jeff Chan and then he say, there is a part where he says oh “I hate that some idol say oh I don’t wanna be idol, I don’t wanna be somebody that people look up to, cause I’m a human”, but then he said “you know what? You don’t deserve all this attention and then you just toss it away.” Like I have a kid, what if you have my kid’s attention, all I ask from you is to help me raise my kid.
I listen to a beat or a groove or something that I like I’ll be like oh I can dance to this, I can rhyme on this and then I just think about the flow. Or something hit me really bad, like fuck, life hit me so hard I’ll be like I fucking write this shit out, otherwise I die.
She is mostly self-taught and certainly self-made, meaning her career at first wasn’t exactly what her parents had hoped for.
First of all when you talk about being an artist, that mean no money and that’s a worry for the family. And also with fame coming and you known they’re afraid that I can’t deal with all that stuff. I have to show them for like years. Like seven years I build my own company, Suboi Entertainment, I say hey it’s ok, I am my own boss.
The path to being her own boss though wasn’t an easy one as she worked with a few people in her early career who used her popularity for their own gain.
I lost my money, I lost my trust, I lost my album, I lost two albums, because I signed with something that I didn’t know well enough.
After taking a couple of years out, she spun those experiences into life lessons that sound wiser than her 26 years.
I learned that I am not going to accept this. If you let people treat you like shit then you got stuck there forever. Actually I read a lot of Thích Nhất Hạnh. My uncle is a monk who study with Thích Nhất Hạnh. So at the time when I think about fame or you known why everything falling down, I lose my money, I lose my friend. You know everybody criticising me and I feel shit about myself. Then I call him and he’s like you know what he listen to everything that I say, like he listen, he really listen and then he say hey you know what just breath in and then you see the air coming through your nose going through your body and then it’s coming out the same way. That means you’re alive! I don’t let the fame you know bring me to be that person who worry about my status, my money. When I get angry it’s because I forgot to breath.
Does she think that means she’s spiritual?
All I think about is I wanna be a calm person and that’s it. I don’t know if that’s spiritual or not.
What she does know for certain though is where home is.
I never feel like I’m gonna leave Vietnam though.
Because it’s my house. It’s growing. I’m actually glad to be the one who witness it. Like I’m witnessing this kind of change.
And you’re participating in it.
Yeah. See I don’t wanna miss that. But for me right now, I’m good. I love Vietnam. I like ccà phê sữa đá , I like bánh mì. Everyday. I enjoy xe ôm.
When it comes to her cultural roots, there is just one thing she is not keen on.
One thing, that I don’t want to keep from the Asian culture, parents they could do everything for their kids, except let them be themselves. I’m not like 100% Vietnamese, but I’m still traditional in some way. You don’t be an asshole for somebody who is like older than you. The older people already feel left out and the young people you know arrogant doing all this shit, being successful, they think they’re the best but actually you’re not, because if you think you’re the best, then you stop learning right. And everyday learn about yourself, don’t think that you know you already. Other than that, don’t be cynical. That’s it.
We will be recording our 20th episode featuring Anh Phuong Ngo, the founder of Corn Go Production, live at Work Room Four in Hanoi on Thursday 27th July at 6.30pm. We hope to see many of our listeners at the event, the details of which are on our Facebook page. We will talk to Anh about here decision to leave VTV to start her own website, how she hopes to innovate entertainment TV and if she is worried about perpetuating stereotypes in her shows.