Doing Hip-hop in Japan is the same as Luk Thung in Thailand
“The current Asian music is thrilling.” Those are the words which I usually hear these days. In today’s article, together with Young-G—the MC, beatmaker of the Hip-hop unit stillichimiya which mainly based in the Kyu-Ichinomiya of the Yamanashi prefecture, and a member of the One Mekong (OMK)—let us take a closer look at Thailand’s music. Furthermore, via the article today, the listeners in Japan will have the opportunity to dive deeper into the world of music which can not be felt simply through Spotify, Apple Music, or any other platforms. Young-G is known as the main beat producer who collaborated with Juu & G. Jee in their latest album—“New Luk Thung”—which we have introduced in the previous issue. While the “New Luk Thung” is, undoubtedly, the product of Young-G’s efforts, for many listeners, the album can be seen as a new “beginning.” This is because were Young-G to shy away from going on a trip overseas, he would never have been able to build a trust relationship with the artists in the country, and the album wouldn’t have gotten into shape. This strong opinion of mine shows just how unique and intense the album is.
After our previous interview with Juu,in today’s issue, we will have an interview with Young-G. Including the development that led to the album’s production, from the Thai culture’s perspective, readers will have the chance to hear about the artist’s motivation to involve himself in the production of Thai music, the hints to producing Thailand’s unique sounds which also led to the album’s production. Let us bring you to our conversation with Young-G, the artist who not only showed us the remarkability in establishing mutual understandings in music, the world’s shared language, but also the wonderfulness of mutual respects. (Interviewed and Reported by Daiki Takaku/In coordination with Shino Okamura)
Interview with Young-G
ーーThe album this time was released under the label “EM Records,” which is not only famous for its vigor in Thai music publication but also for its influence on the overseas market. As a member of the OMK, Young-G has established a favorable trust relationship with the label. In addition, last year, you’ve also invited Juu and G. Jee to Japan. Could you tell us in detail about the developments which led to the album’s production?
Young-G（Y）：After our collaboration in the production of the drama “Bangkok Nites” which was produced by Kuzoku, together with other members at Soi48, I was able to get to know everyone at “EM Records” better. With their know-how, the members at “EM Records” helped us at Soi48 to establish the licenses for the songs, written in the Mor Lam and Luk Thung style, used in the drama. Not stopping there, in a collaboration with VIDEOTAPEMUSIC, Shintaro Sakamoto, and Emerson Kitamura, “EM Records” also helped to release the Analogue 12-inches Series as a tribute to the drama. What’s more, the series also includes a 12-inches record of stillichimiya’s song, the “Bangkok Nites,” and a remix version from COMPUMA. It was thanks to the release of this series that we were able to have more chances to work together, which, ultimately, led to the release of the album this timeI believe it was after the event “Rap In Tondo 2” which was held at the Tondo district in Manila, Philippines in 2011 that I became interested in the development of Asian hip-hop music.
After the drama’s shooting, returning to our hometown in the Yamanashi prefecture in Japan, one day, as I was listening to them, I found both the Mor Lam and Luk Thung exceptionally “fitting.” After the event, from April 2017, I went to Thailand and stayed there for one year. My aims for this trip were to learn more about Thai music in addition to experiencing Thai hip-hop music. Using the little Thai, which I learned during the production of “Bangkok Nites,” I researched the relationships between traditional music, such as the Mor Lam or Luk Thung, and hip-hop music. Furthermore, I also listened to many of Thai hip-hop song and participated in many parties or events which feature hip-hop artists. It was through these events that I got to know Juu. As we communicate and deepen our exchanges, in May 2018, after returning to Japan, I invited him to Japan. I also visited Juu on my many trips to Thailand. This helped us to complete the album this time.
ーーThe album this time is harmonization between Luk Thung, Thailand’s traditional music, and hip-hop. While the album gives off an exotic vibe, it also displays a contemporary and cool aspect. I believe the title “New Luk Thung” is a very good name for the album. Including the musical views, could you tell us which key factors did you most prioritize during the production process?
Y：I believe it’s the implementation of many different kinds of music. You see, Luk Thung is a music genre that is heavily influenced by the lyrics. In other words, for example, as long as the lyrics sing about “what happens in the countryside,” then the songs will remain a part of the Luk Thung even if you combine the EDM or hip-hop music into the backtracks. Interestingly, at stillichimiya, a hip-hop unit based in Yamanashi, we’ve been producing music while rapping exactly about “what happens in the countryside.” Therefore, even though we’ve been writing hip-hop music in Japan, for the people in Thailand, our songs can be seen as one part of the Luk Thung genre. Furthermore, ever since the ancient time, the Luk Thung genre has been implementing many different music styles. One can verify this fact by listening to many records. Since the ancient time, the Luk Thung genre has already implemented Latin, Jazz, Funk, or even Disco in its songs. I believe this very characteristic is similar to that of hip-hop. That’s why despite having used Thailand’s instruments in our samplings, we’ve, in a broad sense, also tried to mix Thailand’s unique sounds with EDM or hip-hop. Even so, the Luk Thung genre accepted all of these mixes very well. I believe this is the real charm of the true Luk Thung.
ーーThe album’s production took about two years to complete. Could you share with us some of the experiences which gave you a hard time, or some which left you a deep impression?
Y：I believe it was the language barrier that caused us many troubles. Even though I got a little bit more fluent in Thai, during my early time in the country, I could clearly feel the language barrier hampering our conversations with the people living in Thailand. While there are many Thai who are fluent in English gathering around locations where foreigners usually go to, the number of these people greatly reduce as we move away from the locations, making English obsolete. Also, many may not realize this fact but Thailand is one of the countries which suffer from severe social polarization. In other words, there is a clear “segregation” separating the rich from the poor. That’s why it was difficult to come to areas that are unpopular to foreigners to watch live performances or DJ performances. It was also a challenging task trying to look for a certain record in Isan as the price of these records usually skyrockets in Bangkok. However, despite being influent in the language, I found that using Thai allowed me to talk to many different people, to learn many things that, otherwise, cannot be learned in an area where one can communicate in English, and to visit locations that, otherwise, couldn’t be visited during a sightseeing trip. It might have also been because of these advantages that I was able to get to know Juu better. Even though it was challenging, I think it was worth it. In general, I can feel that most of the people living in Thailand are kind. There were many occasions in which I had received bits of help from the local people. And it was a big surprise seeing stillichimiya’s stickers being stuck on a wall close to Juu’s house on my first trip to his house. It was during my lone trip around Isan (Juu was really surprised too!).
ーーMaybe it was thanks to all of these experiences that the line “I want to hear more, find more, Pleng Thai” was incorporated into the song “Somtam Samurai Ft. stillichimiya.” Excluding Japan, what do you think are the most captivating charms of the stimulating Thai music, or in a broader sense, of the Asian music?
Y： I believe one of the biggest charms to Asian music is that it is still not widely known throughout Japan. You can find many other artists who are exceptionally unique just like Juu, even though they are unknown to the Japanese listeners, in Thailand alone. And if you ever research into their music, you will find that the songs usually incorporate Thailand’s unique music genres, including the Luk Thung and the Ramwong, into other music genres such as hip-hop, reggae, in addition to the history, culture, customs, ethnicity of the country. There are many exceptional phenomena in the songs which cannot be found in Japan’s society. Furthermore, I think it will be more interesting knowing that there are also stories that are incorporated in the samples found in hip-hop music in America. By learning and researching, I’m sure you’ll be able to make many new discoveries. I think that part is what makes Thai music captivating.
ーーWhen, why, and how did you become interested in Thailand? What do you think are the charms or features unique to the culture of Thailand?
Y： As I’ve stated before, I became interested in Thailand during the production of the drama “Bangkok Nites.” I think religion plays a major role in the country’s culture. Thailand is a Buddhist country. Furthermore, I think Buddhism in the country is vastly different from Buddhism in Japan. There are many devoted Buddhists. Even those gals or frivolous lads like people often go to temples to pray or to participate in Buddhist rites. This fact also reflects itself in music as there are also many ancient Buddhist songs that incorporate Buddhism’s “Leh” teachings into their lyrics. Even more interesting, parents call bands which perform in explosive volume while parading around the village to celebrate their children’s entrance into priesthood (The Monaural mini-Plug band also organizes these events in Japan). I believe compared to Japan, the relationship between religion and music is much tighter in Thailand.
Furthermore, I think the fact that Thailand has “never been made into a colony” greatly impacts its culture and music. Of course, there were no countries in South-East Asia that could escape from the Vietnam War, and there were also countries that hid behind their outer shells. I’ve only noticed this after having listened to the Thai music for a long time, but it seems that this very fact has very much to do with the reasons why Thai music could captivate the heart of many music manias from all over the world. Simply speaking, the established music culture in Thailand kept on being updated in the purest way without being impacted by the music from outside.
It’s hard to think that the people in Japan will accept the folk songs were they to be updated with EDM. However, in Thailand, something close to that is happening. Also, I need to add that Thailand is Asia’s culture junction. With China on the north, Malaysia, Indonesia on the south, India on the west, I believe Thailand’s culture is a mixture of many different cultures. On the religious aspect, the people in Thailand are influenced by Islam, Hinduism, and of course, Buddhism which span across the country. In other words, Thailand can be viewed as the consolidation and the mixture of all of the cultures over Asia. I’m sure you will understand this fact clearer after listening to Thailand’s old records. I believe this unique characteristic and the fact that Thailand wasn’t made into a colony are the reasons behind the brimming originality and the music filled with all of the Asian grooves.
ーーIt’s very interesting to know that there are unique traditions between the masters and their disciples, especially in the world of music, in Thailand, the country well-known for its reverence for the elders. The fact that G. Jee, Juu’s disciple, also participated in the project caused me to wonder if Juu also had a master. While they connect different generations, do you think if these traditions impact the project in any way?
Y： I believe these traditions help to retain and update what was once old. I also believe these traditions also contribute to Thailand’s brimming originality and its coverage of both the music and cultures from around Asia which I’ve just mentioned previously.
ーーCould you tell us if there are any members or persons who you think of as your masters or disciples?
Y： I think there are many who I respect, including seniors from my hometown, DJs, and of course, the owners of the labels under which I published my works. I couldn’t think of all of the names during this interview, but I can already recall Kuzoku, Yoshiteru Harada—a master rapper who employs the Koshu dialect, DJ NAS, DJ T20, DJ TERADA who have been running the club “Kofu juju” in Yamanashi, Higo from “MaryJoyRecordings,” Hayashida—an engineer from the “Iroha Studio,” DJ KENSEI, Soi48, Emura from “EM Records,” Juu, … and many others who I truly respect. I was able to learn a lot from everyone. On the other hand, I don’t think I have anyone who could be called my “disciple” (Laughing). As we are always lacking in manpower, we are always on the look for partners who could watch over and cooperate with us on various projects! (Laughing)
ーーListening to the album this time, I believe there will be many Japanese listeners who find Thailand’s hip-hop music enticing. For these listeners, aside from “New Luk Thung,” could you recommend any other works or albums?
Y：First, I would definitely recommend the massive song collection uploaded on Juu’s YouTube channel (also known as JuuTube). (You can search for the keyword 4ERastafari) Even though Juu is not distributing any songs via Spotify or any other platforms, there are many wonderful songs in his collection. If you are looking for more leading hip-hop artists from Thailand then I definitely recommend listening to Joeyboy and Thaitanium. If you are looking for an artist who’s wreaking havoc on the charge then there are Fucking Hero, Twopee southside, YOUNG OHM, Fiixd, YoungBong, OG-ANIC, LAZY Loxy, P-Hot, VKL, P9D, Illslick, Maiya Rap, Diamond, the ZQU4D label…. And I can’t forget to mention Rastafar, Juu’s group, in addition to another member of the group, Jinkaddy, whose Miraculous features a very cool Thai Reggae style. Other than that, there is also the Kaijo Brothers, the dub master Ga-Pi which is led by T-Bone, the Srirajah Rockers whose mix engineer is Naoyuki Uchida, Rasmee who focuses on developing the Mor Lam, Isan Jah who focuses on working with the Isan Reggae style, Monkey King—the president of the King No Crown label, and DJ Space Echo who bases in Khon Kaen’s Riddim. There are just so many talented artists out there that I simply cannot count them all, so, starting from these artists, it would be best if you could study and research further into the Thai music.
If you are looking into the traditional Luk Thung then there are famous singers such as Suraphon Sombatcharoen, Waiphot Phetsuphan, Khamron Sumbunnanon, Porn Pirom, Kawao Siangthong, Suang Santi, and many other artists. There are also many other singers such as Angkanang Kunchai, Chawiwan Damnoen, Dao Bandon, Thongmi Malai, Petch Phin Thong, etc. Also, don’t forget the Khun Narlins Lectric Phon band which was presented in Soi48’s TRIP TO ISAN, the Tak Lam Phloen—the master of the Monaural mini-Plug band in Japan—and artists from other genres of Thailand’s traditional music such as the Thai-style antiphonal singing, the Leh, etc. There are so many interesting songs even in Thailand’s classical music, so, with various methods, you should try and listen to them. There are also other artists who work in styles other than hip-hop and reggae. There is also the world of “Saiyor” which is a musical world consisting of Thailand’s original dance music composed by DJs such as I am. Don’t forget to give all of these songs a try.
Lying next to Thailand, Cambodia also has Klapyahandz who also recently made a trip to Japan. There is also a wide variety of hip-hop music in other countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia. It would take years just to introduce all of the great music out there which are unknown to the Japanese listeners (!). That’s why we, at the OMK, have been putting all of our efforts into finding and introducing all of the great music from around Asia.
ーーAt the moment, as streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music become even more popular, it seems like there are many listeners who listen to songs from all around the world regardless of their countries or regions. However, it also seems as if the environment has become even harsher for the audiences to discover underground artists such as Juu who have been steadily and enthusiastically working on their music. Although so, the album this time has contributed to remedying this issue while helping listeners to widen their choices of music. What do you think of the current environment? How, do you think, will the environment continue to change?
Y：To be frank, I can’t imagine how the environment will turn out. However, there’s no doubt that the Internet has been changing how people listen to music. Even though most of the Japanese media still rely on articles translated from Western websites, I believe the number of media channels that focus on introducing Asian music will increase in the future. From Juu’s new release this time, I believe we still need media channels which could introduce music from regions other than the English-speaking countries, and record labels such as “EM Records” which could firmly follow-up on the release. For me, it would also be great if I could continue to cooperate with these members and introduce many new artists to the audiences. Even though many listeners have been saying that “The current Asian music is thrilling,” in truth, Asia has always remained “thrilling.” In other words, instead of having people getting excited about the current boom, I would love to have them truly listen to the humming sounds in Asia. I believe there are still many exciting songs out there, those that still haven’t been “Japanized” yet, that listeners can discover if they put in the efforts to step into Asia’s local markets instead of listening blindly to the information from the Internet. If you find Juu’s music exciting then it would be even more exciting to find and discover different music from various parts of the world. We, at the OMK, are waiting for your new information (Laughing).
Text By Daiki Takaku