A thick blanket of smog is currently settled over Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, closing hundreds of schools and threatening the health of millions. And the country is under the rule of a military junta who took control through a coup and jails democracy activists who – inspired by the Hunger Games – put three fingers in the air in protest. Despite all this, rap has bloomed in recent years, and there’s a healthy scene that continues to grow. While China’s Joox is the most popular app for music in the country, it’s YouTube that has really fueled hip-hop here.
Rap has been around for a couple decades in Thailand, with Joey Boy being the country’s first successful rapper in the mid-’90s and Thaitanium rising in the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until very recently that a scene took firm root. In 2015, the Rap Is Now battle tournament finally got the Thai people interested in hip-hop via their YouTube channel. Soon after, people started looking for more than just battles; they wanted songs and concerts, too. And then when the reality TV show The Rapper debuted in 2017, things got extra crazy, and have been ever since.
These days, there are dozens of Thai rappers making a living through touring at local festivals and clubs. It’s still only American rappers that make it onto the radio, squeezed in between regular pop programming, but Thai rap videos are hitting streaming numbers in the tens of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions. And in a country known for its streetwear, this visual-heavy culture features lots of drip, which you can see firsthand with some of our picks below.
Here are 10 Thai Rappers you should put on your radar:
Watching 19Tyger’s video above, you can tell he’s coming from a different perspective, a short step away from the more common fare found within the Thai rap YouTube scene. The buildings are more cloistered, the people depicted much more up close and personal, and the vision less aspirational. It’s grounded in its surroundings. This is Klong Toei, a slum in Bangkok, and he’s rapping about the drugs and gambling there, calling it barbaric.
“He was sick of people treating him like a criminal, so he made this song,” says H3nri, the song’s producer. You can tell there’s love for his roots. In addition to lounging at the pool hall with the homies, he’s hanging out with local working types and playing ball with the kids. He was also recently featured in a mini documentary that works at elevating the discussion surrounding Klongtoey (while it’s only in Thai at the time of this writing, it’s a good visual intro to the world there).
It’s pretty clear what this video is about; sometimes you just gotta show the haters how good you’ve got it. Girls, money, friends, fame? (Not to mention gear – a lot of their videos feature shouts to all the local brands featured in each with links included). The seven-member collective Chink99 are living the good life.
It wasn’t always that way, though. After lead rapper GT’s parents died at a very young age, he was adopted by an abusive family in Ubon, a city on Thailand’s far eastern edge. So he left home at the age of 17, quickly learning how to tattoo as a way to make a living. After moving to Bangkok four years ago, where he was tattooing some other rappers, he had the idea to start making music himself as a way to deal with his problems. “I want to encourage people with my music,” he tells Highsnobiety. “I want people who faced similar problems to feel welcome on Earth.”
With a measured flow and short dreadlocks, FIIXD is easily recognizable. Like most of the successful rappers in Thailand, his songs are frequently about heartbreak and women. He’s been writing for years, but he wasn’t into battling very much, so his style didn’t pick up until 2017 when he dropped his first album. That year he also appeared on The Rapper, and the show gave him the extra boost he needed to become one of the scene’s biggest names.
FIIXD is from Khon Kaen, a city in the northeast, but he came to film school in Bangkok on a scholarship, a fact that shows in his videos, many of which are self-directed. Although the move to Bangkok was crucial, he says the energy outside the city is higher. “There’s not as much streetwear in the audience once you leave the city,” he tells us. “They still go crazy for the music though. They go more crazy, really, because they don’t get to see you as much.”
The members of J$R have been around for a minute, but they came together as a team in 2015. Jayrun and Sir Poppa Lot performed at the same show and then made a tune together called “ได้โปรด..ได้รึเปล่า.” When Rahboy heard it, he knew he had to jump on it, and the rest is history. That song got 1.5 million views over a year, which was considered a hit for rappers at the time, emphasizing the current explosive growth of the scene. Their top 3 videos now have combined total views of 40 million, for example.
But those tracks are all about love, as Thailand goes. “ยาวไป (ヤバイ),” on the other hand, is about party life. The song title translates to “shot,” as in shot of liquor. It features Japan’s YDizzy, an example of how pan-Asian collaborations in the scene are slowly starting to happen. Jayrun also runs Norm clothing, a brand you will see in nearly every rap video to come out of the country. Additionally, Sir Poppa was on The Rapper and Rahboy on Rap Is Now.
There aren’t many women visible in the Thai rap scene. Well known artists like Puppup and Cyanide are definitely sure to pick up the mic from time to time, but they’re more like pop stars who use rap as only one weapon in their larger arsenal of styles.
Meanwhile, the young Nur$etime is focused on hip-hop specifically, working on a more underground level and often rapping in English. She’s also encouraged other girls to get involved, including Rabbitchy, who started rhyming a little over a year ago and has made music in a similar vein to Nur$e (although she’s planning on moving towards other styles of music now like bedroom pop).
On “รู้ทั้งรู้ ALL-KNOW,” OG-ANIC flips a rap-meets-R&B style that’s particular to Southeast Asia, dense in syllables but melodic and laidback, sung over syrupy beats with purple-lit videos. It’s a love song, and he’s coming to terms with a past relationship that needed ending.
He seems to have the pop angle on lock too, and his most recent video is his most popular to date. It finds him working behind a classy bar alongside Lazyloxy and is stoked by plucky, upbeat production and bright flows for the kiddies. It feels very much inspired by Korean rap, which is fairly popular in Thailand. Both tracks are produced by Nino, who grew up with FIIXD and whose tag can be found on a decent majority of songs coming out of the country.
Pee Clock’s “Gvng Thai” is a rallying cry for the scene, the type of track to get everyone hype about where they come from. Full of bragging rights and insults, it’s your typical turn up track, definitely liable to start a mosh pit. The track features Diamond, whose teenage features and shock of pink hair fail to convey a very deep rapping voice. He can usually be spotted in every other video out of Thailand, even when he’s not on the track.
The video also features a monster truck with a giant mobile soundsystem bathed in glowing LED lights. Another standout track of Clock’s is “Molly Girl,” with a big name feature from Youngohm. The track (of course) is a love song, but it’s a clever one equating the feelings she evokes with those of MDMA. Clock hails from the western resort city of Pattaya City, famous for its beaches and nightlife, which may help inform the song’s context.
Rap Against Dictatorship
While most of the rap music that becomes popular in Thailand deals with love, the battle scene is a space where anything goes. And in a country where you can end up in jail for saying the wrong thing, that makes it rebellious territory.
This is where Rap Against Dictatorship came up, and the group directly takes on the government through their music. Last year they released “Which is My Country” on YouTube and it went viral, gaining international attention. It also caught the eye of Thai authorities (as did those who shared and commented on it) but they’ve luckily escaped legal repercussions so far.
The lyrics do not fuck around: “The country free of corruption which doesn’t even investigate on it/ The country whose prime minister’s watch is made of corpses/ The country whose parliament is the playground of its soldiers/ The country in which a constitution is written so that its army’s paws can trample all over it.”
UDT stands for Udon Thani, a city in northeast Thailand that the Boy$ call home. As much love as they have for their city, rap isn’t very popular popular there, so they tend to perform in other areas.
“Friday Night” gives the world a taste of how they live on the weekends. They tend to stay away from the clubs there, which are driven by EDM and full of police, and instead just chill at home with close friends. The track is full of lyrics about family, whiskey, weed, avoiding cops, and haters – that rap life, basically. UDT is comprised of four rappers named Sweeny, Sunnybone, HN, and AXCE and they’ve been rapping together since 2012, with Sweeny handling some production duties.
Youngguu’s story is about a club kid gone good. Growing up in Bangkok’s Suna Lang area, he could often be found clubbing in the Thonglor district even before he was legally allowed to. His mom would even join him sometimes, dropping him off at the hip-hop clubs in the mid-2000s, where they’d dance to New York rap like JAY-Z, 50 Cent, and Nas. Eventually, he’d go on to work at the clubs, initially in marketing at EDM spots, but then as a shareholder, and now as an owner of his own hip-hop club named Bootleg. While the DJs in Bangkok clubs play some Thai rap and they host local performers, it’s mostly American rap driving the dancefloor, but Youngguu hopes to change that.
Along with an interest in the business side of things, Youngguu has kept one hand in music and another in fashion. He would take his money made from nightlife and invest it in his clothing lines, and in turn use any money made from that for studio time. His brand Pretty Boy Gear has a lot of local support, and his music began getting attention last year with “Wing Bab P Toon.” P Toon is a Thai artist who ran across the country for charity, so Youngguu made a track that roughly translates into: “Running from the cops like P Toon.” The song above features Sweden’s Thaiboy Digital, but the Yung Lean collaborator isn’t a part of the scene here and was ultimately surprised at its flourishing.
- Words: Mike Steyels