Women are like vessels. They carry children, culture, tradition, and memory. The hajib reminds us of modesty and respect. A white wedding dress signifies purity and chastity. A woman’s tiny bound feet once displayed familial wealth and status that never belonged to her anyway.
You might think, the progressive world of hip-hop – a culture rooted in the spirit of defiance and overcoming oppression – would be more encouraging for girls, but it often isn’t. While the story of gender inequality has been explored for decades in the West, it is much less explored in the East.
Enter Suboi, a Saigon born and raised rapper who just so happens to be a woman. She is known by many as “Vietnam’s queen of hip-hop,” and is arguably the only female emcee to achieve considerable fame both at home and overseas. “In old Vietnamese culture, there are a lot of expectations for women: caretaker, being beautiful, or presentable to your family or society,” Suboi tells me. “I think Vietnamese people can sometimes be a bit judgmental, especially toward independent, free-spirited women.” Suboi comes from a relatively traditional upbringing in Vietnam and “didn’t grow up with feminist ideas” around her.
Her latest project, EP 2.7, chronicles the hurdles she’s had to jump along her journey, namely pressure from her family and discrimination against her in the industry. She is hyper-aware of the gender inequality she faces. She understands that few women before her have “made it,” and that she is challenging the expectations of everyone around her. The best part about it is she won’t let it stop her.
Take a listen to select tracks from the EP below:
Suboi’s climb to the top starts with the struggle she’s faced with her family, referenced in her song “Người Ta Hiểu (They Understand)”; she explains, “As a daughter, I was expected to live at home and be dependent on my family until I got married.” Her relatives found it difficult to support a path that, for a girl, had no precedent for success. They worried for her safety and feared at first what they could not understand.
But determined as always, Suboi was adamant in pursuing music. In the hook of “Người Ta Hiểu (They Understand)”,” she raps, “Người ta hiểu, hay không hiểu. Đời tui cũng vậy người ta hiểu hay không hiểu,” meaning “Whether they understand it or not, this is my life.” Only when Suboi began being invited abroad and making money from her music did her family begin to accept the path she’d chosen. Even then, it was a challenge to balance her love and loyalty to her family as she pursued her dreams.
Suboi迈向成功的历程始于她与家人的斗争，这段经历被描述在她的歌曲《他们明白（Người Ta Hiểu）》中。她解释说，“作为女儿，大家都觉得，在我成家前我都应该住在家里，依赖于我的家人生活。”她的家人并不愿意支持她成为一名说唱歌手，毕竟在她之前，并未有女性在这一行业获得过成功。他们担心她的安全，也会因为一些他们不了解的事情而忧虑万分。
但Suboi一如既往，坚定地追求自己的音乐事业，在《他们明白（Người Ta Hiểu）》中，她唱道：“无论他们懂不懂，这是我的生活。（Người ta hiểu, hay không hiểu. Đời tui cũng vậy người ta hiểu hay không hiểu.）”直到Suboi到国外旅行，靠自己的音乐有了收入后，她的家人才渐渐接受了她选择的道路。但即使如此，在她追求音乐梦想的路上，能否兼顾对家人的爱与忠诚，也是一个不小的挑战。
Suboi faced even greater challenges navigating the music industry alone as a young woman. The entertainment business, especially rap, has been a boys’ club since its inception. In Vietnam’s hip-hop world with so few women in positions of power, Suboi often experienced the worst it had to offer. “There is so much ego and testosterone in hip-hop. [It feels like] men have the need to claim power over everything,” she explained to me. “With people who mentored or managed me in the past, there have been instances of sexual misconduct. It has given me trust issues, which is something I am learning to overcome still.”
In another instance early in her career, Suboi found herself in a record deal gone dangerously wrong. Built on a handshake and misplaced trust, by the time she realized no one had had her best interests in mind, she’d already lost possession of some of her most cherished and favorite recordings. Any attempts to retrieve them would have put her in danger.
Releasing 2.7 was a cathartic experience for Suboi that signified putting these experiences behind her. The record features re-recordings of three long-lost songs: “Lời Thỉnh Cầu (I Pray),” “Come Back Down,” and “Người Ta Hiểu (They Understand),” reimagined with instrumentals from Norway-based jazz outfit Mino & The Band.
The video for “Người Ta Hiểu (They Understand)” starts slow, with Suboi alone in a decrepit apartment singing the melody a capella. In an empty bathtub, looking out the window and stepping across rubble, she seems somber and vulnerable, giving the impression that recalling this tune is bittersweet, even painful. Soon enough, warm reverberating keys and acoustic instruments usher in a feeling of comfort and fondness, and the scene changes to Suboi and friends singing and dancing in the rain. She walks the same streets she’s always walked, but with newfound confidence and hope.
发布《2.7》EP对Suboi来说是一次心灵净化的经历，标志着她要把这些经历都通通忘记掉。这张EP重新收录了一些久违的歌曲，包括《我祈祷（Lời Thỉnh Cầu）》，《Come Back Down》和《他们明白（Người Ta Hiểu）》，并在挪威的爵士乐队Mino & The Band的演奏中得到了重新演绎。
《他们明白（Người Ta Hiểu）》的音乐MV以缓慢的节奏开启，Suboi独自在破旧的公寓里清唱着一段旋律。在一个空浴缸里，她凝望着窗外，踩着瓦砾行走，她看上去忧郁又脆弱，令人感到这段旋律苦乐参半，甚至更多的是痛苦。但很快，温暖的基调就开始回荡，原声乐器带来了舒适和喜悦的氛围，MV场面转到了Suboi和朋友在雨中唱歌、跳舞的场景。是的，Suboi还走在同一条街上，但这一次，她重拾了信心和希望。
With this release, Suboi gives new life to music from a darker time and continues to move forward. EP 2.7 is a reflection of her past under the spotlight of the present, where she sheds off resentment with a sense of wisdom only time and experience can teach. In the coming year, Suboi looks forward to new music, new beginnings and continuing to use her voice to encourage and inspire others like her to do the same.