Rock and rap: alive and well in Việt Nam

September 20, 2020 - 09:36

Rock and rap, two music genres that originated overseas, were not that popular two decades ago in Việt Nam, but thanks to their special characteristics, they have become more mainstream and have been passionately embraced by local youth and fans.

Rap has emerged from the underground music scene and now frequently appears on top 10 song lists on Vietnamese music charts. But rock music, which peaked in popularity in the 2000s, is also thriving.

Xuân Đăng

Rock and rap, two music genres that originated overseas, were not that popular two decades ago in Việt Nam, but thanks to their special characteristics, they have become more mainstream and have been passionately embraced by local young people.

The two genres, with their emphasis on freedom of expression, have had different paths of development in the country. 

About four years ago, rap was viewed as underground music and few people listened to it, but now rap songs are always in the top 10 on Vietnamese music charts.

In the late 1990s, rock began developing strongly in Việt Nam, but the glory days were in the 2000s. With famous bands like Bức Tường (The Walls), Da Vàng (Yellow Skin), Unlimited and Titanium, rock was the hottest flame in Vietnamese music at that time.

After that decade, rock began to see many changes and transformations to attract more listeners.

Is rock dead?

A month ago, on social network platforms and rock forums, a discussion broke out after a question was raised: Is rock dead?

The query was made in a Facebook post by musician Trần Toản, a rock music enthusiast.

He wrote that rock was dying because rockers and rock fans were not daring to be creative. They all lived in the past. But pop music, which is changing every day, has developed more than rock, according to Toản.

His post received mixed opinions. Some agreed, while others did not. 

Trần Trọng Vĩnh (nickname Vĩnh Râu), a guitarist with Chợ Quán band, tells Việt Nam News that when he saw the comments on the Facebook post, he knew that rock was not dead and that many people still loved it.

“After Rockstorm, one of the biggest Vietnamese rock concerts, was cancelled, and the living monument to Vietnamese rock, the leader of The Wall band, Trần Lập, died of cancer, Việt rock no longer worked the same way as it did before, but rock can still live forever,” Vĩnh says.

Rockers and their fans are still dedicating themselves to contributing and building this community, Vĩnh adds. 

Rockers like Vĩnh are still dedicating themselves to contributing and building the rock music community.Photo of Vĩnh Trần

Today, rock has gone beyond its boundaries, and has changed to better suit the tastes of listeners.

“Now, rock is not only one genre, but is also considered material to be used in other musical works,” Vĩnh says.

The music produced by young bands like Cá Hồi Hoang (Wild Salmon), Chillies, Ngọt (Sweet), and Klaf are all rock. They have transformed rock into a softer, easier-to-listen and more accessible music for the masses.

"This is a good change and very essential for the development of rock," Vĩnh says. "The number of people listening to rock hasn't decreased. People listen to rock all the time, but it's just that some of them are not aware how rock has changed."

Vũ Ngọc Khôi, guitarist and composer with the Wild Shadow and Nam Tộc bands, also agrees that rock is not dead.

Rock lives on in Việt Nam.Photo of Vũ Khôi

However, rock music no longer has many sponsors as it did in its heyday, leaving fewer people with the opportunity to experience this kind of music.

Rock is also inactive on music platforms, but is very active in underground communities. In fact, the number of music shows for rock fans has not decreased in Việt Nam.

Due to the development of technology, rockers can now learn more quickly. The younger rock generation after 2010 is very talented, both in technical skills and musical mindset.  

Thanh Tùng and Phúc Toàn of the Cheffin’ band say that even though they face financial difficulties, they still love rock. Some members are still in school, and some have to work other jobs so they can follow their passion.

"We have positive prospects for the future of rock because many young people can no longer listen for free like it was before," Tùng says.

Young bands like Cheffin' keep the spirit of rock going strong . Photo by James Đỗ

Toàn notes that the band wants to produce "the best music product for the audience, so we always try to do our best to get there".  

Rap trends

The history of rap in Việt Nam has seen many ups and downs. The music was not well received by audiences when it first arrived in the country.

But thanks to the influence of Vietnamese living in America, where hip-hop was born, it began to thrive. In the late 90s, rappers like Khanh Nhỏ, Phong Lê, Thái, and Zolek were the first generation to build a Vietnamese rap community.

In the past, rap had rough and dark lyrics and often talked about violence, drugs and gang life. However, now the lyrics are more poetic and have lovely and witty metaphors and similes. This has drawn the music closer to the general public.

Previously, in rap competitions, rappers often used inappropriate language and swear words in their lyrics. But in recent competitions, rules have prohibited rappers from using these kinds of words. As a result, rap competitions are now being broadcast on state-run television, receiving more attention from viewers.

Binz, one of the most famous rappers in Việt Nam, says the ban of swear words in lyrics made these songs more accessible to audiences. Many rappers are also contributing to changing the negative attitudes toward rap music.

The rise of rap in the country has inspired professional rappers and underground artists, who are looking for opportunities to advance in the music market.

In early August, the Rap Việt and King of Rap television shows brought a breath of fresh air to the rap community as well as to the entertainment market and audiences.

The two shows are the first competitions seeking talented rappers that have aired on Vietnamese television VTV. 

Both of the shows were adapted from foreign versions. While the first is adapted from The Rapper of Thailand, a show widely known in Asia, the second holds a copyright from South Korea’s Show Me the Money rap competition.

The TV shows are a clear indication that Vietnamese rap is booming, starting as a musical form that served a small community to quickly rising to the top positions of the "top trending" lists on YouTube.

Rap Việt and King of Rap also frequently trend on social networks, creating excitement among audiences with each episode of the shows.

In episode two of Rap Việt, the show reached more than 500,000 people watching live on YouTube, a record-high in Việt Nam.

Rapper Wowy says the first generation of rappers are thrilled to see these young rappers performing on such stages.


Wowy (middle) and his team on the stage of Rap Việt with coaches and judges.Photo courtesy of HTV

"Thanks to the efforts of rappers and Việt Nam's integration with the world, rap music can develop well," he adds.

“I really believe that rappers will be more and more successful. Just keep working. They will reach success,” Wowy says.

A new generation of rappers is now being formed, offering different shades of musical "colours" compared to the previous rappers of the last decade or more. 

This new generation is emerging from the underground scene and becoming more popular than ever.

Ricky Star, a talented rapper from Cần Thơ, for example, impressed all four coaches with his creativity on Rap Việt. He used rap music to tell a folk story that is familiar to all Vietnamese. His performance was considered the most unique in the first round of the show.


Ricky Star's creative performance impressed all four coaches.Photo courtesy of HTV 

Such performances show that stories that rappers want to deliver to the audience have changed a lot in rap.

Fan Hoàng Bảo, 19, says that he likes the creative performances, lyrics, rhythm and puns in both TV shows, and the fact that there is less negativity.

Local rappers are also getting more regional and international exposure. Last year, MTV Asia rebooted the Yo! MTV Rap show, an iconic hip hop show with the participation of 33 top rappers in Asia.

Two famous rappers from Viêt Nam, Suboi and Đạt Maniac, were included. 

Yo! MTV Rap plays an important role in developing rap and hip-hop in the region. With two talented Vietnamese performers featured on the show, it is clear that hip hop is being recognised in Việt Nam as well as the international community, extending well beyond its roots in the US. VNS