The first time Thailand was bitten by the rap/hip-hop bug was way back in the mid-90s, when the then unknown Joey Boy introduced the sound and singlehandedly dominated the genre with a slew of hits ranging from Fun, Fun, Fun to Samakom Ta Chan Diew and Loy Talay. Despite being a playful, largely pop-oriented rapper, there's no denying that he was the one who paved the way for daring trailblazers like Fukking Hero, Buddha Bless and Thaitanium.
Today, the scene has evolved even further. Fuelled by SoundCloud and YouTube's popular reality show Rap Is Now, rap and hip-hop have reached a wider and younger audience. An influx of underground rappers steps out of the shadows, each playing catch-up with global hip-hop trends. While a lot of emerging MCs tend to gravitate toward the now-ubiquitous sound of narcotised trap, a few are challenging the norm by bringing something fresh and new (and hilarious) to the table.
Enter TangBadVoice, aka Tawanwad "Tang" Wanavit, a Bangkok-based cinematographer who's recently dipped his toes into the rap scene with a self-released three-track EP, No One Plays With Me. If you're on Facebook, chances are you've seen the lead single Pred Pa (Is It A Ghoul, Though?) being shared on your timeline more than once. And for good reason. Set to sparse beats, the song pokes fun of trappy hip-hop conventions through a very specific brand of Thai comedic trope whereby you correct a misspoken word by intentionally misspeaking it, using puns and other wordplay.
Equally ingenious is Lan Neung [One Million], which sees Tang and the same hype man from the previous track reimagining facetious telephone conversations based on a true-crime story whereby a group of hitmen are jailed after trying to subcontract a job to each other. After two dialogue-driven offerings, he ends the EP on a high note with Tang Arai, a parody of autobiographical hip-hop tracks. "Pinching a dog … Pushing a dude in a Winnie the Pooh costume/ Reciting Thai alphabets my own way?/ Man, I've done it all," he raps, rattling off a litany of badass feats from the perspective of a fourth-grader.
The verdict: In just under 10 minutes, Tang goes from playing a talok cafe, a hitman mastermind to a rule-breaking delinquent without so much as breaking character. However, the true strength of No One Plays With Me lies in his ability to fuse storytelling with silliness and sardonic wit in a way that hasn't been done before. Let's hope that this is not a novelty project, and that it's promptly followed by a full-length album later this year.
Srirajah Rockers / Zion Agriculture
While our government is busy betting big on the whole cannabis agribusiness, Thai dub ensemble Srirajah Rockers, true advocate that they've always been, believe that the way to go is keeping it small and communal. Boasting a mouthful of a Thai name that translates to "a new agricultural approach among modern Thai teens in the digital era", their latest, Zion Agriculture, is a rallying cry for the said cause. "Stepping on the moist soil/ We're frolicking in a garden/ Sharing weed each other in our little garden," vocalist Win Chujitarom sings atop horns and lilting percussion. "My own version of paradise is within reach/ In a little frame, HD-quality, too." The song is a first taste from their fourth studio album, Bhorn, which will follow 2018's anti-capitalism anthem Destroy Babylon.
Rap Against Dictatorship (feat. Liberate P, Hockhacker, Repaze, EP$ON & G-Bear) / Gone Kwam Meud Mon
The anti-establishment rappers join forces with fellow MCs on Gon Kwam Meud Mon (Before The Darkness), the soundtrack to the "Run Against Dictatorship" event from earlier this month. "Because the government still crawls, the people gotta run," Liberate P offers in the opening verse, followed by Hockhacker's: "The army's in politics/ That's the reality we must face/ Out with dictatorship/ The people are ready to take to the streets!" After fiery verses, guest vocalist W slides in with a hopeful chorus: "We must reclaim what's been taken from us/ Before the darkness swallows the beauty."
Pet Shop Boys / Monkey Business
Monkey Business is the third cut of Pet Shop Boys' 14th studio album, Hotspot. A follow-up to the previously shared Dreamland featuring Years & Years' Olly Alexander and Burning The Heather, the track finds the synth-pop stalwarts weaving new-in-town lyrics with a neon-lit disco groove. "Flew in from the city/ Just got into town/ Checked into a new place/ I can't seem to settle down," Neil Tennant offers before Chris Lowe proceeds to elaborate with the help of Vocoder: "I'm here on funky business/ Just playing around/ I'm here on funky business/ Look what I found."
Justin Bieber / Yummy
"Yeah, you got that yummy-yum/ That yummy-yum, that yummy-yummy," sings Justin Bieber on Yummy, the lead single to his fifth studio album and his first release since his collaboration with Ed Sheeran on last year's I Don't Care. If you must know, "yummy" is a term of endearment bestowed upon his wife, Hailey Bieber, and this song is precisely about how much he's into her. Musically, there's very little on offer beyond the predictable blend of R&B and anaemic trap beats. "I'm elated that you are my lady/ You got the yum, yum, yum, yum/ You got the yum, yum-yum, woah!" he adds, in case the message is still unclear.
The Wombats / Mosquito On The Wall
The last time we heard from The Wombats was back in 2018 when they put out their fourth studio album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. After a brief hiatus, they're back with B-Z Sides (2003-2017), a massive compilation of 40 demos accumulated over the course of 14 years. Lead cut Mosquito On The Wall kicks off with scruff guitar riffs and instantly recognisable vocals from frontman Matthew Murphy. "You used to be my shelter from the storm," he laments over supple guitars and wallows in good old self-pity. "And you said we were forever as you held me to your chest/ I was not your piece of clay, dear, I was your lump of lead."