Star2 and the Asian Hip Hop Invasion
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Star2 and the Asian Hip Hop Invasion

Asian and Asian American artists are becoming more visible in Western Music: Filipino American superstars Olivia Rodrigo and Bruno Mars, Vietnamese and Black artist Tyga, Far East Movement, Rich Brian from Indonesia, and KPOP megastars BTS and BLACKPINK come to mind.

Big festivals are in Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Rolling Loud Festival announced their plans to expand into the Land of Smiles in spring 2023 in Bangkok. South East Asian countries have large youth populations and have attracted mainstream acts like Justin Bieber and Post Malone.

Star2 was born in the Mae La refugee camp on the Thai/Myanmar border. He is Ka-ren, a persecuted minority from Myanmar. Star2’s family fled Burmese soldiers who attacked their village and burned it to the ground. His grandmother won a citizenship lottery in the 55,000 person camp and was able to take Star2 and her four young children to the United States to start a new life. 

Inner city San Diego awaited them, City Heights – a hub for Vietnamese refugees since the 1970s. Laotian and Cambodian refugees are also part of this community. Hip-hop, rap, and black resistance music spoke to Star2 and others from his generation as a way to express a world of poverty, gangs, drugs, violence, and despair. To support the family, his grandmother woke up before dark to pick mushrooms forty minutes away and returned in the evening exhausted. Her oldest son succumbed to drugs and gangs and was in and out of jail, ultimately brain damaged from addiction and no longer part of the day-to-day family. Star2 was left to oversee her youngest son and toddler twin-daughters.

Music became a vehicle to vent Star2’s frustrations. A friend in the same apartment complex had a make-shift home studio where Star2 began spitting verses and making music videos half in English and half in Ka-ren. A mentor at a refugee reading program introduced him to Chico Bennett, a superstar record producer in Los Angeles. Music prodigy and Prince protégé, Chico has worked with Lady Gaga, Usher, Madonna, the Killers, Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child, Vassy, and many more. He sings, write songs, produces, arranges, engineers, records music for film and television as well as film scoring, devises and directs music videos. 

As record labels no longer develop emerging artists, they are expected to provide and prove-up a viable fan base; spend their own money for marketing and promotion; record, mix and master their songs; hire a distribution service for their records; create eye-catching cover art and other visual supports for their music (e.g. music videos); and manage engaging social media accounts on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter. A tall order for a struggling teen-refugee from Thailand.

Chico recognised Star2’s undeniable talent. One song session quickly grew into two completed songs with music videos, and two EPs and twelve additional music videos followed. The hard work and mentoring paid off. Star2 has over 1.5M streams on Spotify, 1M views on his viral YouTube music video “Thinkin Bout You” and over 4M views on two separate videos on WorldStar Hip Hop, on top of serious critical acclaim for his released tracks and big-time collaborations with Soulja Boy, $tupid Young, Lil Poppa, Luh Kel, and Mozzy. His blockbuster hit “New Me” with Soulja Boy and Luh Kel drops in September, and “Up” with Mozzy, $tupid Young, and HoodTrophy Bino drops in the fall. A west-coast tour with R&B star Luh Kel wrapped up in August.

Star2’s music videos, growing YouTube channel, and Vlog, The Adventures of Star2, have attracted the attention of the refugee camp where he was born. He communicates with fans there and family left behind. He is planning an album with talented Thai artists in and out of the camp. The Western Hip Hop wave has infiltrated Thai youth, including those at the refugee camps. “There are a lot of talented rappers in Mae La and the other camps,” says Star2. He plans to build a studio and help support kids who remain in Mae La camp. A tour in Thailand and South East Asia would be a dream for the boy born a refugee hungry for rice distributions once a month. “Dreams do come true and prayers are answered,” notes a very grateful Star2. 

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