It’s not every day you get to make a bold political statement to a world leader, but a professional rapper got her chance during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam.
On Wednesday, during a question-and-answer session with Obama in Ho Chi Minh City, 26-year-old rapper Suboi stood up to ask him some questions, but he stopped her and asked her bust out a couple of lines first.
“Do you need a little beat?” Obama asked, before beatboxing a short bass line to get her started.
She smiled, offering him a choice of Vietnamese or English, and he chose Vietnamese, but added that he wouldn’t know what she was saying.
After she finished, she explained that she had rapped about rich people in big houses not being happy. She added that she was subject to stereotypes in the industry, and that people dismiss her and other female rappers as “cute girls”.
Vietnamese people don’t think rapping is for women, she said.
Obama responded: “Well that’s true in the United States too… there’s always been, sort of, sexism and gender stereotypes in the music industry, like every other part of life.”
He said rap started as an expression by poor African-Americans, and has now become a global art form.
“And imagine if at the time that rap was starting off that the government had said ‘no’ because some of the things you say are offensive, or some of the lyrics are rude or you’re cursing too much.
“That connection that we’ve seen now in hip-hop culture around the world wouldn’t exist. So you’ve got to let people express themselves. That’s part of what a modern 21st-century culture is all about,” he said.
Suboi is Vietnam’s “Queen of hip-hop”
His remarks come as Vietnam moves to clamp down on social media, in order to control public dissent. Over the past weekend and the week before, it reportedly blocked access to Facebook, in an attempt to strangle a series of citizen street protests that were organised on the platform.
While many people may have choked at being put on the spot, Suboi was more than ready. As Vietnam’s “Queen of hip-hop,” she’s considered the first female rapper in her country to have found commercial success in the genre.
Suboi’s real name is Hàng Lâm Trang Anh, and was raised in Ho Chi Minh City. Here’s more of her rapping:
Obama is visiting Vietnam on an Asian tour, where he’s made historic speeches and found time to hang with Anthony Bourdain over a traditional Vietnamese meal.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.
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