Rap song composer inspired by local culture

A rap song produced for fun by a small coterie of music-loving expats has become an internet sensation since being posted on youtube.

A trio of expats living in Hanoi dug into contemporary culture in the capital city and old Vietnamese music fused with plenty of fun around and hip hop aesthetics to crate a rap song called Oi Goii Oi, which went viral two weeks ago, managing to accrue over 200,000 views on Youtube alone in just four days.

J.C.Smith, Ian Paynton (a.k.aE.P) – both editors and writers from England – and the Japanese producer Shohei, who prefers the moniker Hanoi Funkmaster, produced the “just for fun” track under the banner Hanoi Sessions. After the track was laid down, they turned to Matt from UE Productions, who hails from Spain, to create a brilliantly wivid video, which helps brings Ian’s playful and witty lyrics to life along with J.C. and Shohei’s slickly produced beats.

The success of the video has taken all of them by surprise. As fate would have it, Ian is now in London with his friends back in Hanoi teasing him by email that E.P. won’t be able to walk down the street whenever he returns to the capital.

J.C, who has been in Vietnam for seven years, explains that old Vietnamese tracks with their elusive drum breaks, evocative vocals and melodies were a big influence. The aim was to mesh these crackly samples with a deliberately old-school hip hop aesthetic to create Oi Gioi Oi, which features a rap penned by Ian as a whimsical ode to a city he loves dearly.

“Shohei and I have been working on tracks which sampled old Vietnamese songs,” says J.C. “I’d grown to like Vietnamese music though listening to some of the tracks that DJ Jase in Ho Chi Minh City has been finding and posting, plus I liked what French Vietnamese groups like Tha Trickaz and Onra have done with Vietnamese music. They’re all major inspirations, along with Ian’s interest in UK Grime and Hip Hop, Funkmaster’s appreciation for 70s US Funk and Soul and of course rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest.”

“We’ve got a few other tracks we’re working on, still heavily inspired by the sounds of Vietnam, and there’s also some club-oriented material that’s percolating through.”

Oi gioi oi”, as most readers know, is the most commonly uttered exclamation in northern Vietnam. “They’re the first words any foreigner who comes to Vietnam seems to pick up. I do not know why, but it’s just funny to us. It’s a useful expression, as the lyrics of the track say, it can indicate excitement, disappointment or tiredness,” adds J.C.

According to Hanoi Funkmaster, since they live in Vietnam, they decided to sample Vietnamese tunes, and they were looking for an MC who would rap over the completed tracks, when they came across Ian, a keen student of hip hop, who from time to time would grab a microphone and rap at venues and clubs around Hanoi.

“I like funk and soul, and an appreciation of these sounds is hard to find here. But it existed and their influences can be heard in some Vietnamese tracks from the 1970s. Combine that with my music background, growing up listening to hip hop giants like A Tribe Called Quest, I suppose this is what you get,” say Shohei.

Ian took his lyrical inspiration from UK rap but channelled the buzz of Hanoi. “Oi gioi oi” can be used in so many ways and seems to encapsulate almost anything,” says Ian.

“I know that, for foreigners, living in Hanoi can be a love-hate thing some times, hence lyrics like, “there’s so much to love, not the noisy stuff”, or the reference to “organised chaos”, says Ian.

“The city’s dynamic, entertaining, frustrating and chaotic in equal amounts, which has its good and bad sides.”

“It is a deliberate homage to the past of both hip-hop and Vietnamese popular music. Both gendres were extraordinarily varied and ground breaking and there’s a whole musical treasure trove of old Vietnamese popular music waiting to be rediscovered. Of course, we’re not saying we know better than anyone else, if anything were’re hoping people will think: if they made that, then we can do it,” adds Ian.

Now that the song has gone viral perhaps it will have an influence on young Vietnamese throughout the country.

Echoing Ian’s thoughts on “the treasure trove of Vietnamese music” J.C. believes people should be exploring, and producing tracks that are Vietnamese inspired, rather than trying to emulate something Korean, Japanese, Chinese, or western.

“I guest lyrically we’re saying things are difficult sometimes whether you’re Vietnamese or a foreigner living in Hanoi; life’ about ups and downs, but the most important thing is not to give up doing something you want to do, self expression, playing music, producing tracks – these are things that anyone can do if you put your mind to it and you do not need a big budget or sponsorship to do it”, adds J.C.

“We certainly do not claim to know more than anyone else, we just wanted to hear this kind of music, and it’s nice that other people like it too,” he adds.