Reflection Rap – it is not something that you would expect to associate with Cambodian culture, but it is very much a part of the younger generation. Ask any Khmer youth living in the US about rap and they will be quick to name a few artists for you. It is really not as surprising as many may think; the young are quick in assimilating American culture. Many have grown up in immigrant communities, a prominent source of rap music. Often, the subject of rap music stems from their sights and experiences in everyday life. In turn, rap music has become something that youth can easily relate to-an influence that cannot be denied as a part of a newly evolving culture.
Say what, a Cambodian rapper? There have been a few pioneers who have ventured into this uncharted territory. Probably the most well known artist in this genre is the “African Khmer” who was raised by monks. He could be seen back when New Years’ celebrations in Long Beach were at their peak. There are also rumors of other various artists around the country. Recently, I was able to get an exclusive interview one of these rising Khmer rappers.
Tell me about the interview already! I went up to northern Long Beach in Southern California expecting to meet a rap group. I was not sure what to expect going into this meeting. To be honest, I had never even heard Khmer rap until I attended a cultural show. Unfortunately, the audio system and the acoustics of the room turned everything into a big slur. As I made my way to the interview, I began to wonder what kind of rap I was going to be presented with. Was this going to be modern, gangster, underground, hardcore, or what? Was it going to be Khmer, English, or some mixture of the two? I have to say that some topics stuck out as definitely possible subjects for songs. I assumed that the songs would either be about life in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge or about integrating into American society. Also, it was rap that I was going to hear, so something along the lines of life on the street was not far from my mind. I have to admit that it would have been amusing to hear a song about a bunch of thugs rolling down the street in their Cressidas and Maximas.
I arrived at my destination and was quickly greeted by a typical looking Asian guy. For some reason, I was expecting someone bigger. I guess it must have been the usual rapper facade that I was use to seeing. He came up to me and introduced himself as Prach. He was a nice, easy-going guy. He was the only one from the group with a completed album and unfortunately was also the only one from the group present. We started off with some casual conversation. He told me a bit about himself and the group who ran into each other as neighborhood kids. Who then later started hanging out and doing all the mischievous things that little boys do such as playing with their homemade slingshots shooting at birds and bottles. He then went on to tell about his interest in poetry and art. Poetry was his first true interest and where most of his lyrics come from. At one point he came to an interesting comment, stating why he writes all of his C’s backward. This can be seen in everything he writes from his album cover to his name. They are all done to emphasize his respect for Cambodia and its people. He also shared stories about the other group members. All of them coming to America at a young age and settling in Northern Long Beach and thus experiencing many of the same things.
Tracks on Dalama…the endin’ is just the beginning
- Intro: The Temple of Peace-The Takeover
- The Letter (Prisoner of War)
- Skit: Start anew, nuth’n has gone before
- The YearZero! – Stream MP3
- Interlude: Peak of Light
- Interlude: New Hope – Stream MP3
- Out-tro: The Burden of Power – The Countdown 3,2,1…
- NorthSide (We High) feat. Toeum
- Walk-a-Block feat. Northstar Resurrec
- War on the Street
- Knowledge, Nix-Mo – Stream MP3
- Child of the Killing Field
- Ah-Ye (Khmer Rap!) – Stream MP3
- Make Money Take Money
- Zip (Day n Nite) feat. Dozer, Pinner – Stream MP3
- Take Your Time – Stream MP3
So what is this group called? The group is called Northstar Resurrec. Four childhood friends came together and formed a group in 1996-1997. They are currently trying to start a record label called Mijestic Records. The following is a little description of each of the members.
- Prach – Prach is the first one to complete an album which is entitled “Dalama”. He has left his style undefined because he feels that the listeners should decide for themselves.
- Sparc tha Polar – He defines his rap as underground. Sparc’s lyrics are filled with deeper vocabulary.
- Dozer – Dozer’s rap is mostly gangster. He hits topics like growing up on the streets, drugs, and living in “the hood”.
- Toeum a.k.a. Lucky – Toeum’s rap follows the style presented by Warren G and Nate Dogg; it is a slower and distinctive rap.
What the heck is Dalama? “Dalama: the end is just the beginning,” is the name of Prach’s first album. In case you are wondering, it’s not even a real word. During his explanation of the title, he made various references to the Dali Lama, but it’s really just something he made up because it sounded cool. “Dalama” is the second of a three part series that will tell one big story. The first one has yet to be made because he is still considering whether he wants it produced or not. The third one is in the midst of production and is scheduled to be released later next year. Prach wanted to make it clear that “Dalama” is just a demo album.
The tracks of “Dalama” are arranged to follow Prach’s life story from past to present. The album begins with tracks describing life in Cambodia when the Khmer rouge began to take over. It later contains tracks that describe his journey to America and his childhood in Long Beach. Finally, he ends the album with a few reflecting tracks.
The album is primarily in English with Khmer mixed in here and there. However, there is one track that is almost entirely in Khmer. Prach stated he included this track to give the listeners a glimpse of what was to come in the future. When asked to choose his favorite track from the album, he said it is difficult to pick a favorite when you have worked so hard on all of them.
Tell me about the songs I once heard someone say that the Khmer language is too inflexible to be verbally appealing in rap. Contrary to this statement, I found that “Dalama” effectively integrated the use of Khmer throughout various tracks on the album.
The album begins with a history lesson of Cambodia a la Cambodia 101 and quickly jumps to a military takeover of the area. The first song, “Letter,” depicts the fear and struggles of the war from a survivor’s point of view. The next song, “Yearzero!” signifies the restructuring of the government and their backward reform. It explained how everything had to start over because nothing was left after their abolishment of religion, money, intelligence, and so on. “Welcome,” the third track on the album portrays his joy in coming to America after surviving the war and his childhood in Long Beach. This track has numerous elements and subjects that many people can relate to. In “Northside,” he has a little fun and describes hanging out with his friends. The next song, “Walk a Block,” is structured like a block to symbolize the constant change with life in the street. This seems to be the group’s favorite track. The next song, “War on the Street,” is based on one of Prach’s poems. It is a gloomy track with an eerie beat, which describes the darker side of life in the streets. “Nix-Mo,” the following song, brings a positive message. “Child of the Killing Field” goes back to describing the downfall of society. “AH-YE,” the Khmer rap, is so indescribable that you will just have to hear for yourself. The next song, “Make Money Take Money,” is your typical song about hustling the streets. “Zip” refers to the children song “Zip pi di do da day.” It is reminiscent of the fun times he had with his friends. The final song on the album, “Take Your Time,” tells people to do exactly what the title reads – take your time and try not to rush through life.
A Review and Final Thoughts I personally liked “Dalama” and I am proud to add it to my collection. However, it did take some time to get used to at first. Some songs on the album, namely “Northside,” show their potential as a group when they bring together their distinctive voices. As I listened to the album, I found certain parts quite amusing. I noticed that Prach spits after every time he mentions Pol Pot’s name. Some of the content is a little explicit, but after all, it is rap. The mixing could be a little better, but not much can be expected when they are using equipment in their own homes. The track labeling is somewhat awkward since the track sequence does not match the label on the back. Some of the tracks seem out of place for an album that is supposed to tell a story. Also, some of the skits connected to the songs would have been better had they been given their own track. Despite these issues, rap fanatics may still find “Dalama” an enjoyable album.