“Okay, we’re starting the revolutionary rap,” an anonymous voice said in Burmese.
Indonesian rapper Rand Slam started the song forcefully with punchy lyrics comparing Southeast Asian militaries.
“The military in Myanmar and Papua are the same, never satisfied, attacking residents and not loving their lives. The path remains open to those who strive,” he raps.
Rand Slam is one of several Asian rappers from Myanmar, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, and Thailand who collaborated with Myanmar-based hip-hop collective, Rap Against Junta, calling for the downfall of regional dictators in a fiery new track, Dictators Must Die!!
Rap Against Junta, formed by MCs, producers, DJs, promoters and graffiti artists, chose hip hop because it was a perfect vehicle for free form expression of their political frustrations in a direct way to the youth who are leading the revolution.
“Hip hop allows for creative and free expression. There is something poetic yet relatable about hip hop, it speaks to your subconscious. You can say what you want to say directly. It’s a basic right that everyone is born with,” Rap Against Junta member OSHO told Coconuts Yangon prior to tonight’s launch of the song.
But the process was anything but easy in the middle of a pandemic and a military coup.
“It’s a crazy idea to write a song with multiple international artists especially in this situation with both the coup and COVID-19 for everyone. But I learned a lot about the history, culture of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand when I was trying to understand the lyrics from their verses,” he acknowledged.
“We started by suggesting the artists to sing about Asian democracy and fighting dictatorship through non-violence. However, we realized quickly that there is no middle ground, no forgiveness for dictators in our countries.”
“There were a lot of difficulties because of the different languages and time zones. We were inspired by the #MilkTeaAlliance movement and reached out to artists from these countries. We realized that none of us are free from dictators,” T2, another member of Rap Against Junta, told Coconuts Yangon.
“Not every artist in Rap Against Junta is a hip hop artist but we chose hip hop because of the culture, and the character — the dance, the graffiti. You can also fit a lot into a rap song compared to other genres.”
Singing in their mother tongues, artists Rand Slam, Floke Rose, Tuan Digablas, Van M and AJ Shield, Dwagie, Hock Hacker, SCK, and Cori Rey are rapping against rising authoritarianism in the region, channeling their anger into blistering verses tinged with hope for a better democratic future.
“Fascists can’t tell the difference between the light and the dark, the black and the white. There’s no use now, all the lives we’ve lost in the fire, and they keep us all down in the ashes,” Myanmar rapper Floke Rose rapped before leading into Cori’s chorus.
“We are walking in the dark. It’s the darkest time before dawn. We’re broke, we’re lost. But we know this won’t last forever.”
Rapid-fire verses laid on top of a progressive hip hop beat took aim at economic inequality, police brutality, COVID-19, dictatorship, and called for democracy to take over Asia and the #MilkTeaAlliance to assemble.
In the music video, scenes of brutal police violence, military parades, three-finger salutes, protests, and performances are playfully interrupted by static and visual noise adding an underground and smuggled quality to the video.
“The solidarity among all the artists featured on Dictators Must Die!! and the wider hip hop community in all our countries shows we can be strong together. We want and we will see change,” member of Universal Zulu Nation from Rap Against Junta said in a press release.
It’s not the first time Southeast Asian rappers ruffled the feathers of regional dictators. In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship, a Thai-based rap collective, released songs that rocked the Thai political establishment. HOCKHACKER, a Thai rapper and member of Rap Against Dictatorship, makes an uncompromising call for dictators to step down in his verse in Dictators.
“Get retired you old men,
It’s time for the new gen.
Watch now, the game is on,
Dictators, move along.”
HOCKHACKER was arrested in 2020 for his outspoken views and his song, Reform, was banned from Youtube in Thailand this year.
Meanwhile, the four rappers from Hong Kong have digitally manipulated their voices for fears of reprisal under the city’s repressive National Security Laws that have been used as a bludgeon against free speech and press freedom.
Dictators emerged out of a desire to fight back against the junta using creative means and finding common cause with rappers from other #MilkTeaAlliance countries. According to Rap Against Junta, the song uses “hip hop’s power as a weapon to raise public morale.”
“Music has no borders and we are one as a critical creative force. We will not be silenced. There is no place for dictators in our world. The future belongs to us,” OSHO continued. “We want to tell everyone to keep going. This is going to be a long road. We need everyone to fight together to uproot the dictatorship.”
Check out other songs released under Rap Against Junta: