Asia Life

Vietnamese Rapper Nah’s Not-So-Veiled Regime Critique

A rapper takes a verbal sledgehammer to life and the authorities in his native Vietnam.

Vietnamese Rapper Nah’s Not-So-Veiled Regime Critique

Rapper Nah

Credit: YouTube screenshot

A deadpan rap by a young Ho Chi Minh City-ite Nah has clocked up over 900,000 YouTube views since it was released early this year. The rapper has since been interviewed by the BBC and Global Post, among others. Why? Possibly because the chorus is dit me cong san or, roughly, “f*ck communism.”

A correspondent in Vietnam can spend a good amount of time parsing opaque criticisms of the government and writing about the varied mechanisms of censorship, and ways around it. A few years ago I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on censorship that also looked at women’s magazines and sex; one editor told me they couldn’t use the word “vagina” in print and had to resort to euphemisms like “triangle” or, for men, “Mr Happy” (in English). When you’re used to this, the 24-year-old Nah’s “Dit Me Cong San is a surprise. And threatening to urinate on dead traffic police is not veiled or open to interpretation.

Nah, already a well known rapper in Vietnam, is currently studying in the U.S. and released the song while he was there, and though he has told Global Post he plans to return to Vietnam when his studies are complete in 2016 it is very possible he will be arrested either on arrival or soon thereafter. He has already said his family, who remain in Ho Chi Minh City, have been subject to some worries. Police harassing the families of dissidents is not uncommon. Another rapper Nguyen Phi and a  group of young supporters, part of an apparently decentralized “zombie” movement – another Nah creation – were arrested in central Ho Chi Minh City on July 11. Nguyen Phi was apparently held until July 25.

Nah is now being championed by overseas democracy organization Viet Tan (still illegal in Vietnam), who told Global Post that his song was comparable to California rap group N.W.A’s 1988 “F*ck Tha Police.”

Whilst profane enough to alienate as many people as it has interested, and more direct than any pop culture criticism of the government in memory it’s worth keeping in mind that much of what Nah, or Nguyen Vu Son, raps about are troubles most Vietnamese already recognize in their country and that both local and international news cover. Despite this, Nah said it was only when he left Vietnam for the U.S. that he had the time, perspective, and available information to realize how bad things were in the country. He mentions land grabs, the Tet massacre by Viet Cong and NVA troops in Hue, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s alleged corruption, thieving government officials and violent traffic police, censorship, and the public’s preference for easy celebrity gossip over news of substance.

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Nah also suggested that the government might hire thugs to do its dirty work, should it wish to get rid of him rather than charge him under the criminal code (conceivably articles 79, 258 or 88). Whilst sounding far fetched it is actually not uncommon, a bit similar to the situation of Myanmar’s  Masters of Force.

For the full song translated see here at the Vietnamese literary diaspora site diaCritics.