Q&A: Vietnamese rapper Suboi discusses first US tour and SXSW performance

Cat Cardenas

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Vietnam’s “queen of hip hop,” Suboi, released her second album RUN last September. Suboi, the 25-year-old, bilingual rapper will kick off her first U.S. tour this month. Her South by Southwest performance takes place Thursday at The Trophy Club. Suboi spoke with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.  

The Daily Texan: How did you first become interested in rap? 

Suboi: When I was 14. I listened to Linkin Park and Eminem, but I didn’t think about rapping until I saw Will Smith on TV one day. After that, I started writing my first song. There wasn’t any rap in Vietnam though, so I had to find inspiration in other places. I listened to Eminem to teach myself English. He always uses so many bad words and slang, so back then, my English was really rude. 

DT: Without much rap in Vietnam, how did your career get started?

Suboi: It was hard when I first started out. There wasn’t much stuff on the Internet for me to watch, so it was hard to find inspiration or even an album I liked back then. Vietnam was just about pop music, so when my friends asked me to rap in their metal band, I jumped right in. 

DT: How do you feel about performing in the U.S.?

Suboi: I am very, very excited. I never thought I’d be performing at such a big festival. I’m looking forward to seeing the other artists. In Vietnam, there’s not a lot of diversity. I’m also excited to see the audiences. I’ve seen the crowds on music videos and TV, and I hope they’re the same. I just want them to be excited and hear my music.

DT: What do you think you bring to rap? 

Suboi: I started rapping because I couldn’t express myself in school. In my music, I would say half of it is for me, and half of it is about the message. At SXSW, I really want the audience to see that I have something to say, too. I want them to know that somebody from Vietnam has something to bring to the table. 

DT: Do you ever have to worry about censorship in Vietnam?

Suboi: Well, I have to use a lot of metaphors and wordplay as an artist in Vietnam. You have to balance what you want to say, but you also have to worry about staying out of trouble. I like the challenge of trying to get around those barriers, though. 

DT: What artists have inspired you?

Suboi: First of all, definitely Eminem. He has so much rage, and that really resonated with me. Lauryn Hill is definitely my biggest female inspiration. I get different vibes from different rappers, but I like the way they express themselves in their own crazy ways. I was a shy kid growing up, so I liked how American artists had their own opinions and styles. 

DT: Where do you want to see yourself in ten years?

Suboi: When you look at Lauryn Hill, she has a family, and she still has her career. I want to be doing that. I want to travel the world and have people know my music and take it seriously. I want people to see that I’m just like everybody else. I just want to rap. I don’t want to be just mainstream or just underground. I want people to know what I can do. It’ll be different for them and for me — just to see what I can bring to them.