There’s a lot happening in the New Vietnam, so it isn’t always easy to keep up with what’s going on. We found a way way to cut through the noise. Each week we sit down with someone at the centre of one scene within the creative community and ask them to be a personal guide – to curate 5 talents and talk us through their selection.

This week we asked first generation hip hop dancer, graffiti artist, founder of the Big South Crew and OG mentor to the hip hop scene Viet Max.

It’s easy to spot Viet Max in the crowded branch of The Coffee House on Le Duan. Among crowds of young Vietnamese sipping on brightly coloured sugary drinks he is the heavily tattoo’d man with a red hat holding a Ca Phe sua da.

I apologise for picking such a crowded spot but he is at ease. He has a kind demeanor and is content to sit in the darkened corner carefully balance our drinks on the last remaining chair.

Viet Max’s involvement with Hip Hop is first and foremost against the odds. It is difficult for me and many people of my generation to remember how difficult it once was to connect with different scenes and subcultures. These days, trends, fashions and new music are marketed directly to our news feeds, they’re calling out to us to look at them, to find them and follow them. For Viet Max getting into hip hop required a hunt, an obsession and pure dedication.

Viet Max hip hop artist
Photos by Phong Chac

When the internet became accessible in 98/99 he found sites like Breakdance.com and style2ouf where he could finally watch people from all over the world doing the same thing. He started to learn English so he could read up on the history and find out what it was he had been following.

“I hadn’t learnt English but I realised the internet was in English so I had to learn. I went to the bookstore and bought an English dictionary. I would read into the history of hip hop by translating every word.”

When he moved from Ha Noi to Saigon in 2006 he had only 7,000,0000 or $300 to his name. He rented a small room and a studio and started the Big South Crew.

“A lot of people in the hip hop scene don’t have much money. We are from the poorer families.”

Viet Max hip hop artist
Photos by Phong Chac

For a while the Big South Crew were the biggest dance crew in Vietnam but over time, people started to break off and form smaller crews which allowed the community to expand and diversify. Big South are still alive and doing shows, dance battles and workshops, but the most important thing for them today is teaching kids and sharing the culture.

“There was some really good talent so I started a crew and we did some shows. Back then you couldn’t practice in the park, the police would come and tell you to leave. Only about five years ago hip hop dancing started to be on TV and in big shows so people started to understand it and appreciate it.”

Like many scenes in Vietnam and anywhere else, popularity fluctuates over time but the last couple of years have seen a renaissance. The different factions that make up the scene: Bboys, graffiti artists, rappers and DJ’s have all been blossoming.

So here is Viet Max’s 5 favorite hip hop talents working in Vietnam and what he thinks they have brought to the scene he helped to forge.

1. Wowwy

Wowwy doesn’t care what people think. He has no fear, if he thinks it’s right he’ll go with it.

He’s very different, his subjects are very different. Most rappers talk about love but he’s a bit crazy so he’ll talk about death and the Buddha. All the rappers try to be very ‘hip hop,’ very Western but he is very asian and very raw.

2. Suboi

Suboi is a very close friend of mine, I love the way she is always fighting. She’s the only female rapper and she’s a real fighter.

Now she is really famous and very successful, she’s a big deal.

3. DJ slowz

The trend these days is EDM, techno and house but he focuses on hip hop and funk. He sticks to his sound even though it’s hard to make money as a hip hop artist. He also does scratching which is very new. He keeps his passion.

He plays for the Hip Hop jams and the Bboy shows. Not many DJ’s want to do that. But he used to be a Bboy dancer as well. Hip hop is dance, graffiti, rap and djing and we all try to explore different elements of that. It’s hard work but we do it.

4. Kidz Nasty

Kidz Nasty is a younger generation Bboy and he’s very hungry. He travels across Vietnam and SE Asia. If you see him dance, you can see his music. A lot of people focus on skill but the important thing is to know the music

He shows the younger generation that you need to feel it. It’s very inspiring, it makes you want to dance.

5. Hoang C – Floor

C- Floor is older generation, he taught of Kidz Nasty and they still dance in the same crew, The Halley Crew in Ha Noi. He brings a different culture to the hip hop here. He’s a funky guy. You can see he feels it. A lot of dancers are angry but he isn’t angry. This guy changed the game, when he dances you have to smile.

What do you hope for the future of the hip hop scene?

‘I hope the younger generation are more creative, we had to create ourselves. There are good and bad sides to the internet: You see a lot so you are able to copy stuff but it can be less original, you can forget to be yourself. Although US hip hop is my favorite because that’s where it was born, I love Japanese hip hop because they do something different and make it their own. Not many people have their own style.’

You can keep up with Viet Max on Instagram @vietmax100 and on Facebook

Photos by Phong Chac