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BANGKOK — Less than three years after Beam opened as Bangkok’s premier temple to techno, it recently dropped the bass for the last time and demoted all the higher-BPM beats to its ground-floor bar.
For those watching shifts in the capital-city nightlife, Beam was just embracing the inevitable: Techno’s long reign is over; hip-hop is the new king.
Instead of being genre-confined to a few scattered venues, the hip-hop surge that began in 2014 with Sugar Club has exploded, with dozens of venues giving themselves over to Migos’ cult of “Versace.” Now there’s Illionaire on Ekkamai. The Firm took over five floors of a mid-Sukhumvit building. Around Ngam Duphli, I Hate Pigeons was replaced by Hip-Hop Sushi. Over on Khaosan Road, the Blaq Lyte team has opened Susie Q to pack in bodies for old-school, R&B, trap and grime.
Were that not enough, hip-hoppers can move it like Soulja Boy on Tuesdays when Bangkok Invaders drop into Sing Sing Theatre. Tuesday is also hip-hop at The Club at Koi (formerly Ce La Vi) located on Sathorn Square Tower.
That’s a partial list and doesn’t include the many venues now slotting hip-hop into their events calendar.
Back over at Beam, the decision to rededicate the main room to “top quality” hip-hop was signed off on by Kritsada Vadeesirisak, the club’s music director and a resident DJ.
“For the past two years, we have always wanted to adapt the venue with the trends, building a touchpoint and making things more fun,” he said in a recent interview.
Kritsada says hip-hop’s ascension is partly due to a higher profile in mass entertainment and online, with rap battles and reality TV have drawn audiences.
Reality production house Workpoint TV last year launched its own rap competition as longtime street player Rap is Now has surged up from the underground to become the country’s biggest rap competition.
He said the rise of rap shows and contests and social media has led to more teens rapping in video clips and sharing them online.
“Thais are brought up with poems; our lessons in school include writing poems,” he said. “So when there is a rap contest, we are easily engaged because writing rhymes clicks with the culture we grew up with.”
It was a diss track against the ruling junta that came out of the blue this past week to dominate headlines with a rare, critical take on military rule. “My Country’s Got” has racked up millions and millions of views in about a week’s time.
Hip-hop’s rise to the top of the Thai zeitgeist has fueled its stature in the nightlife.
The downtown hip-hop ecosystem was further enriched in August when Illionaire Bangkok opened. For now, the multi-floor bar and lounge only offers flair bartending and a selection of hip-hop flavors such as Korean, old- and new-school.
The venue was founded by a foreign investor who foresaw a profitable future.
“I think Bangkok’s hip-hop scene is already bigger and I expect it to be further developed in the future,” said Illionaire founder Richard Ki-ho, a South Korean bartender and DJ.
Ki-ho hopes to add regular live performances from MCs, dancers, rappers and beatbox artists to Illionaire’s mix by year’s end.
A few months after losing the lease on its Thonglor venue, hip-hop collective Blaq Lyte is back with Susie Q, this time on Khaosan Road. Som Nurarak remembers when hip-hop struggled to find its footing.
“The scene in Bangkok has exploded,” Som said. “There was almost no scene when we opened Blaq Lyte and now it seems like everyone is a rapper and there are a bunch of hip-hop clubs all across the city … It’s cool to see a scene that you’re a part of grow so much. It feels good to think that you played some small role in it.”
Blaq Lyte last year even hosted a block party in the Sukhumvit area where they brought in some of the best electronic, heavy metal and hip-hop acts. Thai-Swedish rapper Thaiboy Digital and Phuket-based hip-hop act Southside took the stage along with up-and-coming artists Fiixd and Youngohm.
In the month Susie Q has been open, it’s getting wild crowds and a good mix of people with the help of being conveniently located on Khaosan.
“Starting off, it was mostly Thai kids that were coming in for the hip-hop, but the crowds are getting bigger every day and we’re getting a solid mix of locals and foreigners,” Som said. “We’ve got a really cool spot and our DJs kick ass. People just need to know that every day we’re lit.”