News / Arts & Entertainment

Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Strugglesi
X
Elizabeth Lee
August 21, 2014 12:43 PM
A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California, home to the largest Cambodian community outside that country.
Elizabeth Lee

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America.  Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.  Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years.

At 36 years old, Chanthy Sok, known to his fans as “CS,” has experienced more than most people in a lifetime.  The hip hop artist tells his story of pain and redemption through his music.

“My struggle was coming from a war-torn country, raised by a single mother who's probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, raising six kids living in somebody else’s living room.  That struggle was real," he explains.

From Cambodia to California

CS's mother brought the family to Long Beach, California, where he experienced poverty, bullying and prejudice. 

"It was basically the simple rules: go to school, stay away from trouble, if somebody hurt you look the other way, and get home," he says. "Those are the rules.  But when you leave the household, it’s a different story.  Those rules don’t apply.  You can’t run from the bullies forever.  You can’t run from racial slurs forever."

Without support from home or his mother, CS joined a gang, was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

"Ain't nobody love me at home so I felt like I’m going to go out whatever pain inflicted on me was going to be easy for me to inflict on other people, because my mama... that’s my life," he said tearfully, "though but I’m just glad that I got out of prison not the criminal not the tainted background not the tainted individual."

Wake up call

While in prison, CS says he had time to think and finally understood his mother’s struggles.  He also found a way to give voice to his pain through rap music.  More than a year after he was released, CS continued to work on his music, and ended up on the cover of an arts and entertainment newspaper in Los Angeles.

CS is one of a growing number of Cambodian Americans using hip hop to express themselves because it is the music of the urban communities where they grew up.

“We’re not saying we’re the best representation for Cambodians.  We’re not.  I think that I’m the best representation for the people who went through the struggle like me for the people who didn’t have a voice like me," CS says.

“A lot of these artists do their music as if it’s a sense of duty, as if this is their way to pay respect to the survivors to the victims of the genocide," says Seak Smith, who produced Cambodian Music Festival in Los Angeles this month, bringing together artists from around the United States.

"This is their piece of the voice that they can project to the world," she notes.

Mixed support

Smith says, as with any music of the younger generation, hip hop is not embraced by everyone in the community.

"There are older generation Cambodians here in the U.S. as well as in Cambodia who really don’t like the representation of Cambodian hip hop, feeling like it brings some kind of negative vibe to the culture and losing its tradition," she says.

In his songs, beyond talking about his own struggles, CS is working on infusing traditional Cambodian music into his work.  According to Smith, many artists not only want to get in touch with their roots but are trying to connect with musicians in the Cambodian Diaspora locally and around the world so the artists can have a voice again after surviving the horrors of genocide.  

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."