Hip Hop, Interviews — March 10, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Interview: UNDA is bringing Bangkok’s hip hop scene out of the underground

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A product of two cultures, Sean Carter, otherwise known as UNDA, is on a mission to spread hip hop across Thailand. Raised between the revered east coast mecca of hiphop, Georgia, Atlanta, and Thailand, the country he now calls home, his upbringing has afforded him a unique perspective on music, love and life. As a result, the musical creations he produces reflect this mixed upbringing. His passion is clear, but it hasn’t always been an easy path to tread; bringing not just your music, but an entire musical concept to an international audience.

 

Whilst Thailand represents a myriad of different musical influences, hip hop has not necessarily infiltrated the public’s consciousness to the degree it has across other parts of the world. There are outliers of course but, with the exception of acts like Thaitanium, few artists have managed to consistently capture the public’s attention. What better time to come and shake things up?

 

Dropping his first album in 2015, UNDA has doggedly built a solid fanbase across the Bangkok, bolstered by his effervescent energy on the stage, palpable passion and seamless flow that he erupts over the audience like a shaken up can of soda. Far from just being a captivating live act though, UNDA has proven his talents extend much further than just showmanship and he spreads his considerable talents across multiple disciplines. He is schooled in sound design, produces his own tracks, creates music for international documentaries and works with trip hop & electronic jazz band Naked Astronaught. The guy knows how to keep busy.

 

An important figure in elevating hip hop culture within Thailand, we took some time to talk to UNDA about his outlook on Bangkok’s scene, what’s on his radar and how he sees the future of hip hop in the City of Angels.

 

 

How long have you been based in Bangkok?

I was raised between the US & Bangkok. We moved to Thailand from the US in 1999 and stayed until 2006. I left to Georgia for university and stayed until 2013. At the beginning of 2013, I was hired as a sound designer for a media company in Thailand, so I left ATL and was flown back over. In 2015, I started to release my music here.

 

Coming from Georgia, with such a famed hip-hop history, how has it been producing music in Bangkok, a city not necessarily known for its hip hop scene?

It’s been exciting man. The underground music scene as a whole in Bangkok is dope. It’s small so everyone knows everyone, and its growing in the right direction. A lot of different sounds are emerging. Also, just the experience of creating music and songwriting in a city like Bangkok is priceless. To be able to tap into the city’s energy and let it spill into the music, especially with the interesting times we live in is something unique. I’m out lurking in the city everywhere soaking it up. It’s not perfect for everyone, but it is for me.

 

 

With the exception of Thaitanium, there have relatively few hip-hop acts that have broken through from Thailand. Who else is helping build the scene in Bangkok?

The entire Thugs Mansion 303 label, 93 Flow Crew, Boakye, Pyra, Rap is Now, dTB, the Hood Paradise parties, the Dope As Funk parties. The b-boy scene is popping here too, lots of battles between different Asian countries. Shout out We Got The Spot, Sneaka Villa, Young & Hungry, NVSC Clothing, & Bangkok Lyrical Lunacy.

 

Your latest EP “747 Part 2” is another diverse release, with the three tracks on it combining a blend of hip hop, jazz, R&B and electronica. The soundscapes that you create for your tracks have far more in common with Flying Lotus and Madlib than the immediate associations with Atlanta hip hop like 2 Chainz, Lil Jon and Outkast. Where do you see that your influences have come from?

I grew up with my parents playing Public Enemy, Earth Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly, Boys To Men, Tupac, Lauryn Hill, & George Clinton. You grow up hearing those sounds and you’re like, “How did they do that”? So you start playing instruments trying to emulate. I started with violin and saxophone in elementary school, and began writing rhymes around the same time. I was making beats shortly afterwards, and found traditional hip hop production is really structured. Thats not a problem when listening to it but I wanted to make something that flowed more. So in high school when I heard DJ Quik, J Dilla, The Neptunes, Sa Ra Collective, and Madlib I was like, “What the fuck?! You can do this with music?”. Everything changed.

Atlanta has an incredible hip hop scene, just an incredible music scene period. It’s diverse from the underground up to the mainstream. Even with 2Chainz, Lil Jon, and Outkast, they sound nothing like each other. The sound isn’t their similarity, it’s just that they’re from Atlanta. There’s so much music coming out of the city. If you’re a rapper or producer in the US trying to get noticed, chances are you’re moving to Atlanta or somewhere close. The media type casts the city with a new sound every few years, but there’s a bubbling underground that sets trends worldwide. I’m seeing it here in Bangkok. It’s powerful. I miss it a lot.

 

How have you seen the hip hop scene within Thailand change and evolve in your time here?

It’s done a complete 180 flip. When I was here in high school, hip hop was everywhere. You have to remember EDM was not popping in 2001-2006 like it is now. Hip hop ran everything. I had a crew of 2 other rappers and we would run around the city battling other crews for money or chains, its how we bought new equipment to record. Hip hop sonically was grimier and more aggressive then, if you were wack, MCs would just smack the mic out of your hand and kick you out the club. It was just a raw vibe. There were tons of West Coast influenced rappers, but Thaitay was the only group that brought a unique identity to the table. They had their own style and voice, and thats important. In hip hop, your reality or narrative is so important. Thats what sets us apart from different genres. The world knows what NYC hip hop sounds like, what LA hip hop sounds like, what ATL hip hop sounds like. But what does BKK hip hop sound like? The Internet and technology has opened a door for Thai artists to share their world. There are a bunch of rappers/artists here creating their own lane for themselves and the city, with hundreds more in their bedrooms making music that will emerge in the next few years. Toronto didn’t have a ‘sound’ until Drake, 40, The Weeknd changed that and now its everywhere. Someone will do that here, it’s inevitable and is just a matter of time. It’s coming.
Across your Facebook profile, you’re a vocal campaigner for social issues, championing the role of women within the industry and drawing attention to the marginalized. What do you see music’s role in drawing attention to social issues?

The role of music is powerful, but music alone can’t change the issue itself. If if did, Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal The World’ would’ve healed the world. A bit extreme, yeah but it rings true. It’ll definitely help draw attention, but by itself it won’t change anything. It can be used as a strong supporting force when combined with the movement of people who are driving change, and are focused to bring a shift of power and/or politics. Like Beyonce’s ‘Formation’, conservatives are freaking out about it but its not due the music solely. It’s because of the visuals combined with the music, as well as the social drive behind it (Black Lives Matter). All of the elements together help shift these paradigms. So if music is being used to draw attention to an issue, when the attention is there you better be ready to act out a plan in order to further the movement. Utilise the power of it, go all the way through. History has shown time again, music is a device that can manipulate or inspire. I choose to inspire. With that said, I don’t think every artist has an obligation to speak on social issues. I grew up experiencing a lot of racism and prejudice so I’ve always had that element in my music.

 

 

Have their been unique challenges living and working in this region as a black artist?

Absolutely. I’ve had landlords tell me to my face they won’t rent to me because I’m Black. Others have told me to use my girlfriend’s passport instead of mine because she’s a fair skinned woman, and as a Black man they won’t trust me. Some landlords wouldn’t even allow me to walk inside the rental office because they were worried I would scare the tenants. I get harassed by police quite a lot, right away they walk up to me saying ‘You Africa, You Nigeria, You Sell Drug’ and get disappointed when they find out I’m American with a valid visa, and I don’t have 50,000 grams of whatever on me. It’s at the point now that I actually avoid certain areas in the city at particular hours, because I know I’m going to catch some shit. I’ve experienced my share of racism & police harassment back home in America too, but here its…stranger. It’s like I’m assumed guilty because I’m Black but not as guilty because I’m American. One police officer even told me he didn’t believe my passport was real, because ‘America has only White people’. In certain cases it isn’t hate fueled, but more of plain ignorance. What’s surprising is some of the white foreigners who live here and say outlandish shit. Its different because, they know better. I’ve been at parties just chilling, and had instances where foreigners will go out of their way to come up to me and say racist shit, attempting to get a reaction out of me.

 

You’re a busy man, always with a few projects on the go at once. Can you tell us some more about some of the other things you’re involved in?

I’m a member and producer of a 5 piece trip hop & electronic jazz band called, Naked Astronaught, signed to Comet Records in Bangkok. We’re working on new material and slowly getting an EP together to release. You can catch us performing around the city. I have several international documentaries that I did sound and/or music for being released in the next few months. I’m the resident host emcee of the throwback hip hop & R&B party ‘Dope As Funk’ that we throw once a month in the city. Currently we’re in production for a music video to my record “Kowloon”, which was released on ‘Comet Records Compilation Vol 2’ last year. It’s directed by videographer Kevin Collett and we’re shooting it between Hong Kong and Bangkok. I also might release a new single before that. We’ll see. Everything else I’m keeping under wraps to keep the haters sweating.

 

What have you been listening to lately?

I listen to everyone in Awful Records. There’s a label called Money $ex Records and I listen to anything they release. The Internet’s album ‘Ego Death’ is also fantastic. Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Future, Curren$y, King Los, Adrian Younge, Kelela, The Dream, Herobust, Walking Astronomer, & Henry Wu are all putting out incredible music. Other than that, a lot of Larry Heard and Charles Earland. I’m addicted to the ‘Gone Girl’ score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Jeff Phelp’s ‘Magnetic Eyes’ is a beautiful 80s electronic soul record that I’m in love with as well.

 

For more info on UNDA, check out the following resources:

Soundcloud | YouTube | Facebook | Website