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Female rap stars raise eyebrows in conservative Vietnam

HO CHI MINH CITY -- In a land of simpering karaoke stars, Vietnam's first female rappers are foul-mouthed queens of the lyrical underground — battling government censorship and rampant piracy to spit flow and make dough.

Hip-hop is a new import to the communist country of some 90 million, where society is still dominated by conservative values. Young women producing profanity-laced rap about partying and getting high raises eyebrows.

But having shot to fame at 14 as Vietnam's first mainstream rap act, Kimmese SpaceSpeakers — who discovered the genre through a single Bone Thugs-n-Harmony song on a karaoke VCD — is nonchalant about her notoriety.

“I do what I want,” said the singer, 23, who has given up on Vietnamese record labels and is releasing her second studio album independently.

“None of them can produce me now ... they don't understand my music,” she said.

Kimmese took a four-year career break at 17, a hiatus she says was spent mostly drunk and partying, and then re-emerged as a powerful R&B vocalist straddling Vietnam's musical underground and mainstream.

She cuts an unusual figure in her native Hanoi, Vietnam's conservative communist capital: strikingly beautiful, she is covered in tattoos with waist-length green hair.

It is an image that chimes with her broader message, she said.

“In Vietnam, if men have tattoos, it's cool. But if a woman has tattoos they call you a bad girl. It's fine to be a bad girl! Man — good girls are boring,” she told AFP.

She's “not interested” in politics and so doesn't rap about it, but her profanity-strewn lyrics are groundbreaking in the authoritarian country where standard mainstream pop fare is about patriotism, love and being a good girl.

Swag and Sisterhood

Traditional social attitudes still dominate in Vietnam and women fall under considerable pressure to marry, have children and then cook for their husbands.

Kimmese gives short shrift to those expectations.

“I wanna be equal! And I want to tell them (Vietnamese women) that if I can do it, then you all can do it,” said the singer, who makes little money from her songs due to rampant piracy but has lucrative advertising deals with Pepsi and KFC.

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Rapper Kimmese gestures at a recording studio in Hanoi on Feb. 14. In a land of simpering karaoke stars, Vietnam's first female rappers are foul-mouthed queens of the musical underground — battling government censorship and rampant piracy to spit flow and make dough. (AFP)

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