Hip hop and rap in its origins is about fighting for the under-dog, economic struggles, and being direct with messages. As a genre of music, rap is founded for young people who can think critically, but can’t act upon the injustices occurring. Rap is a dominant form of dissent against repressive government tactics. The Thai government’s usage of hip-hop is a greater medium than any other digital platform to connect with citizens in monitoring any expression of disloyalty.
Young Thais are getting rap and hip-hop messages from American artists who put their content under American limits of expression on YouTube, the largest digital platform with global access. The American rap music video by Childish Gambino, “This is America” has 56 million views. It features Donald Gloverdancing while scenes of American gun violence against black people played behind him. Glover, like other American artists, have American liberties of expressionto release content that criticizes The U.S government. The same conditions are not as applicable globally. When the Thai rap group “Rap Against Dictatorship” were inspired to create a similar video, they faced a greater risk of consequences. Their choice to express opposition and discontent toward the Thai government and military is not a free form of expression, but a punishable act of rebellion. Thai journalistsand other media workers who have criticized Thai government, Thai military, or Thai royalty have been jailed, killed, or have gone missing.
The Rap Against Dictatorship’s song “What my Country Has Got” videore-creates a scene from the Thammasat military massacrewhere government forces killed 46 students. The Thai government has erased the event from text books because they want people to forget the injustice and brutal display of power that had occurred. Their video received two million views within the first two weeks since its release and now has 60 million views to date.
In the English translated lyricsof “What My Country Has Got” states “the country that points a gun at your throat/ claims to have freedom but have no right to choose/ You can’t say shit even though it’s full of your mouth/ Whatever you do, the leader will see you/ The country that assholes own the sovereignty/ You must choose to either eat. The truth or bullets/ Country that big fish eat little by squads of motherfuckers/ Which is my country”. The young Thai group clearly frustrated with government tactics used rap as an outlet to express their anger. One of the rappers who helped write the song Dechathorn Bamrungumang thinks the song received massive attention not only for the anti-government sentiment, but also hip-hop’s global influence.
American political theorist Robert Dahlestablished three necessary conditions that ought to be met for a successful democracy. Citizens should have the bare minimum opportunities to formulate their preferences, signify their preferences, and have their preferences weighed equally in the conduct of government. Thai citizens are unable to form preferences when the government is limiting their access to knowledge, limiting the ability to form democratic organizations, and limiting their citizens freedom of expression. Current punishable acts include reading George Orwell’s 1984 in public, using the Three-Finger salute from Hunger Gamesseries in public, and having pro-democracy gatherings like picnics in public. Freedom House is an “independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world”, gave Thailand an aggregate score of 31/100. This factors for “not free” civil, political, and press rights.
Banning rap is not the tactic Thai officials are looking at. They see it as a popular and well-liked format their citizens value. However, any expression of disloyalty and question of the Thai militant power needs to be stopped. Thai government does not want to openly oppress their people, they want to create an illusion of democracy. Instead of shutting down rap music and rap artists (like spain), the Thai government want to control and direct the medium to their advantage.
The Thai government does not want anyone to see the video and think they do not have control over their citizens, that their citizens are rebelling, and that open dissent is tolerated behavior. The video condemns the nation’s leadership, and in time before Thai’s first democratic electionsince the 2014 junta coup. The Thai government wants to have an illusion of democracy by hosting an election this year. There is an illusion of political candidates running for office when the Thai military still has a strong hold on power. The illusion of a fair and free election when the Thai government will quiet any voice of opposition or disloyalty to the king.
The Thai government gave up trying to take down the video since it’s increased views and instead have released their own rap video called “Thai 4.0”. Citizens ‘disliked’ it and demanded the government to stop making “lame”rap videos.
Young Thais are a huge factor in this election as they have reached the eligible voting age. Social mobilization through technology like streaming services fuel a new voice against Thai militant censorship tactics.
It is unclear if another diss track is dropping anytime soon. In this battle, Rap Against Dictatorship definitely won this round.
I found it fascinating that rap is more than just a trend across the world, and that Hip Hop Culture is in fact remaining true to its roots overseas despite cultural and language boundaries. Hip hop has always been a means to express frustration and dissatisfaction with the government, ultimately perpetuating an anti-establishment sentiment amongst the disenfranchised group.
The Thai governments’ rebuttal with a rap song of their own illustrates the universal inability of the elites of the establishment to understand the message of the youth expressing their dissatisfaction, instead pandering to them while appropriating their vehicle of expression with unsatisfactory resolutions to the problems at hand.