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Music

Hong Kong rapper looks to follow Rich Chigga and become an international hip hop star  

With more than a million views on YouTube for his goofy lyrics and irreverent music videos, rapper Yung Takeem is rising in the indie music scene, despite studying most of the year in Toronto and working from his bedroom   

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 8:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 8:42pm

It’s late at night on Christmas Day 2017 and Yung Takeem, a 22-year-old rapper, is bouncing up and down while he performs at a pop-up show in Hong Kong. 

His teenage fans have swarmed to the front of the violin store where the show is taking place, moving in time with the trap beat and shouting out each line of the Cantonese lyrics back at the MC. 

Throughout the night, the rapper is approached by fans, many of whom are 14 or 15-year-old secondary school students. One youngster tells him: “People at my school are all listening to your stuff. Keep doing what you’re doing.” 

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Receiving such feedback in person doesn’t happen often for Hung Tak-shun, the Hong Kong-born university student behind the Yung Takeem moniker. For most of the year, he lives in Markham, a suburb close to Toronto, Canada, and does everything related to his music online. Most of the school year, he is away from the Hong Kong scene where he has received the most recognition, and only comes back to his hometown for winter and summer holidays.

Known for his goofy and straightforward lyrics, Hung has risen in the indie music scene and has been tipped by music critics as an emerging artist to watch in 2018. His music videos, which show him and his friends irreverently fooling around in restaurants and on the streets, have received more than a million total views on YouTube, despite their lo-fi video quality. 

He is rising to prominence as Asian hip-hop and trap artists in general – including Indonesia’s Rich Chigga, China’s Higher Brothers and South Korea’s Keith Ape – are riding a wave of popularity around the world.

Hung believes Hong Kong’s mainstream music industry hasn’t evolved in the past decade or two, but rather than getting depressed about it, he tries to bring a new  sound to the city. Hung’s independent DIY approach to his music appeals to the city’s young underground scene who are tired of having kitschy commercialised culture constantly shoved in their faces. 

Yung Takeem spices up many conventional themes of hip-hop, such as sex and drugs, with clever hyper-local references that only people who are in touch with both Cantonese pop culture and Chinese history would understand. 

In the single, Yat Pit, Yung Takeem quotes a line from Qin dynasty writer Po Chung Ling, “waking up from a dream”, a lyric-turned-meme from TVB’s 2010 TV series Ghost Writer, to describe the sensation of snorting cocaine. 

Even more blatantly, Takeem compares a woman’s pubic area to  Xuanzang, the bald monk from the Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West. It’s this rude yet lighthearted sense of humour which resonates with his young audience.

His growing following allows him to have the last laugh at his fellow economics majors who did not understand or support his musical vision. “At one point, I lost it at school. Friends started leaving me. They thought I was wasting my time making music,” he explains.

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Hung’s “typical Asian parents” were also concerned and tried pushing him to seek a more stable career. But the opposition from his friends and parents only made Hung more determined to follow his own musical path once he finishes university. “I’ve burned down bridges. I have nothing to fall back on. I won’t be going back to the workforce.” 

In Toronto, Hung has connected with a few other Cantonese rappers. Hung’s popular track Stay Positive features himself and Tai Po Laikei, a fellow Hong Kong-born rapper who also moved to Toronto as a teen. 

After finding each other’s music and meeting on the internet, the two artists started hanging out regularly. Tai Po Laikei exposed Hung, who was still new to making music at the time, to different sounds and showed him how to freestyle. 

Intimately connected with Hong Kong’s early rap scene and online communities, Tai Po Laikei introduced Hung to his now-regular collaborators, N.O.L.Y and Fotan Laiki, two trap artists from Hong Kong indie label Wildstyle Records. 

During Hung’s trip home last December, he spent most of his time working on projects with these two close friends. 

The trio share a rare synergy despite having only collaborated for a year. 

N.O.L.Y says: “Compared to other young musicians, Yung Takeem is not all talk. He wants to get something done.” Most days start with Takeem travelling to Laiki’s studio space to record tracks for his upcoming EP. In January, when they needed extras for a music video shoot, they invited both friends and strangers via a Facebook event. 

Together, this tight-knit group of artists are making the most of the limited resources available in Hong Kong and steering independent music culture forward. 

Returning to Canada after his holiday in Hong Kong, Hung experienced something of a creative low. The stress about whether he’ll even graduate from university and the pressure from his parents sounded like it was getting to him, but he remains upbeat.

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“It’s a different life in Canada. The pace is slower. It’s easy to lose focus, but I need to stay productive and get something done,” he says.