From their breakthrough debut “What My Country’s Got” to the latest cut “Reform”, RAP AGAINST DICTATORSHIP (RAD) never shy away from speaking up about social issues and taking a firm stand against Thailand’s establishment. With the youth protest having gained momentum over the past few months and the videos of those singles having racked up some 100 million views, RAD are now at the forefront of the revolution.
The seven-member collective is not afraid to rap about taboo subjects. And even though their MV for “Reform” has now been blocked on YouTube by the government, thanks to the band’s strong support, it still gets posted, reposted and shared on social media.
We’re incredibly honoured to sit down with the infamous hip-hop troupe and get to know them a bit better.
Tell us about your musical background
Numba9: I started listening to rap when I was in elementary school. The music really made an impression on me. I got into the production side of it when I went to junior high and I met these guys during my uni days.
Protozua: I like music, but I’m not good at playing any instrument. Rap seems like a good starting point where everyone can enjoy.
Skanbombomb: I don’t really like rap to be honest. I’m in the band solely because I’m a content creator and I help make music videos. I do join these guys on stage, though. It’s fun.
Hockhacker: I’ve been rapping for about five years now. I love bands like Linkin Park. I started writing my own material when I saw Protozua and others in the community getting into the game. Also, I’ve always been interested in politics.
Jacoboi: I’ve always loved music since I was a kid. My taste is pretty diverse. I played a bit of metal back in high school because it was easy to form a band with your pals. Later on, I got to release an album with RS. Actually, I got into rap when I got into skateboarding. I got to meet people in the graffiti scene and got to hang out with rappers.
3฿one: I love art. I began playing music as a way to create my own art. My first experience was with traditional Thai music, but that didn’t really suit me. As I was trying to think outside the box, I found rap. Rap allows me to create and communicate to people exactly what I’ve envisioned in my head. I started rapping when I was in grade 11. It’s been five years since.
Dif Kids: Rap to me is all about filling in the blank. Rap can bring out your identity and convey all kinds of messages whether it’s love or politics.
What about the freedom to criticize politics for artists then and now?
Protozua: It’s not the same. Back in the days, artists are superstars. Every aspect of their lives is pinned on the fact. Their income relies on their fame, so they’re sort of stuck in that fear. It’s highly unlikely that people who are really famous would go “OK, I’m ready to lose all this income.” For us artists today, we’re forced and pressured by society to do other things, to branch out in order to survive. The scale of fear is much smaller. When I speak out politically or get involved with protests, I get to meet other people who also work a few different jobs. Not a single one of us earns a living from being politically active. The conditions between artists today and back then are different.
Jacoboi: If we can’t accept the artists who are vocal about social justice, what sort of artists are we? Probably a “fart-ist” who’s made to sing and dance and doesn’t do much of anything else. I didn’t even like my own album. Actually, I was pretty disgusted by it. I pushed to have politically-themed songs included on the album, but they all got rejected in favor of the more commercial stuff.
My music has always been honest. When politics became such a hot topic, I became very interested in it even though I still wasn’t clued in on what was going on. I decided to leave RS and got behind the scenes, doing some producing and songwriting. I told them I wanted to quit because I wanted to go back to school. I didn’t actually do that, though, because I had to make a living. Now that I’m becoming more passionate, I want to learn more about the academic world and social movements. I want to go to all these protests and see what people’s got to say. It’s all part of what I do now musically.
Socially and politically speaking, how did the shift come about?
Protozua: I think for me and a lot of other people, the shift came when we were exposed to a new set of information. When we were kids, we were subservient. We knew what we knew about this country through the books they gave us, so certain facts and information were withheld. The Internet wasn’t all that great back in those days, but now pretty much everything can be found online very quickly. I never used to be so vocal about politics, because I was ignorant. I didn’t realize that what I saw on TV didn’t tell the whole story.
For me, the shift came about when I told my friends in a LINE group that I’d go to the police station where Lawyer Anon was transferred to after he got arrested. The thing is, when we perform, I’m usually the one in the back. I cover my face in our music videos because I can never be too sure about my own safety. When they brought Lawyer Anon to the police station near my place, I told my friends that I would go there to give him support. My friend used the word “moral compass.” These actions come with a price to pay. Some people are driven by rage, disappointment or angst. I was driven more by frustration. Lawyer Anon was speaking truthfully and sincerely and he didn’t deserve to be arrested because of that.
What’s your work process like?
Jacoboi: We usually come up with a concept first. We see who comes up with what concept, then decide who should step in to do the rapping. After discussing the concept among ourselves, we get started with songwriting.
Hockhacker: With rap, coming up with a concept and writing verses are two separate things. We throw everything together in a recording studio and edit out what doesn’t fit. After a few rounds of tweaking, we would have ourselves a finished song.
How do you choose a topic to rap about?
Hockhacker: Politics has been blowing up for a while now. The political climate was a bit different when “What My Country’s Got” came out. With “Reform,” it was purely inspired by the recent protests and what we saw and heard from the news. These keywords were everywhere in the media.
So, Hockhacker, you were detained by the police?
Hockhacker: Yes, the experience taught me how the law works. I now know what the procedures are once you get arrested — where you need to go and what you need to do for your case to be tried in court. I learned more about the judicial process and the law so that I could protect myself and be more careful about what I rap about.
I don’t really know what happened when I got arrested. Actually, several of us were served with either summons or arrest warrants. Jacoboi got the warrant, me and Numba9 got the summons. This other guy also got the summons, but he wasn’t in our band to begin with. I asked him to join us last minute. It sucked.
When Numba9 got the summons
Jacoboi: It was the first protest on July 18th. They invited me and Hockhacker to put on a show there. The sound system wasn’t very good so we decided to rap without backing track. Numba9 also came to see us because he lives in the neighborhood.
Numba9: I knew that Hockhacker would be there. I know my way around the area so if push ever comes to shove, I can help them escape.
Protozua: He said “I’ve got a motorbike. I’ll give you a ride through these alleys” (laughs).
Numba9: Hockhacker then told him that if he really wanted to help, he could do so by getting on the stage.
Jacoboi: We never rehearsed the song before. We just read the lyrics from our phones and rapped it off. No self-introduction either. When the photos got out, people tagged him on Facebook and that was how he was identified. The poor kid was only trying to help.
Skanbombomb: That was actually an audition (laughs).
Protozua: So, it doesn’t matter if you can rap really well, you have to be arrested first before you can join the squad.
Hockhacker: And now he’s on the art cover of the single “Reform.” Practically a movement leader now (laughs).
How did it feel to get the summons?
Numba9: I was feeling pretty elated before I got on that stage (laughs). That changed, though, when I got the summons. I went into a full panic mode, like what am I gonna get arrested? I’d never had any summons before in my life up until that point. Never had any run-in with the police. My parents were stressing out. My mom warned me not to go from the beginning. The police were trying to intimidate me in any way they could. I was more furious than sad at that point. It’s like I already had one foot inside the prison cell.
How different are today’s protests compared to the ones in the past?
Jacoboi: So different. I feel that this time, there’s a lot of groups involved. The movement is not monopolized by one specific group. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. Unlike PAD or UDD, today’s protests see leaders of all stripes coming together to raise the issues that they’re passionate about. It’s well delegated and the fact that it’s all very diverse and makes it accessible for the general public as well. I perform at almost every protest as long as the message aligns with my ideology.
Hockhacker: Some protests have a very clear-cut demand while others have several smaller ones. I went to the one in Korat, and there was even a feminist group demanding decrocracy there. There’s also a gathering where like-minded people come together simply to show solidarity like the one I went to at Aksa road with the Red Shirts. It’s all pretty diverse and democratic.
What about the protesters?
Jacoboi: I would say that the previous protests were a bit more grassroots. I mean, the protesters who come from other provinces still join us today and they’re even more active than ever, organizing their own activities and such.
Dif Kids: The protests are not just about people giving speeches anymore. You can express your opinions in your own artistic way. I feel like the protestors have become so much more creative.
Hockhacker: Like the skateboarding group. They didn’t even need to get on the stage and make a speech. They were given their own space to skate, and that’s how they expressed themselves. There’s so much variety at these protests now. It’s a platform where people get to speak their minds equally.
Why did you pick The Ratsadon’s protest site to shoot the MV for “Reform”?
Skanbombomb: We knew that we wanted to shoot this MV at a protest. It was the idea that we had from the beginning. It just so happened that everything fell into place. We were planning to debut the song at Mob Fest set to take place in the following week anyway.
Hockhacker: The song is meant to be a protest song that rallies the spirit of the people. No one was organizing a protest at the time and suddenly we were told that there would be Mob Fest on November 14. Even though we weren’t 100% sure about the track, we had to hurry and finish it. Then, all of the sudden, The Ratsadon announced its own protest. Skanbombomb had to quickly put together a production team on site.
Skanbombomb: The timing was just right. We chose a protest site because we also wanted to give support to the protestors. We wanted to capture what was really happening at the protest. I think an MV is a great medium. It’s easier to digest than news. I wanted people overseas to know what’s going on in this country.
Jacoboi: When we were shooting, we also encouraged protesters to join in. They were happy to do so because they agreed with our message. It went smoothly.
Hockhacker: The bit where we shout “Get out” in the song, we wanted to have the resounding “hey!” in the background. We did that in the studio a couple of times but we actually saw that happening in real time at the protest. Also, the scene at the Democracy Monument, Skanbombomb was in charge of rounding up some people to join us. They recognized us from the song “What My Country’s Got,” so they were really accommodating.
Skanbombomb: When I saw that people were raiding the barriers surrounding the monument, I told RAD to get in on the action. It was totally a money shot (laughs).
Protozua: I said to them, “Gather round. Let’s rehearse first. When we say “Get out,” you guys go “Hey hey!”
Tell us about the inspiration behind your MVs
Hockhacker: “What My Country’s Got” was shot in one long shot. It was our director Teerawat Rujintham’s idea. We’ve been collaborating with him for a while so it felt right. Skanbombomb is already part of the team as well.
Skanbombomb: When the production team heard the track, we knew that we wanted the visual for it to be memorable and that it can reach a wide audience. We alluded to the student massacre on October 6th due to its similarities to the current protests. We wanted it to be a reminder of how things could take a turn for the worse.
Hockhacker: For “Reform,” we had other people involved like the production and directing teams. We all chipped in because it was our first joint effort. We all sat with the editing team, choosing the footage together. It was finished in two days. While we try to do everything by ourselves, if there’s a volunteer offering us help, we’re not opposed to the idea either.
Jacoboi: Given the nature of our content, we want someone who shares the same political views. We’re open for a collaboration with like-minded people.
Do artists have a social responsibility?
Protozua: I want to communicate with people based on reasoning, circumstances, and emotions. I try to document my feelings towards society while taking into account the many different perspectives. I don’t want to define a role for anyone. It’s up to each artist to define his own job description.
Jacoboi: I’m not sure if it’s artists’ responsibility. For me, I think the role of artists is to express their views and communicate them to society at large. The public also needs to understand your message otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity. That’s our role as artists. Doesn’t matter what message or how you express it, that’s a different story.
Taboo subject matter
3฿one: I don’t want to be specific. I believe that a lot of people have something to say, it’s just that there’s no safe platform for them to do so. We have to think of the how, how we approach the subject. It depends on the artist.
Protozua: I think that fear makes us conscious. We have to be careful and be aware of what the limit is. Like, when it comes to a certain someone, you have to talk about them without ever mentioning their name. This way, the law can’t get you.
Hockhacker: For the songwriting, we have the process where we sit down and rewrite the lyrics. Anything that deems a bit too risque or potentially incriminating, we would forward it to our lawyer for approval. So far, we haven’t gotten in trouble for our lyrics, though.
What changes did you see with the release of “Reform”?
Hockhacker: I notice that a lot of young people are getting braver and more outspoken. From the view count that we got, I believe that people are willing to hear what we have to say. I’m glad that political rap can get as many views as commercial rap. If these issues get communicated in a powerful way, people will be open to hearing about them. Who would have thought that 112 and the monarchy would be discussed openly in only a few months?
Jacoboi: It’s like turning on a faucet, unlocking what’s inside people’s mind. And now that there’s a song about it, it inspires people to take a hard look at what’s going on in this country. It’s all happening very quickly. We get to see and hear what we’ve never experienced before.
What would be RAD’s next hot topic?
Hockhacker: We haven’t really sat down to talk about it yet. I think it sort of flows with the protests. We do have some topics in mind though. Military draft is one, we’re currently doing research on that. Another one is the Thai education system, which is a hot issue among the younger generation.
If it’s the issue that people are passionate about, it’s not difficult to put it into songs. Our music is fuelled by anger and frustration. It’s just that we need to think about the approach we want to take. If we talk about the military draft, who will be the target audience, conscripts or the powers that be? Actually, I want to make songs that are more on the easy-listening side as well. We have two tracks like that already, but we want to do more. Maybe do some featuring with folk artists.
“If Thai politics were good….”
Hockhacker: If Thai politics were good, we wouldn’t be sitting talking about politics like this. We wouldn’t have to worry about risking losing our jobs only because we dare express our opinions and want our demands met. Several members of RAD have been intimidated by the police. Those who haven’t gotten the summons or warrants have had police coming round to their houses to check on them. If politics were good, these things wouldn’t have happened.
Jacoboi: If politics were good, social issues would be addressed, discussed and properly dealt with. Everything circles back to politics. If politics were good, we would be able to have open discussions regardless of who should become the prime minister. The parliament has to address these protests and take the people’s demands into account. It’s not their job to criticize the protesters. The state of this country’s politics are total shit. It’s a vicious cycle. People have the right to protest. We shouldn’t have to be scared of getting arrested.
Skanbombomb: If politics were good, we wouldn’t have to get up at 6 in the morning to register for the ‘Khon La Krueng’ campaign.
Numba9: If politics were good, I wouldn’t have been late to today’s interview (because we wouldn’t have had traffic jams).
3฿one: If politics were good, I wouldn’t have to feel so hopeless about life. Why does my life has to suck this bad? A lot of people feel this way, you know?
Dif Kids: If politics were good, yellow rubber ducks would have just been yellow rubber ducks.
Protozua: If the politics were good, there would be a lot less fear in my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job, about being able to raise my kid, about the police. It’s not fun living in fear.
Now, if Thai politics were good, what say you?