While American Top 40 hip-hop might have become the dance music of choice in Taiwan over the past couple of years, there’s also a local underground hip-hop scene that has been developing here for the past decade. People in the community are saying that this year will be “the golden age” of Taiwanese hip-hop music, since close to 10 albums have been released or are slated for release this year. One of these is The Beginning of Rhymes by the TriPoets, a striking offering infused with smooth jazzy beats, dope samples, and poetic-yet-comic, dialogue-like lyrics.
TriPoets is made up of MCs Ill Mo, Shortee and Teacher Lin. They look nothing like the stereotypical nightclub hip-hopper: no tattoos, no bling, no condescending attitude. On the contrary, they are highly educated, courteous “bookworms” who look a little bit nerdy. But they are able to release an album nonetheless because they are among the select few of remarkable rappers here who truly live up to the title of street poets. Incorporating a true story, an attitude and a concept into an enjoyable song is what they believe real hip-hop music should do.
The members of TriPoets are devoted hip-hop fans who have researched rap like academics and have put their hearts into learning how to rhyme. Teacher Lin launched Taiwan’s first online hip-hop forum some 10 years ago. It was called Master U and was where Taiwan’s most renowned MCs Hot Dog and Dog-G first began to show their talent, as well as where the TriPoets members first met. Lin went on to run National Taiwan University’s Hip-Hop Culture Club while he was an undergraduate there. He became famous for his ability to turn Chinese classical poetry into brilliantly modern rap, and earned the name Teacher Lin because he was the most knowledgeable and legendary figure in the club.
Shortee made his name as a hip-hop DJ before he picked up the mic. He was also an active member of the Hip-Hop Culture Club. After finishing medical school, Shortee opened a record shop instead of pursuing a career as a doctor. Many people might scratch their heads at this decision, but Shortee says promoting good music is more important than making money.
Ever since the crew was formed in 2002, Ill Mo has been its creative leader. He was bitten by the hip-hop bug when he went to high school in New York. “Although I lived in New York for a while, I didn’t really get to hear that much cool hip-hop music until I came back to Taipei and discovered a little record shop [run by DJ Chicano] that carried really dope imported records,” he says. It took Ill Mo 10 years and three different universities to finish college and graduate school after returning to Taiwan because he dedicated way much more time to songwriting than homework.
Having performed with Ice-T, Public Enemy, Supernatural, Toni Blackman and Kero One and released the mixtape Listen & Speak in 2004, TriPoets has honed a reputation as a first-class act in Taiwan. For Ill Mo, Shortee and Teacher Lin, performing hip-hop is not about being a star. “It’s all about our love for the music,” Ill Mo says. “Even if there’s no audience, we’ll still keep on rapping!”
To learn more about TriPoets, check out www.myspace.com/tripoets.
The outfit performs at Riverside Music Cafe, B1, 2, Ln 244, Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (北市羅斯福路三段244巷2號B1), on Sunday at 9:30pm. Entrance is NT$350.