Tue, Jul 02, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Rapper Dwagie explains role of activism in his work

By William Yen  /  CNA

Taiwanese rapper Dwagie poses for a photograph in Taipei on Oct. 1 last year.

Photo: Sung Chih-hsiung, Taipei Times

Taiwanese rapper Dwagie (大支) is not your average music star. For starters, he is the only rapper in Taiwan, and possibly in the world, who can claim collaboration with the Dalai Lama on a sound track and music video.

Dwagie also has the distinction of being one of the first rappers in the Chinese-speaking world to produce a full-length album.

Lotus From the Tongue, released in 2002, features his breakout track Taiwan Song.

Since then, Dwagie has become a top name in the Asian music industry.

For Dwagie, his music is not all about winning awards. Over the years, he has taken on the role of social activist, using his music as a medium to express his views on issues ranging from racism in the US to controversies involving Taiwan and China.

In the title track of his 2011 album People, he raps about poverty and injustice.

“We spend trillions on arms races, piling up rockets and planes, but are without resources to help poor children get education,” the lyrics read.

The track also features the Dalai Lama reciting part of the Tibetan Green Tara Mantra, which is believed to help overcome such problems.

Near the end of the track, the Dalai Lama speaks about the importance of working toward change, regardless of whether it will materialize in one’s lifetime.

“I often tell people: You should think right or wrong, then once you feel rightful, and can achieve, not complete, but at least some portion, that is achievement,” the Dalai Lama says in English on the music video for People.

Dwagie said it took two years to get the Dalai Lama to participate in the project.

First, he had to write a letter and send a demo of the song to the Dalai Lama’s representatives, then he had to wait for them to work around scheduling issues, the rapper said.

“In the end, I was very happy to make this seemingly impossible mission a reality,” Dwagie said.

The sheer power of having the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, on the album was amazing, Dwagie said.

Another collaboration that Dwagie is proud of is one with US rap legend Nas, who has sold more than 30 million records worldwide and is a household name among hip-hop fans.

“Nas is my idol and the main reason I chose hip hop instead of mainstream pop music,” Dwagie said. “At first, I thought it would be impossible to get him to agree to work with me, but after the Dalai Lama experience, I realized that nothing is impossible.”

Dwagie said he sent a letter to a friend who was working at Universal Music in New York, pitching the idea of Nas’ collaboration on the title track of the 2014 album Refuse to Listen.

“I know Nas’ style, and when he heard the concept of the song and the story behind it, he really liked it,” Dwagie said.

The concept of the song is about refusing to listen to naysayers who try to discourage people from achieving their goals.

Dwagie has also worked with another famous US rapper, Raekwon of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.

Together, they wrote the lyrics for the track Words to Trump, which Dwagie said was aimed at highlighting an increase in racism in the US following the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

For example, some Americans were telling immigrants to go back to their countries of origin, Dwagie said, citing stories related to him by friends in Los Angeles.

“So, we wrote this song to highlight what was happening, and I also urged him [Trump] not to use Taiwan as a chess piece,” Dwagie said.

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