Asian Australian musicians explore themes of diaspora and culture through hip hop

From reclaiming pop culture references to surviving pirates and perilous journeys, a new generation of Asian Australian hip hop artists are drawing on their culture and backgrounds as inspiration for their lyrics and drive. 

Augustian Vu regularly references his Asian heritage in his music and sees hip-hop as the perfect vehicle to showcase his culture. 

He’s a second-generation migrant from Vietnam based in Brisbane who uses the medium to describe his Asian Australian experience.

“[My music] is very heavy, and I think it does kind of give me reminisces of like the Vietnam War and like a lot of that sort of influence,” he said.

“I think Asian and hip hop go together so well.”

For his music, Vu goes by ZIPPERHEAD.

“My name derives from [a] racial slur … [from] Full Metal Jacket, the Stanley Kubrick movie,” he said.

The film about the Vietnam War has a scene showing an American soldier posing and taking a photo with a dead Vietnamese soldier.

“[An American solider] was saying, ‘Happy Birthday Zipperhead’ … I wanted to take the name and like, spin it into something that’s kind of cool,” Vu said.

“Hip hop is so amazing. It’s such a versatile sort of art form.” 

Man smiling at the camera in front of a stage.

Augstian Vu gave himself the stage name ZIPPERHEAD.(ABC Asia: Sophie Johnson)

It’s a sentiment shared by Asian Australian artist Elcid Flores, also based in Brisbane.

Growing up in a Filipino household meant being surrounded by music day in and out.

His cultural background has long inspired him to sing loudly and write original songs.

“Filipinos by design and culture, I guess are very, very musical — I grew up singing karaoke every single day,” he said.

“My household, we’re always dancing, I’ve always loved that creative side of me.”

Guided by the Magic Sing karaoke machine, Flores knew performing was his path from a young age.

His original work features hip hop and RnB genres: using hip hop to express his individuality, and RnB to explore his emotions.

Musician singing into microphone on stage.

Elcid Flores is a hip hop and RnB artist based in Brisbane.(ABC Asia: Sophie Johnson)

Being Asian Australian

Vu uses hip hop and rap to articulate his experience growing up in Queensland as an Asian Australian. 

“When I am in a lot of rooms, I am sometimes the only Asian person, and it does feel a bit like, kind of off,” he said.

“I wrote a song about it called ALIENZ.”

His parents moved to Australia about 30 years ago.

“My parents immigrated after the Vietnam War … [and] decided to move to Australia, by boat,” he said.

“My mum’s sister drowned on the boat and there were pirates.

“Back then it was communist, so it was really hard to actually get out of Vietnam.”

Flores’s family has a unique story of migration.

“This [German Australian] guy was just like, looking to marry a Filipino lady,” he said.

One of his grandmother’s best friends dared her to answer the message, and she moved to Australia. 

Flores was born in Toowoomba, one the state’s regional hubs, and said the city’s Filipino community was very tight knit.

“It was like Filo parties all the time,” he said.

“If someone had a birthday, they’d hire out a karaoke [machine] and it’d be like a bunch of us kids just running around, [it was] really, really good.”

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