Rangoon Rhythm: Hip hop star Jimmy Jacobs

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Jimmy Jacbos at JAM IT! (Nintysix Photography).

Young Myanmar people call it “old school” now, but in the mid 1990s and 2000s the pioneering beats of Myo Kyawt Myaing and hip hop group Acid were fresh, exciting and rebellious. Though Acid’s first album (and Myanmar’s first ever hip hop album) Beginning is still much-loved 18 years after its release, the game has moved on and a new hip hop generation has arrived. One of its flag-bearers is Soe Aung Kyaw, 27, also known as Jimmy Jacobs.

“Even though our country is running a little late in other areas, it is not running late in music,” he says. “We followed the international trends, but the audience was left behind, so there’s a little concern about what we do now and what the audience wants.”

Soe Aung Kyaw comes from a creative family that includes a guitarist brother of band Romance House and a sister who is a director of photography. He began making hip hip in 2007 with his group BMC who released their debut album Moe Hte Lay Hte (In the Rain) in 2008.

After a brief spell with rap collective Homie, he teamed up with his best friend, rapped Luffie, and their music producer to create Swag Music Entertainment (SME) in December, 2009. With over 200 shows in the rearview, Soe Aung Kyaw reflects that his original impetus for making music came from an inability to discuss his feelings with others. Hip hop, he says, was the best way to express them.

“Sometimes I write at home, but other times I’ll join friends and we’d drive through the city, thinking of creative lyrics. I’ve built a little studio at my home so I can work alone too.”

A decade ago, when access to the internet was limited in Myanmar, he was handing out CDs and cassettes of his work at his shows. Money was tight but he kept going because he believed in his songs. To relax, he will listen to some of his own music, or his other favorite genre: lounge music. If he wasn’t a rapper, he would be a producer of that jazzy swing concoction, he jokes.

Soe Aung Kyaw “accepts that EDM is taking over” the hip hop scene but emphasises that Myanmar hip hop lovers will never see the genre completely fade. “Every young adult likes hip hop,” he saus. “It’s freedom music and a good way to express your feelings.”

His latest commercial album Hooligans or Lann Ta Yell in Burmese, released in September, 2017, and his other music can be listened to on his Facebook page as well as iTunes, JOOZ, and Soundcloud, under the name Jimmy Jacobs.

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