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Pain, Hazard Clique's 'Big Brother,' on the Trio's Formation and Friendship

If you consider yourself acquainted with the local rap and hip-hop scene, you probably have Pain aka Đại Ca P on your listening radar. As one part of the creative trio Hazard Clique, this charismatic Spaniard and his equally magnetic music have advocated for underground rap and hip-hop production since before the heyday of these genres in Vietnam.

Pain, whose real name is Adrian Rodgers Luelmo, was born in Scotland, but later moved to and grew up in Spain. At the age of 12, he began listening to R&B and hip-hop artists and dreaming of becoming one himself one day. Twenty years ago, this dream culminated in the release of the single ‘Pain,’ which turned out to be self-titular, as he retrospectively took it as his stage name.

When he joined Hazard Clique, he received another nickname, Đại Ca P, from fellow member Blacka. “In Vietnamese, the term đại ca refers to the leader of a gang, a person who leads a group or a big brother figure, so to speak. When I became their đại ca, I became more Vietnamese somehow too,” Pain says with a grin.

Chapter 1: Becoming Hazard Clique's Big Brother

As someone who’s always been fascinated by Southeast Asian culture, Pain decided to move to Thailand, before visiting Vietnam in 2009. Met by the kindest people and the most envious food selections, his affection for the country grew; thus Pain extended his stay by picking up a job as an English teacher, while continuing to pursue music on the side.

At the time, Vietnam’s underground music scene was unlike what it is today. The production was modest, the crews were working separately, and television was limited to “public friendly” music, so no airtime was allocated for rock, rap and hip-hop. Pain recounts how he first joined the local rap circle: “Through G Family, [an underground artist community founded by legendary rapper Acy] I came to know Blacka. He was only 14 or 15 years old then, but his energy was off the roof.”

While Blacka quickly hit it off with Pain, Hazard Clique’s other third, Cam, was much more reserved. Still, the young talent left a lasting impression on Pain, and got invited to Pain's own show, Strictly Street. “Cam was a high school student at the time, and I was a teacher at his school. He sort of followed my footsteps and became an English teacher slash rapper as well,” Pain says.

(Form left to right) Blacka, Pain and Cam.

Before long, Blacka asked Pain if he would like to join the group that he was founding. “I remember we were texting to discuss the group's name, when suddenly, I came up with the phrase 'Hazard Clique.' And we just stuck with it because it sounds so unique. Fast forward, I told Blacka that it would be great to have one more in the group. He asked me who I wanted to add, and I immediately chose Cam. That’s how Hazard Clique was created in 2013.”

Each of the three are distinct in terms of their individual styles, but they make an oddly good fit, Pain says. Blacka is a master of flow, while Cam, being very musically gifted, can play different instruments and switch between different cadences and tunes. Meanwhile, Pain sees lyrics and emotion as his first priority.

So far, Hazard Clique’s run as a group has given birth to a phenomenal discography, some of which include ‘Bốn Ba Hai Một '(Four Three Two One), 'Cái Thú’ (The Fun), 'Hào Hùng Ca' (Song of Glory) and 'Đồ Ngon’ (Good Stuff). But among all of these, Pain thinks 'Bốn Ba Hai Một' is the most special. “It’s the perfect track for anyone that loves hip-hop, because the lyrics really speak to people. It’s like reading a book, you can come up with your own story and characters when you listen to ‘Bốn Ba Hai Một.'”

On top of a rhythmic beat interlaced with the invasive sounds of screams, AK guns, and gasping breaths, Cam sounds almost nonchalant, Blacka wails, and Pain is just simply composed in his delivery. The lyrics allude to the tricks, the malevolence and grudges that inevitably cause tragedies for humans. To serve this theme, the song even samples the lecture "The cycle of the universe" by Buddhist Master Thích Trí Huệ for the intro.

The music video for 'Một Hai Ba Bốn.'

In recent years, hip-hop has begun to receive a lot of attention through competitions and TV shows.

In the 12 years that Pain lived and worked in Saigon, he has witnessed the transformation not only of the city, but also of hip-hop music. "In recent years, hip-hop has begun to receive a lot of attention through competitions and TV shows. Pop songs also incorporate more rap. However, there are also some singers and artists who try to rap just for the sake of being famous and dropping names, and then calling it hip-hop and rap."

Chapter 2: One's Own Path

In addition to joint activities with Hazard Clique, Pain and his teammate have also released solo works. In 2020, Pain released a joint album with the rapper Blaise called "True Story," which consists of seven tracks. To give the album a raw and authentic feel, the production utilized as little studio processing as possible. Autotune, in particular, was one of the big no's.

According to Pain, the album is about an elderly man reading books to his children and grandchildren. Each song is like a story, focusing on a different element like the flow, the lyrics, etc. “Blaise is a very calm person, very chill. Being able to work with him, someone who has a different perspective, energy, and idea, was an amazing experience.”

In good news for Pain and Hazard Clique's fans, the recent stretch of social distancing has given him plenty of time to revamp his creative process. He is open to testing new ideas and trying out new genres and styles, as well as new musical instruments like guitar and piano. "My Vietnamese has also gotten much better. But I can’t do a full rap track in Vietnamese entirely just yet, since some listeners have asked! I have, though, managed to sneak a bit of Vietnamese into some tracks, like 'Who Talks.'"

During the lockdown, Pain also released the track 'Never Did I,' which is inspired by old-school rap and is much more laid-back than his previous creations. The writing was easy, he says: "Everything just came naturally. I heard the chorus play in my head, so I wrote it down. The song came out exactly the way I wanted it to."

“'Never Did I’ also marks a new milestone for Pain, since it is the very first release where he came up with a music video himself. Against slow-tempo beats, the MV is filled with playful details, like the random presence of personified eggs. In a way, it’s a lot like an oddly wrapped gift that delivers Pain’s affection to his fans.“Before releasing ‘Never Did I,’ I sent it to Cam so that he could have a first listen. In the past, Cam used to give me a lot of good advice, and for this song, he told me to call him right away and gave me nothing but praise,” Pain adds.

'Never Did I' is the very first music video that Pain planned and executed.

To be continued

Like many others, Pain has suffered setbacks from the pandemic, as his educational company has run into several financial difficulties. But Pain is seeing the silver lining in things: “The pandemic is bad, but on the other hand, I think many of us have had more time to think about the present, about the future. I myself have learned to appreciate what I have more, and learnt how to do basic things like fixing a meal and cleaning the house. I used to work as a chef at a kitchen before, but when I came to Vietnam, the food was so delicious and cheap that I stopped getting in the kitchen. But a year after the pandemic broke out, I am again cooking for myself.'”

In the near future, Pain plans to release a few solo songs, and at the same time, he and Hazard Clique are also actively preparing for their next album "Get the Season." The album will represent spring, summer, autumn and winter, with each season representing a different color and characteristic.

“You know, I also want to make some sort of TV series or movie in Vietnam,” Pain exclaims at the end of our talk. A rapper, producer, chef, English teacher, and TV producer, it did only take him 12 years to fulfill all his dreams in this strange promised land. What other surprises does our resident Spanish all-rounder have in store for us in the future?

[Photos courtesy of Pain.]

Quãng 8, which means "octave" in Vietnamese, is a series of articles on Vietnam's new generation of unique music personalities. Know an interesting musician and want to introduce them to our readers? Send us an email via [email protected] with your ideas.

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