My name is Barry and I’m here to say / Hold free elections / Let people be gay.
On Wednesday, towards the end of his visit to Vietnam, Barack Obama held a town hall meeting with hundreds of young people in Ho Chi Minh City. One woman introduced herself as a rapper before asking the president a question, and he encouraged her to share a verse. He also offered to beatbox, briefly demonstrating his skills (or lack thereof, really).
“Before I answer your question, why don’t you give me a little rap? Let’s see what you got,” Obama said. “Come on. Do you need like a little beat? Pch-ch p-p-p-p-pch.”
The woman, a rapper named Suboi, asked whether she should deliver her verse in Vietnamese or English. “In Vietnamese, of course,” Obama said.
After spitting a few bars, Suboi described her rap as a critique of materialism. “I was just talking about some people having a lot of money, having big houses. But actually, are they really happy?” It was also, she said, about sexism.
Obama took the opportunity to return to a theme of his visit: the importance of free speech and expression, using hip-hop as an example: “Imagine if at the time that rap was starting off that the government had said ‘no because some of the things you say are offensive or some of the lyrics are rude or you’re cursing too much.’”
“That connection that we’ve seen now in hip-hop culture around the world wouldn’t exist. So you’ve got to let people express themselves. That’s part of what a modern 21st-century culture is all about.”