Hmong-American hip hop hits a vinyl milestone

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FresThao.jpgVinyl is back… as in vinyl records. And there’s a new release that collectors may want to check out.

With the help of a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Minnesota man recently released what appears to be the first vinyl record put out by a Hmong-American musician.

Fres Thao is a hip-hop artist and poet who lives in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. His new album is called Mind Full Of.

Thao said he was drawn to vinyl partly because the medium plays such an important role in hip-hop history.

“When I first started music, I was torn between becoming a rapper/poet and becoming a DJ,” Thao said. “I guess this is my way of just combining both of them.”

That wasn’t the only unorthodox choice for Thao. He also collaborated on the record with a collective of Hmong-American musicians calling themselves The Pupils of the Storm.

“You really have to have a connection, a chemistry with the musicians if you’re planning on doing a full live band, versus rapping to a loop or CD,” Thao said. “It’s just not as dynamic.”

Thao said much of the music created by younger Hmong-American rappers echoes traditional forms of storytelling in Hmong culture.

“Although there’s a big generation gap, if you really look at a big picture, a lot of these young hip-hop MCs are pretty much doing what our elders are doing, just storytelling in a form of poetry to a certain pattern,” Thao said.

In the fifteen years he’s been involved in hip hop, Thao said his focus has shifted.

“I started off as an egotistical rapper, a hungry rapper is what they call it, it was always about competition,” Thao said. “Now I’m at the point where I’ve learned to appreciate everything and become a lot more aware of what’s happening around me.”

Mind Full Of is available digitally online. If you want the vinyl version, Thao said it will be in local shops soon.