If you ask the Vietnamese rap group, Heart2Exist, why they wanted to be rappers/songwriters, they will simply tell you: “We love music. Music allows us to express ourselves in a unique way. It breaks between barriers of class, race, and ethnicity. Music is universal. Music is respected and a part of nearly every culture. We sing because we feel it’s our connection to others.”
Initially, we had a specific target audience of Asian Americans. But now we realize it’s important to create music that can unite everyone and connect us all closer.
Heart2Exist, which includes brothers Le Huy Phong and Le Huy Phat, as well as close friends of the brothers, Ngoc Diem and Pauline Truc, have been creating their niche in the Vietnamese music community as one of the pioneering Vietnamese-American rap groups. Haling from San Jose, California, this group has been putting out good vibes since 2002 with their debut album “Who I Am” (Asia Entertainment). They recently put out their sophomore album, “Til the End,” which is being released under their own label, H2E Productions.
Don’t mistake this singing group as just being a one hit wonder. Heart2Exist (H2E for short) is a lot more than just being a Vietnamese rap group. There is always something beneficial to learn from their music. They hope to make a difference in other people’s lives with their music. However, they want to make music not only for the Vietnamese community, but also for other ethnic communities to enjoy.
Asiance Magazine sat down with H2E to talk about the progress of their music careers, their new album, Til the End, and their goal of trying to reach the masses with their music.
ASIANCE: What runs through your minds when you guys perform?
H2E: When we perform we definitely focus on the message. We want to make sure the audience can feel our music, and understand what we stand for. We hope that when Heart2exist performs the audience will remember our performance. But as long as we can touch one person it’s worth our energy.
ASIANCE: Do you have other fans besides your Vietnamese fans?
H2E: Yeah, it’s interesting how diverse our fan base is. We get supportive letters and emails from fans all around the world – Australia, Europe, Asia, even South America. People write to us saying that they relate to the messages in our songs. African Americans, Caucasians, and Mexican-Americans have told us that our songs have touched them. That means the world to us. That’s what keeps us to continue our pursuit in creating music.
ASIANCE: Does your music have a specific target audience?
H2E: Initially, we had a specific target audience of Asian Americans. But now we realize it’s important to create music that can unite everyone and connect us all closer. Themes of love, cultural awareness, freedom, understanding and struggles can be felt and understood by nearly everyone.
ASIANCE: What do you guys mostly sing/rap about?
H2E: H2E hopes others see our music as a reflection on life, love, culture, pride, heritage, sacrifice, and respect. Our hope is that when others listen to our music, it helps them understand our life’s journey. And hopefully they realize that our life’s journey runs parallel with theirs, for it is a human experience. It is also a celebration of differences, a respect for diversity and a commitment to work towards change for good.
ASIANCE: When you guys write songs, do you feel more comfortable writing and singing in English or in Vietnamese?
H2E: We are comfortable writing and singing in both languages. Being bilingual helps us get our message heard by a larger audience. It would be great if we can learn Spanish, Chinese, or other languages to perform in. That would be an awesome ability.
ASIANCE: Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
H2E: The inspiration for our songs comes from life experiences and our reflection of other people’s experiences. We inspire to write music so that when someone listens to it they may say, “Hey, that’s how I feel – I just didn’t know how to express that.” That’s the type of music that inspires us when we listen to other artist’s music.
ASIANCE: What do you think makes H2E unique, besides being Vietnamese rappers?
H2E: What makes Heart2exist unique is our music. We really wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to our music. We aren’t afraid to perform songs that have meaning in our lives, even when it’s politically or socially sensitive. Freedom of expression should be respected and utilized in order to open dialogue among all cultures.
ASIANCE: H2E released a previous album before “Til the End.” What were some similar and different things when you made that album and this recently released album?
H2E: “Who I Am” was Heart2exist’s debut album in 2002. “Til the End” was recently released this year. Both albums have hip-hop, rap and ballads. “Who I Am” was co-produced by Asia entertainment, while “Til the End” was produced by Heart2exist, which gave us the freedom to spend more time and dedication on the album. “Til the End” is a truer reflection of what Heart2exist music is about. We had the ability to be more creative in this album by adding more diversity, such as skits and Vietnamese traditional musically instruments, such as Cai Luong guitars and violins, combined with hip-hop beats.
ASIANCE: Like all recording artists, you need to always be improving on the music you create. How do you guys improve the way you make your music?
H2E: We are constantly learning more about all aspects of music: musical arrangement, audio recording, mixing, performing, and lyrical writing. By creating our own music studio we are able to learn each day and have the flexibility to experiment with our music.
ASIANCE: How much time do you guys spend writing songs and recording?
H2E: It’s strange. Some songs take a few hours to write while others take months. It’s mostly about inspiration and motivation. We wrote our first song “Who I am” in only a few days because it was a very personal song for us. The lyrics to the song flowed out very easily.
Recording? Many long, frustrating sleepless nights. We tend to be very picky when it comes to recording our songs because we want to make sure the expressions and attitudes in our recordings can be understood by the listeners.
ASIANCE: What radio stations play your music?
H2E: It’s so hard to get the mainstream media to play our music because we are an independent group. Most of our publicity is through word of mouth. Our fans have really supported us and spread the word out to the community that music like ours exist. We hope to get more promotion and airplay form the mainstream radio stations because we think it’s important that themes in our music get discussed and explored more in our society.
ASIANCE: Where has H2E traveled to so far?
H2E: We’ve had opportunities to perform all over the United States. Some of our favorite places are Seattle, California Bay Area, Southern California, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Missouri, and Washington DC. We’ve also performed in Toronto and Montreal, Canada. We hope to find time to tour in all the major U.S. cities, Canada, Europe and Australia. Our dream is to one day perform in a Vietnam that has true freedom.
ASIANCE: Besides touring, what current musical projects are you guys working on?
H2E: We are always endeavoring to grow with our music and touch a wider audience with our music. We are also trying to collaborate with new talents and established artists to create an album that can bring something innovative and fresh to the music scene.
ASIANCE: Any last thoughts you would like to express?
H2E: Yes, Heart2Exist would sincerely like to thank our fans for supporting our music through the years. For those who haven’t heard Heart2Exist’s music we invite you to open your hearts to our music and we hope you get something from our music. Even if people don’t enjoy our music we appreciate their open minds and respect. Thank you.
Visit www.heart2exist.com for more information and the latest updates.