Hip-Hop Group The Low Mays on Being a Beacon for Hong Kong’s Youth
Being bold and rebellious has made The Low Mays a crowd favourite. The six-member independent hip-hop group first emerged in Hong Kong’s music scene in 2015 and within the following year, amassed a loyal following for their satirical themes and rhythm-centric approach to music.
Consisting of rappers Creme Supreme, Lil Hanwo, Butcher Fong, Matty Bospel, Yung Bumbleblee and Healthy Lin, The Low Mays pride themselves as the Godfathers of Cantonese trap music and Hong Kong’s Mong Kok (MK) youth counterculture. Since going viral in 2016, the group has sold out every single show that they performed in. In 2018, they released two highly-anticipated albums and recently made their comeback this year with a new viral single, a sold-out concert in Ocean Park and the release of their third album.
Now, The Low Mays is set to perform at Gluestick and Chivas’ upcoming Wet & Wild hip-hop independent festival on December 3. Ahead of their much-awaited performance, Tatler catches up with the group about being an indie hip-hop act, their approach to music and their hopes for the Hong Kong music industry.
What’s it like being an independent group in Hong Kong these days?
There was never really a question of whether or not we should remain independent for The Low Mays.
The traditional function of record labels to print and distribute physical records died with the digitisation of music. Anyone with a USB microphone and GarageBand on their laptop can make hits and become famous on a big platform like YouTube and Spotify or Apple Music—which is what happened to us in 2016. Thanks to the internet, we never needed any record executives or marketing team to develop or push our music and public image, everything has been organic.
That being said, we’d have to take up the functions of a record label on our own. For example, Nile Bun is basically the Artist & Repertoire (“A&R”) overseeing the artistic development of the group, and our manager, Justin deals with all the marketing and business aspects. It’s also important to have a good working relationship with talented music producers, video directors and photographers since the raps alone are nothing without them. It’s definitely hard work, but we’re probably the only 24 year-olds in Hong Kong who own all our master recordings.
You debuted in 2015. Has the independent music scene changed much?
Definitely. Over the past few years, significantly more Hongkongers have been paying attention to the “non-mainstream”, which is basically anything outside of ballad-oriented Cantopop and folk music. It definitely marks a cultural shift where people are tired of the old values and social conventions of a pre-covid and pre-political unrest time, and want to find new answers from local artists willing to break the mould.
In local hip-hop and R&B, we’ve seen a lot of new artists making it in the scene influenced by our past work and cultural impact. We’ve had younger artists come up to us saying we inspired them to stop overthinking and to start putting music out there. Not going to call them out by name though; we’re not trying to take credit for their success.
There are six of you in the group. How do you find the balance?
The Low Mays is sort of like a hive-mind. It’s the centre point between us that no one can claim to be on their own creation, so there’s very little ego involved. If someone has an idea, they throw it out into the group and everyone tries to manifest the vision together.
You pride yourself on being the Godfathers of Cantonese trap music and Mong Kok (MK) youth counterculture. Tell us more about that. What about trap music and MK youth counterculture makes it appealing? What should listeners know about it?
MK culture is the collective consciousness and lifestyle of all young people deemed outcasts by Hong Kong society. It can be crass, crude and frankly at times, disgusting. But there’s a certain endearing, authentic beauty to all this degeneracy. Real MK boys and girls don’t take disrespect from anybody. They have the spirit and courage to rebel against the social roles and expectations arbitrarily handed down to them. And they put friendship and family over everything. These people will determine the future of Hong Kong, whether the people like it or not.
Trap music is really Gen Z’s punk rock, a music genre created in response to the cruelty, exploitation and unrestrained greed of a hyper-capitalistic modern society. It’s the most honest and grounded popular music out there for our generation, and it’s becoming the biggest music genre in the world for a good reason. Cantonese trap music certainly has the potential to become a dominant cultural force in Hong Kong, however, it’s still in its early stages. The Hong Kong mainstream audience is still pretty resistant towards rebellious and “vulgar” lower-class elements. It’ll take a lot more songs combining existing tastes of Hong Kong music with what’s new and unknown to them.
What makes you different from other groups in Hong Kong?
This might sound a bit corny, but our music is a direct manifestation of our friendship. We’re brothers first and foremost, and we’ve really stuck together through thick and thin. That’s why we can speak our minds without judgment. What you hear on the record is really things we talk about casually between us. And that dynamic between the six of us is something no one can recreate. We’ve always been friends before artists.
What’s your approach to music and songwriting?
We’re firm believers in following your gut. Trust your instinct, say what you feel out loud and try to materialize the vision, even if it sounds stupid. Everything you do in the studio is golden. If you listen to it the next day and it’s terrible, scrap it and try again. Keep doing it. You can never create authentic work by strategising and overthinking.
You released two albums in 2018. That’s hard work. Is there a specific reason that you decide to do so?
We used to make and release music very fast. During our first year of putting out music in 2015, we put out four mixtapes within six months —Full H.A.M. Gardens, Dragon City Drug Manor, Gay 4 Christmas and Deep Throat Year. After we started going viral in 2016, we had been focusing on quality over quantity to avoid overwhelming our growing audience, slowing down the pace to about one project a year.
Releasing two albums in 2018 was us trying to recapture the spontaneity. Some of the songs like Fulham Space Station were literally made in 10 minutes, while Broke Ass was made in an hour. Of course, we have really outdone ourselves and was totally burned out by the end of it. So we slowed it back down.
You’ve headlined a couple of festivals in Hong Kong. What’s different about the Wet & Wild show?
Wet & Wild is the first Pokémon card themed concert in Hong Kong. And it’s in Ocean Park, a piece of every Hong Konger’s childhood memories. Expect a very playful, water-themed experience. And expect the unexpected.
You’ve already made your comeback performance in 2021. What else are you excited about in Wet & Wild?
We’ve seen a strong affinity between rap music and theme parks like Ocean Park. Like Kanye West calling himself the New Walt Disney”, Travis Scott and “Astroworld”. We’re trying to be the Allan Zeman of Hong Kong music with this show, to give everyone a magical and educational experience with this concert.
Live on your own terms, question everything, and don’t spend your whole life trying to live up to others expectations— The Low Mays
Beyond music, you’re also an advocate for youth mental health. Tell us why that’s important and how you contribute to the awareness/discussion in society.
Hong Kong people have a learned tendency to just cover up their problems and hope they’ll fade away with time, in the name of maintaining social harmony. We are big advocates of relentless self-understanding and self-acceptance, to honestly face your demons and stare into the deepest recesses of your mind, even if it gets homicidal or suicidal. Let your mind go wherever it takes you, and don’t be afraid of your shadow. True social harmony can only be achieved by mutual self-acceptance.
We’ve donated HK$100,000 to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Research and Prevention to fund creative programs for troubled youth. Creativity, whether music, visual art, writing or drama, is a powerful driver of self-understanding and psychological growth. Some of us have had incredibly turbulent upbringings and adolescence where we only pulled through thanks to music and friendship. As artists, we hope we can show the healing power of art.
What kind of messages do you want to send through your songs?
We want people to question what morality is. Life is too complex and important to unquestionably live according to social consensus. Live on your own terms, question everything, and don’t spend your whole life trying to live up to others expectations.
Where do you gain inspiration for what you do?
Our predecessors—any group of friends who stick together and try to create something celebrating their friendship. N.W.A. really stands out because they were just having fun and minding their own business like regular people for the most part of their career; their artistic and cultural impact was only evident in hindsight. Another one is the comedy rap group, The Lonely Island. Our mutual love for their ridiculous songs like I’m On A Boat really brought us together during the early days of our friendship. We saw it as a sign of rebellion towards the very conservative, hetero-normative school we attended.
What are your hopes for the Hong Kong music industry?
We’re looking forward to the death of television’s stranglehold on the music industry. For a long time, they’ve had a near-monopoly on public attention and corporate sponsorships. Thank goodness that’s starting to change thanks to the internet.
For a good two decades, the only path to stardom in Hong Kong was to win some TVB singing contest, sign a 10+ year contract with the TV network or some paternalistic entertainment company, and have them dictate your entire creative vision, musical output and career path. As long as this keeps up, Hong Kong music will never be able to evolve, and the real creatives will never get the resources and platform they need to connect with the masses.
The Low Mays will be performing at the Wet & Wild Hong Kong Hip-Hop Indie Festival on December 3. For more details, please visit the ticketing page.