Four Music Industry Insiders Choose The Best Music Of 2021

We already asked our team to pick their songs of the year. Now, we figured it was time to get some industry insights. Four people. Managers and producers who have worked on some of the tracks and music videos of the year. But which songs did they really love internationally…and locally?

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

Michael Choi is co-founder of InQ International. The creative hub do audio services, digital shows, and content. And they’re working with exciting up-and-coming artists like MINH and Vu Thanh Van. The InQ co-founder has endless stories, from playing bass for Mika to being on stage with Kanye. He might tell you over a cigar sometime. RAPITAL took over our end–of-year list with tracks like their ‘UầYYY Cipher’. So we invited their twenty-three-year-old project manager Huy Tee to talk music over the past year too. Then there’s Kyle Nguyen, business manager for the GERDNANG crew which grew to five members this year and he’s the CEO and co-founder for VIET Q MEDIA. And finally Hieu Marlin is founder of CDSL MGMT Co., an artist management company based in Hanoi that represents people like hnhngan, MCK, and TGSN, more artists who featured on our end-of-year music list. So, we asked all four to review 2021, their personal high and low points and the songs they’ve loved and listened to the most.

What were your personal high and low points of the year?

Michael Choi: Despite everything, there were a lot of high points. We released the first ever Spatial Audio mix from Vietnam, MINH’s ‘Heartbreaker’. We recorded and released MINH’s ‘Acoustic Mixtape’ too. And we signed the incredible Vu Thanh Van. Remarkably, we did all three right in the middle of lockdown. The low points were having to cancel so many plans and shows. We were going to go to Abby Road with Ngot. That didn’t happen…but it will.

Kyle Nguyen: The last few months have been the high-points of my career, and not just my year. Before that, I was running things from the States, which has its obvious challenges. Since travel resumed, I got back as quickly as I could, and being physically here has helped me find deals and help grow both VIET Q MEDIA and GERDNANG.

Hieu Marlin: It was a year of self-realization. It was a stark reminder of how young me and our artists are. Communication was hard. We struggled to adjust to working from home. Working with collaborators has been new for us too. But we have to get used to it to grow. But we came through, we’re growing the team, and we’re becoming a fully functioning management company.

Huy Tee: I think we all sacrificed personal freedom to help fight the pandemic. Personally, I helped build project after project despite the situation. You might describe the downtime as a ‘break’ but the time we had let me meditate on our artist’s careers, and search out new inspiration. Defining moments were releasing ‘EP: Rapitalove’ and the MV for ‘Never Stop’.

Tell us in more detail about some of the artists you’re working with?

Kyle Nguyen: There’s a lot, but let me start with two. MANBO has been pushing hard to get out of his comfort zone and embrace different genres. And HIEUTHUHAI is a very humble artist with ambition. He wants to start his own agency one day, infused with his work ethic and positive mindset.

Michael Choi: MINH is a super talented young singer-songwriter with an incredible vocal tone and lyrics that are so relevant to his generation and the global mindset of this internet age. Vu Thanh Van has gifts you can only be born with. She can sing in Vietnamese and English. But it’s her hunger to learn that made me want to work with her. Then there’s Vu Dinh Trong Thang. He’s a poet. I truly believe that with his talent and work ethic he’s going to become a very important figure in this country’s music history. Finally, Vu Cat Tuong. She’s an independent artist, but we’ve worked together for many years now. She’s an artist who’s constantly looking to break the ceiling. I love working with her.

Hieu Marlin: hnhngan is one of the industry’s most diligent artists. She’s clear about what she wants. And I can only describe working with her as a blessing. MCK is so talented, versatile and creative. Working with him pushes me to be a better manager and it’s full of surprises – he always comes up with new ideas.

Huy Tee: Both with the RAPITAL crew and other artists I’ve worked with, there’s this feeling that they’re rebellious and hard to manage. The reality is different. In real life, they’re friendly and hard-working.

If you could pick one track to represent your year, which is it and why?

Huy Tee: Rapital’s first MV of the year, ‘Never Stop’. It was more than just a track. It was a rallying cry to everyone in the crew to never give up. It was our message to the masses too – no matter how you’re living or who you are, never give up!

Kyle Nguyen: For MANBO, probably ‘Em o Dau’, his first venture into rap-rock style music. The video was shot during a 20-hour road trip. And for HIEUTHUHAI I’m choosing ‘Nghe Nhu Tinh Yeu’ for the way it blends rap and pop. It’s catchy, and easy-on-the-ear, and unlike traditional rap you’ll hear.

Michael Choi: MINH’s ‘Heartbreaker’ was a milestone. But I’m picking ‘Intimate’ as a truer reflection of MINH as an artist. The collaboration with beatboxer Trung Bao became a surprise hit in Japan. And for Vu Thanh Van her track from her debut EP with itsnk called ‘Hmm..’ really stands out. It was the first time we’ve worked together. Her vocals shine through and she showed herself to be a really professional artist.

Hieu Marlin: I’m picking ‘Chanel’ by TSL featuring COLOMBINES. The track took us back to our DIY roots! That’s because the stop-motion visuals were hand cut and sewn by our media team led by @h.laiky and Ho Duc Viet. 

What are you most looking forward to in 2022, and the Year of the Tiger?

Kyle Nguyen: I’m excited. We have a lot of tracks coming. I can’t wait to see how they do. Both MANBO and HIEUTHUHAI have enough tracks ready to drop albums. And we have big plans for VIET Q MEDIA. Guns blazing! So watch out for that too…

Hieu Marlin: As far as projects go, I can’t say to much right now. I can say I’d love to do another MV with hnhngan. But generally, there’s going to be a big shake-up in the industry. Billboard Vietnam just launched their Hot-100 chart, which will fundamentally change how the Vietnamese audience perceives success. It also connects our artists to Billboard’s reputable, international chart. Imagine an up-and-coming artist rising on the domestic chart and then breaking overseas…

Huy Tee: I can’t reveal too much as well. But there’s going to be lots of music from RAPITAL as well as solo projects from rappers in the crew. After two years of the pandemic, I just wish things would settle down. I wish us all a peaceful life that gives us the conditions to realize projects and do our work.

Michael Choi: Travel! It’s so important for any artist to break out internationally. And that’s going to be the main focus for our artists: showcasing their talent in other countries. Then MINH has a collab coming with My Anh. And a collab with a Japanese artist coming this year too. Vu Thanh Van will drop her debut song with InQ. It’s called ‘Missing You’. And then she’ll release an album including some songs in English, which I think will surprise many people. And Thang has a lot of collabs coming too as well as the new Ngot album. 

Which track released by someone else do you wish you were involved with?

Kyle Nguyen: I’ve been listening to more Vietnamese gangster rap. Two projects from that genre I love are ‘Khoan Hang Yeu’ by Hazel and ‘Co Do’ by Chiennhatlang featuring Ziog. Both tracks took me back to the time before hip hop was mainstream. Rap started from the streets, and it’s only right to give respect to artists staying true to the music’s roots.

Hieu Marlin: I worked on all the projects I wanted to! 

Michael Choi: It has to be ‘Leave The Door Open’ by Bruno Mars, Anderson Paak, and Silk Sonic. 

Huy Tee: Den’s ‘Mang Tien Ve Cho Me’. I really feel the message, bring money home to mom, but the MV is so meaningful too, with lots of images that ignited in me pride to be Vietnamese.

Who’s the most underrated artist of the past year?

Michael Choi: There’s a British rapper called Che Lingo. His lyrics are fire! In Vietnam, Danang-based indie band, The Cassette.

Kyle Nguyen: Hazel, from ARKA Records. I mean, my man did a love song over a drill beat!

Hieu Marlin: For me, it’s a two-way tie between Tyronee and TGSN. This dynamic duo of producers put out multiple tracks this past year, and they backed Obito’s journey in Season 2 of RAP VIET. Their skills mixing and mastering are improving rapidly, and they show no signs of stopping.

Huy Tee: RPT LAKE. He has all the skills but hasn’t become as big as he can be…yet. With five years in the industry, picking up lots of recognition in the hip hop community, he can hop on any beat. 

Who do you think is going to be the breakout artist of 2022?

Kyle Nguyen: In my opinion, Pixel Neko. With all his recent collabs and the catchiness of his music, it’s only a matter of time before the spotlight shines on him. If you haven’t heard Pixel Neko’s ‘GPS’ you should. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Michael Choi: Internationally, Little Sims. And here, Vu Thanh Van.

Hieu Marlin: From our roster, VSTRA aka hnhngan. The album goes deep into the darkest corners of her mind. And TGSN and Tyronee’s hard work will pay off this year with TGSN’s debut album and work on Tyronee and VSTRA’s album. I hope Larria breakouts this year too. His instrumentals are mesmerizing. With the help of the Under The Hood crews rappers, success should knock loudly on this guy’s door.

Huy Tee: Definitely, Orijinn. He’s got a solo EP with six tracks coming. And also, Thang from the Ngot band. After his collaboration on ‘An Than’ with Low G, I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Which artist made the biggest impression on you last year?

Kyle Nguyen: I think it was Soobin. His two big hits with Spacespeakers, ‘Blackjack’ and ‘Freakysquad’, sent shockwaves through the industry.

Michael Choi: Wren Evans. He really pushed the boundaries musically. And internationally, Adele, whose comeback had an even bigger impact than BTS and Blackpink.

Huy Tee: I really admire Doja Cat’s hard work and meticulous approach to music. Her solo work and collaborations hit both sonically and visually, and deservedly went viral. Despite the pandemic, she dropped one album and five music videos. Impressive.

Hieu Marlin:  Internationally? Kanye. Locally, definitely My Anh. I’d like to see her become internationally successful this year. And then MINH, for him, it’s only a matter of time.

Which track did you listen to most in 2021?

Kyle Nguyen: Probably ‘Too Good To Be Friends’ by HURRYKNG featuring My Anh. I like how HURRYKNG uses both Vietnamese and English in his lyrics. Plus the melody is unbelievable. So catchy.

Michael Choi: Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in The Name Of’. It’s the first track on my gym playlist!

Huy Tee: I loved a lot of the collaborations this year. I probably listened to ‘Ice Man’ by Sol7 and MCK the most. 

Hieu Marlin: According to Spotify, it’s ‘Heartbreak Anniversary’ by Giveon. But I’d dispute that. It’s ‘Runaway’ by Kanye West.

OK. Onto the big questions. Which was the song of the year in 2021?

Huy Tee: I’m going with Den’s ‘Mang Tien Ve Co Me’ again. It only appeared late in the year, but I feel it was the right message after a long and difficult year. It’s simply a beautiful, inspirational song. 

Kyle Nguyen: I would have to say ‘Last Performance’ by Coldzy. The use of autotune was close to perfection, and so were the lyrics, melody and visuals. 

Hieu Marlin: ‘Life Of The Party’ by Kanye featuring Andre3000. And here, ‘YEN’ by My Anh. 

Michael Choi: Internationally, Tyler The Creator’s ‘Lumberjack’, and here “An Than’ by Low G and Thang. 

And what was album of the year in 2021?

Kyle Nguyen: It has to be Suboi’s ‘No Ne’. I really felt she challenged herself more than ever. From the crazy music videos to her unique concepts, she deserves album of the year.

Huy Tee: Adele’s ‘30’ was the perfect comeback after six years away. I was impressed by her emotional maturity as someone who’s come through a lot of pain and came out the other side. 

Hieu Marlin: ‘Donda’!

Michael Choi: ‘30’ by Adele and Wolf Alice’s ‘Blue Weekend’.

Translation by David Kaye.


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