Taiwanese rapper Dwagie (??) is not your average pop star. For starters, he is the only rapper in Taiwan, and possibly in the world, who can claim collaboration with the Dalai Lama on a sound track and music video. Dwagie also has the distinction of being one of the first rappers in the Chinese-speaking world to produce a full-length album.
The album, released in 2002 under the title "Lotus from the Tongue," features his breakout track "Taiwan Song," which plays on the Taiwanese dialect pronunciation of the word "song" to convey the idea that Taiwan feels greats. Since then, Dwagie has become a top name in the Asian music industry.
On June 29, his trap-influenced album "Darknet" will be up for the Best Album in Taiwanese prize at the Golden Melody Awards (GMA) in Taipei. He has gained several GMA nominations in past years but has not yet taken home an award.
For Dwagie, however, his music is not all about winning awards. Over the years, he has taken on the role of social activist, using his music as a medium for expressing his views on issues ranging from racism in the United States to the controversies between Taiwan and China.
In the title track of his 2011 album "People," he raps about the issues of poverty and injustice in the world.
"We spend trillions on arms races, piling up rockets and planes, but are without resources to help poor children get education," he says on the track.
The track also features the Dalai Lama reciting part of the Tibetan Green Tara Mantra, which is believed to bring help to overcome such problems.
Near the end of the track, the Dalai Lama speaks about the importance of working toward change, whether or not it will materialize in one's lifetime.
"I often tell people, you should think right or wrong, then once you feel rightful, and can achieve, not complete, but at least some portion, that is achievement," the Dalai Lama says in English on the music video for "People."
Dwagie said it took two years to get the Dalai Lama to participate in the "People" project. First, the rapper said, he had to write a letter and send a demo of the song to the Dalai Lama's representatives, then he had to wait for them to work around scheduling issues.
"But in the end, I was very happy to make this seemingly impossible mission a reality," Dwagie said in an interview with CNA.
The sheer power of having the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader and winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, on the album was amazing, Dwagie said.
Another collaboration that Dwagie is proud of is one with American rap legend Nas, who has sold over 30 million records worldwide and is a household name among hip hop fans.
"Nas is my idol and the main reason why I chose to sing hip hop instead of mainstream pop music," Dwagie said. "At first, I thought it would be impossible to get him to agree to work with me, but after the Dalai Lama experience, I realized that nothing is impossible."
Dwagie said he sent a letter to a friend who was working at Universal Music in New York, pitching the idea of Nas' collaboration on the title track of the 2014 album "Refuse to Listen.".
"I know Nas' style, and when he heard the concept of the song and the story behind it, he really liked it," Dwagie said.
The concept of the song is about refusing to listen to naysayers who try to discourage people from achieving their goals.
Dwagie has also worked with another famous American rapper, Raekwon of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
Together, they wrote the lyrics for the track "Words to Trump," which Dwagie said was aimed at highlighting the rise of racism in the United States since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.
For example, some Americans were telling immigrants to go back to their countries of origin, Dwagie said, citing stories related to him by friends in Los Angeles.
"So, we wrote this song to highlight what was happening, and I also urged him (Trump) to not use Taiwan as a chess piece," Dwagie said.
Nonetheless, Dwagie said, he grew to support some of Trump's policies, particularly his tough stance against China.
"Although some of us are still worried that Taiwan will be treated like a chess piece, many people who are pro-Taiwan like his toughness against China," the rapper said.
Cross-strait rap battle
Regarding the China-Taiwan issue, Dwagie has jumped into it with his mic, despite the resulting setbacks to his career.
In 2007, he set off a firestorm when he came out with a song about a fight that occurred during a friendly game between two professional basketball teams from China and Taiwan.
"I think in sports, a bit of physical tussling is hard to avoid, but Chinese forward Meng Da deliberately hit Taiwanese center Wu Tai-hao in the face," Dwagie said, referring to two players at the time in the Jiangsu Dragons and Taiwan Beer teams, respectively.
Dwagie's condemnation of Meng in the song prompted Chinese rappers to hit out against Dwagie, which drew a return of fire from other Taiwanese rappers.
"That incident set off the biggest rap battle in history between China and Taiwan," Dwagie said.
As a result, he said, his career also took a hit just when he was preparing to release his second album.
"At the time, the record companies that were interested in working with me pulled out because they thought any association with me would have adversely affected their interests in China," said Dwagie, who later went on to start his own record label Kungfu Entertainment.
That experience was symptomatic of the broader factors at play in the Taiwan-China situation, he indicated.
People who value Taiwan's freedom and democracy should understand that it is not right to sell out Taiwan for fame and money by claiming it is part of China, Dwagie said.
While China may be able to stage bigger productions for larger audiences, Taiwan has greater creativity, and its rappers are using that to find success, he said, citing the example of the Taichung-based group Nine One One.
"If you look at one of their earlier music videos 'A Macho Man with Crushing Love,' which was filmed simply by online video conferencing, it has gained approximately 78 million views on YouTube," he said.
In this digital age, big record companies no longer play such a pivotal role in the music industry because links to music can be shared all over the internet, Dwagie said.
"It all comes down to the quality of the song, he said. "If the lyrics enter the listener's soul, then the music will be shared and soon everyone will be listening to the song."
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel