By the time he was seven years old, everything peaceful about Hin Chamnan's young
life had been shattered. He lost his mother to a heart attack and his father to alcohol
addiction. With his parents gone, he soon lost sustenance, support and even the roof
over his head.
Shortly after these tragedies, Chamnan lost his left eye.
"One day I was horsing around with the neighborhood kids, and some dirt got
caught in my eye," Chamnan, now 26, told the Post. "I neglected to take
care of it, and it became infected. When I consulted a doctor, it was too late. I
had to have a lifesaving eye operation to remove my left pupil."
The next 11 years spent in Phnom Penh's public schools saw his life descend into
self-destruction. He admits he was misguided and misdirected. Chamnan skipped classes
regularly and ignored his schoolwork. He never graduated from Preah Sisowath high
"I dropped out of school and began running the streets of Boeung Kaplhaok with
the local kids," said Chamnan, referring to the decrepit, poverty stricken neighborhood
where he grew up.
"Most of my group would steal money from our parents and hustle - usually spending
what we made towards marijuana and yama, liquor and prostitutes."
Boeung Kamplaok, or Kaplhaok, is nestled in Chamkarmon District off of Sothearos
Boulevard near the former Royal Phnom Penh Hotel. The Khmer word komplaok refers
to a green, unscented plant usually found around dirty swamps.
At 21, Chamnan started to emerge from his self-imposed miasma.
With the help of Phnom Penh artist DJ Sope, Chamnan found an escape from the delinquent
lifestyle that had plagued him throughout most of his adolescence.
Hul "DJ Sope" Sophoan has been a popular local musician for years. He is
credited with being one of the first Cambodians to import American hip hop music
to Cambodia, specifically in the form of bootlegged copies of famed Khmer-American
rapper Prach Ly of Long Beach, California's Cambodian community.
The new music changed Chamran's life, opening a door to catharsis and creativity.
Soon he was roommates with DJ Sope and writing rap lyrics in Khmer. Chamnan now goes
by the rap alias A Ping, or "spider" in Khmer.
"The [hip hop] music sounded unique and cool to me. And usually, the content
talks about one's life, which is different from pop music and other genres,"
"When I was living under his roof, I was more exposed to the music. The music
spoke to me. Hip hop is educational. It teaches one to change bad habits and look
ahead towards the future."
Now, with one of Cambodia's first-ever Khmer-language rap albums completed, Chamnan
is ready to express his experience and attitude to the many disadvantaged but determined
Phnom Penh youths like him.
Sok Visal, 35, Arts Director of Bates Media, producer of Chamnan's album, said he
had known him since around 1997.
"I used to see him at Sope's, hanging around and usually being unproductive,"
he said. "But I was impressed with his talent. And when we had the opportunity
to work together at Bates, he shared his interests in rapping. I make beats, and
I believed in him, so we decided to do something together just for fun."
Under Visal's direction, Chamnan's full-length album Life in Kaphlaok Pond is set
for release in Phnom Penh in the next few weeks.
"I want people to understand my life in Kaphlaok - about my struggles,"
"I want to encourage people to find their sense of purpose in life, as I have
found in music."