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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Struggling from rags to rap

Struggling from rags to rap

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

school.

"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,"

Chamnan said.

"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,"

Chamnan said.

"I want to encourage people to find their sense of purpose in life, as I have

found in music."

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