Pho 99: Rapping about Pho Culture in South Seattle

Does Pho–that aromatic broth that is the staple of nutriment and commerce in Vietnamese enclave life–have significance as art?  Does it illuminate the contours of diasporic experience?  Would you support an art project built around a steaming bowl of noodle soup? Ly Lan Dill tells us about the latest in rap and pho.

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TOWNFOLK – brainchild of Alexei Sabzi, an Iranian-American music producer – is an experimental art endeavor, a space for Alexei to explore and test ideas. It’s latest project is Phở 99, a look at the phở culture of South Seattle that will speak to many of us regardless of who we are and where we eat. The music video, posters, chopsticks, buttons are all being funded through Kickstarter.

Smart, funny and razor sharp, Alexei Sabzi’s rap video has elevated phở to hipster cult status. I have often complained that the bowl of phở has become an all too easy shortcut to authenticate the “Vietnamese-ness” in the artistic production of the diaspora. With his obvious love and admiration for the North American, urban phở culture, Sabzi has embraced what I had disdained as a confining trope and made a universal statement that speaks to all phở fans, to anyone who has ever eaten in a Phở 14 (Paris), Phở 24 (TPHCM), Phở 75 (Arlington, VA), Phở 79 (Westminster, CA)….

Alexei and Townfolk embody the fluidity of cultures in the North American urban landscape. It’s not where we’re born but what we do that defines us. And when you start rhyming “Bánh Su” with “Tuấn Anh‘s hairdo”[1] or “Riding on my grey ghost cruisah” with “Sippin on my cà phê sữa đá”, I will gladly buy you a bowl any day of the week.

The video is wonderfully subtitled in Vietnamese so click on over for a language class before hunting up a bowl of soup for lunch.

Move over Ramen, phở is where it’s at.


photography, assistant producer: @canhsolo(Canh Solo)
illustrations: @MIS0HAPPY(Nina Nguyen)
video: Harry Clean
subtitles/translation: @joanne_nitsua(Joanne Nguyen-Austin)


TOWNFOLK’s Pho 99 campaign goes on till December 4, 2012. Click over to Kickstarter, grab some buttons for the holidays, and support some fun and funky phở lovers.

[1]   The Vietnamese Liberace

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Ly Lan Dill was born in Viet Nam, grew up in the US, and is now a Paris-based translator.



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