How hip-hop brought a young Hmong American and his grandma together

A woman and man hold microphones during a performance.
Tou SaiK Lee (right) performs with his grandma Youa Chang.
Courtesy of Tou SaiK Lee

You might think of hip-hop as a traditionally American art form, but it’s not the only musical tradition that shows off verbal dexterity. Twin Cities Hmong American hip-hop artist Tou SaiK Lee learned that firsthand from an unlikely source — his grandmother.

They began performing together, and their unlikely pairing helped bridge language and culture. The journey also opened doors to his family's past, harrowing stories he hadn't heard before.

"One time we were booked for a school and we were running behind a bit. So I was really rushing. But grandma would just reach out and she would ask me to slow down," he recalled.

"Later I realized that grandma, when she lived in Laos after the Vietnam War, there were a lot of landmines that were left behind in Laos, and one of them exploded and a little piece of shrapnel hit my grandma’s leg. And so then it made me really think about — to be really considerate about elders’ stories and their history.”

Click on the play icon to hear him talk of his music, his grandmother and the Hmong culture's connection to hip-hop.

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