Wrapping up his trip to Vietnam, President Barack Obama on Wednesday used a fun moment during a town hall meeting in Ho Chi Minh City to highlight the importance of free speech.
It’s a topic the president spoke out about throughout his visit to Vietnam, as the country’s government has sometimes been criticized for quieting dissent, the Associated Press reported. But this time, Obama brought up the topic of self-expression after 26-year-old rapper Suboi raised her hand to ask a question about the importance of arts and culture.
When the president learned she was a rapper, he invited the woman to display her rhymes. “Before I answer your question, why don’t you give me a little rap?” Obama said.
He then offered to help out, asking “Do you need a little beat?” Obama beatboxed for a minute and then let Suboi, who has been called Vietnam’s “queen of hip-hop,” take it away. She asked if he wanted to hear her rap in Vietnamese or English, and he chose Vietnamese, adding that he wouldn’t be able to understand what she was saying.
After rapping several lines, Suboi told the president what she’d been saying. “I was just talking about some people having a lot of money, having big houses, but actually, are they really happy?” she explained. The rap was about stereotypes, she said, adding that people often see her as “an Asian rapper … the cute girl.”
“For Vietnamese people it’s different; they think, like, rapping is not for women,” Suboi added.
Obama responded that her concerns are also true of other countries, including the United States.
He said, “Well that's true in the United States too ... there's always been sort of sexism and gender stereotypes in the music industry, like every other part of life,” the Associated Press reported.
He used rap as an example, pointing out that it started as a form of expression for poor African-Americans and has now spread around the world.
“And imagine if at the time that rap was starting off that the government had said no ‘because some of the things you say are offensive or some of the lyrics are rude or you're cursing too much,’” the president said. “That connection that we've seen now in hip-hop culture around the world wouldn't exist. So you've got to let people express themselves. That's part of what a modern 21st-century culture is all about.”
When he began his visit to Asia this week, Obama announced he would eliminate the U.S.’s arms embargo against Vietnam, which is involved in disputes with China over rights to the South China Sea. However, he took the opportunity to press Vietnamese leadership to give its citizens more freedoms, and his comments to Suboi reflected that push.