Soho Rising: Dough-Boy

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As part of our Soho Rising series, Soho House Head of Music, Dom Chung, spotlights members making waves in the music industry. Here, one of Hong Kong’s biggest hip-hop stars charts the course of his already acclaimed career

By Otamere Guobadia, with thanks to Gavin Yeung    Images courtesy of Dough Boy   Wednesday 30 September, 2020    Short read

Dough-Boy is a towering figure in Hong Kong’s bubbling hip-hop scene: a gleaming star at the forefront of a scene still in its infancy. When we connect over Zoom, he cites among his broad cultural influences, hip-hop duo Atmosphere (whom he loves for their storytelling) – ‘I grew up on that and it made me want to tell stories through song’; Kanye West (for his ability to blend musical and non-musical elements together), and Mike Tyson (for his ‘attitude and mentality’). The reference, though disparate, actually make sense. His sound is similarly chameleonic – a point that he agrees with. ‘I would define my music as hip-hop, but for every album, I try to mix it with different genres. For example, a little bit of electronic music, a little bit of country music. Every time, I try to do something different with it,’ he says. ‘But the backbone of it always comes back to hip-hop.’

Dough-Boy wasn’t always the shiny, centre-stage rap prodigy that he is now. Similarly, the Hong Kong hip-hop scene has radically transformed over his decade-long tenure, which saw his early music presence rooted largely in producing. ‘It wasn’t like a career – I was still in school. I was trying to make music for people, [hoping] some artists would pick up my beats,’ he explains. His now undeniable success almost stands as a proxy for just how far the scene itself has come. ‘When I first started out, people were actually selling CDs. It was still a thing to drop an album in CD format,’ he says. ‘And then the format changed, the sound changed, how people consumed the music changed... the attention span of everyone is changing. Back then, you had songs that were four minutes long [as the standard]. And nowadays it’s like two and a half minutes, because no one’s gonna give you that much time,’ he laughs. 

Charting his course to the top of Hong Kong’s music scene hasn’t been an easy ride for Dough-Boy, nor has it necessarily been a linear one. Having won ‘Best Original Song’ at the Hong Kong Film Awards for a track he penned at the tender age of 24, he found himself almost frozen out of opportunity by many in the industry who thought they wouldn’t be able to afford such a young hotshot.
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Even now, with his career in its stride, he faces the inevitable difficulties and zero-sum choices an artist in his position would: ‘[I struggle] with the balance between a couple of things,’ he begins. ‘One being the technicality of it, because a lot of times people [appraise] musicians in [purely] technical skills. How good can you play the guitar? How good can you play the piano?’ But for him, there’s a clear trade-off in other aspects of his music. ‘If I spend a lot of time on that, then I’m not going to be as creative as I want to be. You only have so much time in the day,’ he explains. ‘If you spend a lot of time on the conceptual, creative side, then you’re not going to be as good as other people at the technique. The balance between these two is something that I always struggle with.’ 

But perhaps the most delicate balancing act is the negotiation between artistic integrity – his internal drive and passion to pursue music – and satisfying a consumer base. ‘The other balance [to strike] is between what you want to do as an artist, what you want to express, and what your audience like,’ he muses. ‘You kind of have your target audience, but then you can’t really choose it. Once your product, or your art, or your music is out there, you can’t decide [who consumes it]. Sometimes, I’ll just do what I like, and other times it’s like, “Let’s see if I can cater to them” – it’s always a balance between these things,’ he explains.

‘So, I actually have this album pretty much done,’ he says when talk turns to the future. ‘Every song is a collab with someone else. I dropped two singles already; one is with my friend Barry [Chen] from Taiwan, [and the other] is a collab with my friend Lil Yachty from Atlanta. The album is full of these songs. I’m just gonna drop it sometime soon, I guess.’

‘For my next project, I still want to keep doing these collabs, or even step back from being the rapper,’ he says. ‘I might just do the producer role, make the songs and then everyone else sings on [them].’ It’s also clear that he’s exploring creative endeavours outside of music: ‘Me and my friend who directs all my music videos have been writing this script for a TV series.’ They’d thought about diving straight into a feature film, but decided short TV episodes might be an easier transition from their music video projects. ‘We’re not able to handle a movie [yet],’ he says. Although one has little doubt that big-screen endeavours haven’t seen the last of him. 

Dough-Boy’s star is undeniably on the up, even if the down-to-earth pleasantness evident in his voice and manner might tell you otherwise – and it undoubtedly still has further to rise. The key to his success? ‘The people around me. The colours that I see, the movies that I see, my feelings towards all these things that I see around me, I translate them into music,’ he laughs.
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