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Anti-junta rap resonates with young Thais

'Aren't they afraid?' some wonder as group faces police pressure

The video for "Prathet Ku Mee," or "What My Country's Got," has racked up more than 46 million views on YouTube since its October release.

BANGKOK -- A rap video critical of Thailand's military government has won over millennials and rankled the authorities, with one line declaring, "You don't know what's happening in this ludicrous country."

The video for "Prathet Ku Mee," which translates to "What My Country's Got," features 10 male rappers questioning events under the regime with ironic flair. Surrounded by fist-pumping spectators, the rappers fire off other lines in Thai like, "Corruption's always safe for the rich," and "The poor have to die 'cause they don't have 30 baht health care."

That amount is equivalent to 91 cents.

Outside Thailand, rap has long been a genre for expressing discontent and giving voice to the voiceless. Now, it seems to be catching on among the country's millennials -- citizens born between 1980 and 2000 -- who have up to now shown little interest in politics.

"Prathet Ku Mee" spread rapidly after its release online in October, so much so that the police threatened to take action against the rappers and producers. The authorities warned that the video likely violated a computer crime law against distributing false information over the internet, but they appear to have backed down.

The controversy only fueled public interest, driving the number of views to more than 46 million since its October release. The song also vaulted to the top of the Apple iTunes ranking in Thailand; it can be downloaded for about $2.20.

The 10 rappers, half of whom show their faces entirely in the video, joined forces to create a group that calls itself "Rap Against Dictatorship," or RAD.

A 29-year-old woman named Romdheera praised the group's gutsy performance. "They dare to show their faces," she said. "Aren't they afraid of anything?"

Romdheera, who said she does not usually listen to rap, said she listened to the song a few times and thought it was "cool."

Hearing that the authorities were putting pressure on the group, she shared the video with her friends.

Is a broader rap trend taking root in Thailand?

DJ Toru, who is based in Bangkok, thinks a rap TV show that began in April lit a spark. Using bad language in public is considered taboo in the country. "As rap broke down the wall," he said, "the boom has gained steam."

While the junta, which took power in a 2014 coup, is tightening its control over information, new musicians are feeding on growing youth frustration. This could expand a market where song sales in 2016 came to a modest 2 billion baht ($60.7 million at the current rate), according to a survey by the Japan External Trade Organization.

Thailand's long-awaited elections -- expected to be focused on the power of the military -- are likely to be held on Feb. 24.

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