If rap music is all about going with the flow, Hong Kong rapper Heyo Fok lives that essence to the full. He says that every second he’s preparing for a freestyle by mentally associating objects he sees with rhyming words. Pointing to a Red Bull sign on top of a shelf, he raps a verse about break dancers at a battle contest, critiquing their old-fashioned moves, disrespect of hip hop and baggy pants in just four lines.
“It needs practise, but you get to the point where you see something, and all these rhyming words just pop up in your mind. So it’s a matter of picking which to use, linking it up and giving it all a meaning,” he says. “It’s not easy. You need to get in this mode where you’re completely focused and trusting in yourself in that moment.”
A lot of time writing up stuff you end up throwing away. Fok points to a stack of papers, filled with verses he’s written over the years that he hasn’t found the right tracks for yet. He has lived pretty much all his 28 years with the rapper attitude – thinking little of the past or the future, just going with the flow of the moment. Zooming around on a hoverboard in his Kwun Tong studio, he walks Young Post through his ten-year journey as an artist, flitting at times from his personal story to rant about the stagnant hip hop scene in Hong Kong, the decline of masculinity in Canto-pop and the hypocrisy of religion.
His first impression of rap was listening to Lawrence Cheng Tan-shui rapping about scratching his daughter’s back on a children’s show when he was six years old. “The chorus, which kept repeating ‘I’m so itchy!’, just seemed so cool,” he recalls. In secondary school, he fell in love with the grittiness of street culture, and spent most of his time dancing, skateboarding and DJing. Through a basketball friend, he met local rap duo Fama, who invited him to perform basketball tricks at one of their shows. But it wasn’t until he saw Eminem’s movie 8 Mile that he thought of becoming a rapper himself.
“After watching the film, I was like, do they have these rap battles in Hong Kong? So I went online. There were these forums where you post your own verse, we’d be bashing each other with words until they were like, come do this in person,” says Fok. So, 18 at the time, he went to Victoria Park for his first cypher, armed with nothing but a pre-written verse. It went badly. He had no idea that he had to rap along to a beat. But Fok had found his first rap comrades, and gradually as they wrote more songs together, they released their first mixtape under the name Rhyme Flow Army.
He spent his next years doing odd jobs in warehouses and bars and writing when the inspiration came. Staying independent was tough, and four years ago, he decided to give up on hip hop and went on a year long working holiday trip to Australia. But on a whim, he brought his microphone along with him, and continued to do rap battles over the internet. “I realised there wasn’t music out there that I liked to listen to, so I had to make my own,” he says. 2013 saw the release of his first solo mixtape, Heyoliztic, consisting of songs he rapped over beats produced by other people.
Finally, after 10 years as a rapper, Fok had enough cash and material to release his first studio album, Flower. “It was still a gamble. I booked the venue for the release gig way early this year, before most of the songs were even done,” he says. Flower is a concept album based on Buddhist principles about three stages of life: the childhood stage when everything is simple and direct; the coming-of-age stage where you’re confused by your identity and values; and the mature stage where you’ve finally come to terms with life.
Featuring collaborations with Canto-pop singer Jill Vidal and Sammy So, the lead vocalist of rock group Kolor, the record is a mix of hip hop, soul and other genres, with the occasional touch of traditional Chinese music in tracks like Rhododendron (悼鵑), a poignant song inspired by the pointless life of girls who are recruited to dance in clubs. The jazz-infused Might Not, Maybe, Yet Unknown (未必、Maybe、未知) explores the current mindset of Hongkongers through three separate stories, while Homeless is an autobiographical song about Fok’s experiences living in factory buildings and tong laus ever since he separated with his parents at the age of 16.
“I performed Homeless for some secondary school students last week, and they couldn’t relate. But everyone has their own groove. I do what I do best to make an impact on this world, and when we’re all going in the same direction, that’s when real change will come,” says Fok. “I’m jumping into the deep end here. I’m putting all my thoughts out there in this album. It’s evidence that I can be profound, and afterwards, I am free to do whatever I want.”