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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kung Fu and Hip Hop: An Interview with DTMUniversal

Danny Ho, a.k.a. DTM is a modern-day Renaissance man. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto, Canada, Danny became known as DTM when his friend Simon Wu gave him the alias "DTM" (Dan The Man). Throughout the years, DTM has expressed his creative imagination through the arts. Beginning with visual arts, he eventually pursued technological art forms, crossing into film, photography, graphic design, and later DTM expressed himself musically through hip hop. DTMUniversal Productions, his production company, refers to DTM's philosophy in being capable of expressing oneself in all forms of art possible; an imagination that knows no limits. He is a proud Chinese and speaks fluently in both, Cantonese and English.

DTM's first major project was the independent film, 大佬 (The Boss), which was filmed in 2004 when DTM was only 15 years old. Three years later, The Boss was officially released on DVD in 2007. The movie is an Asian gangster martial arts action film using authentic Hong Kong styled fighting choreography. DTM also stars in the movie, participating in the fight scenes himself as he trained in martial arts ever since the age of 10. DTM holds a black belt in Goju-Ryu Karate and a black belt in Taekwondo. DTM has also directed and produced music videos, documentaries and short films.

ROYAL: DTM thanks for taking the time with us at Asian Rap Worldwide for this interview.

DTM: Thanks for showing interest in my works, I appreciate this opportunity.

ROYAL: What kind of music do you listen to and who are you listening to right now?

DTM: I listen to every genre of music possible; I am very open-minded to anything and everything, I enjoy all forms of music. GZA’s Pro Tools is popping in my iTunes right now.

ROYAL: Your rapping is very distinct from other rappers I have heard. It does not have an urban or street or African-American vibe to it. Is this done on purpose? Tell us, how did you get into hip hop and rapping? Who are the rap artists that have really touched and inspired you?

DTM: Great question. I did not do this on purpose, but at the same time I know I am Chinese, so I do not try to act or sound like African-American rappers on purpose when I rap. I don’t come from the typical backgrounds that rappers usually pride themselves on (street / gang / drug life), so there’s even less reason for me to change my voice. The same goes for my appearance (such as in my music videos), my style is very neutral. I do not limit myself to a hip hop dress code, just because I’m supposedly a “rapper” and I have to conform to what is expected of a rapper to look like. I just wear what suits me.

I got into hip hop through Wu-Tang and Canibus. That was the real shit. But how I started to rap was actually out of rage *laughs*. I’m not naming names but I noticed a lot of so-called rappers out there, and some were not bad, but most were just trash. A lot of indie artists don’t rap about shit. Hell, a lot of commercial artists don’t rap about shit either! After their song is over, it leaves me wondering; just exactly what were they trying to say? What message were they portraying? I agree not all songs need to have a message; some artists do a pretty good job of just using their voice and vibe to make a good track and I don’t knock that. Music is music. But these local artists really pissed me off *laughs* with their cookie-cutter content, and that was what made me try my hand at some more intellectual lyrics. I started writing in late 2005, but the only ones that made it out to the public (written from that time) were Gangsta My Ass and Truth Serum. Blind and In My Mind were the new ones.

ROYAL: Do you listen to any Asian rappers or have any Asian rap groups that you are particularly fond of? Any rappers who are doing their thing that you want to give a shoutout to?

DTM: First and foremost, I’d like to pay respects to Jin The Emcee. He did to Asian hip hop in the west what Bruce Lee did to kung fu in the west. With similarity to Bruce, I believe not many non-Asian Americans want Jin to succeed (in the west) because of the fact that he is not black or white, which is unfortunate because he is lyrically 1000 times ahead of most rappers out there today. Therefore like Bruce, I think Jin is finding greener pastures back home. Secondly, I love LMF (LazyMuthaFuckaz), the one and only legit “rapcore” group to hold it down in HK. Since their disbandment, ask any head and they’ll tell you Hong Kong’s hip hop scene has never been the same. Mountain Brothers are also very good. I’d like to rap over jazzy beats like they do but I don’t have access to jazzy beats… haha!

ROYAL: So now you are working on your very first album The Universal Man. Tell us what we can expect from your album.

DTM: First of all I’d like to say this to the hip hop community and anybody else reading; I’m not trying to become a famous rapper. Maybe somewhere in that 1% probability that the mainstream actually gives a crap about what I say, I’ll consider it. The other 99% is called reality. It’s the same as if I told you Michael Jai White would become a huge kung fu star in China. And he’s black. Never heard of him? My point exactly. The Asian community will not take him seriously as a kung fu master, so would people here take me seriously as a legitimate emcee? Of course not. It’s not necessarily racism (actually, it is, for example Hollywood movies never show a white woman falling in love with an Asian male lead, but Asian women from left and right [The Last Samurai, Forbidden Kingdom, Mummy Tomb of the Dragon Emperor] can fall in love with a white guy no problem), it’s just a tough cultural pill to swallow, and I’d rather not force it down people’s throats. I won’t rule out the possibility of Hong Kong, though. MC Yan if you’re reading this, please sign me to your label *laughs*.

With that said, this “album” that I’m making (if you can even call it that), is for fun. Just like my movie The Boss, I’m doing this for myself and for anyone who likes what I do. If people like my album as much as they liked my movie, then I would be eternally grateful for the support. But at the same time I won’t be heartbroken if it never goes anywhere. You can expect some “Confucian conscious rap” (haha!) from my album (ie. In My Mind), mixed with some hardcore lyricism with a nasty attitude (ie. Gangsta My Ass). My messages are from a Chinese perspective but anyone could relate to it because of its universal themes.

ROYAL: So, tell us the story behind Gangsta My Ass. Is this song directed to a real person that you have beef with? Is the "wanksta" in the beginning of the music video, modeled after a real person you know?

DTM: Yes and no. The song Gangsta My Ass was the first song I ever wrote, and I always had these thoughts held deep inside that I wanted to express to these fake gangster wannabe punks and so-called "badasses" in my community. And that’s a big “f*ck you”. The beef I had with this guy back in 2005, came at just the right moment for me to add his story within the video (which was released in 2008). We have since squashed it and I let him know that I didn’t mean to make fun of him in the present time; it was just an old song that talked about the same themes so I used our back story as a way to strengthen the video’s message.

ROYAL: Who made the beat for Gangsta My Ass? That beat is hot! Give him a shoutout and tell us how or what is the best way for us to get his beats.

DTM: Haha… my producer is Phung Shui (a pun on the words Feng Shui). But he didn’t make this beat. A very, very famous producer made this beat, and how do I put it… “took” it from him without asking but he didn’t end up ever using it anyways. I’ll give you a hint; he only drops albums once every decade, haha!

ROYAL: Now the music video for Gangsta My Ass features some clips from your movie The Boss. Tell us a little bit about your movie.

DTM: It’s a gangster martial arts film much like the ones made in Hong Kong about gang bosses and martial arts fights that make up the films’ climax. I always wanted to make one big movie with all my friends in it, and that’s why we started making it in high school and released it midway through university. At first it was just a whatever-let’s-just-do-it kind of movie; throw in some action, throw in some comedy, and let’s see what we got. Then, the project got serious after I met some fellow martial artists who could fill the void of actually handling Hong Kong style action (we didn’t have any other person in the movie other than me at the time that could fight), and that’s when The Boss started shaping out to be something better than a YouTube video. Make no mistake, looking back on it I agree the movie was incredibly amateur as a whole, but the fight scenes we did speaks for itself. I don’t think any other indie film out there could top it, especially when we were all 15 to 18 year olds at the time, making our FIRST movie with NO budget!!! To date a few hundred people have bought it and probably even more watched it, because they told me they watched it with their friends and family. Not bad for something promoted only through word of mouth.

ROYAL: What are your favourite HK triad and kung fu movies from the 80s and 90s? Is there a particular director and/or producer that you particularly like the best? Recommend us some good HK flicks!

DTM: Oh boy, don’t get me started. There are too many to name haha! Almost any movie made in HK back in the 80s and 90s was gold, but I liked Jet Li a lot in particular because of his politically/culturally themed films, so be sure to check out the Once Upon a Time in China series, Fist of Legend, and Fearless (a.k.a. Huo Yuan Jia). If you want to see why The Departed won the Oscar, go watch Infernal Affairs. Anyone growing up in the 90s would agree Young & Dangerous was their favourite Triad series in HK, and so would I. Election however would be the definitive Chinese answer to The Godfather, much like Japan’s Brother was. My favourite director is Johnnie To (The Mission, PTU, Throwdown, Election, Exiled).

ROYAL: What other projects is DTMUniversal working on right now?

DTM: I’m working on a lot of things, including a new (you heard it here first) action film. My album may never be released! *laughs*

ROYAL: If someone wants you to film a video for them, or produce some artwork for a project, or do a collaboration track with you, what is the best way for them to get in touch with you?

DTM: My website is, The Boss is up for grabs in the online store, I’m on YouTube as “DTMUniversal” and MySpace as “DTM”, and my e-mail is dtm[at]dtmuniversal[dot]com. I get a lot of junk mail so if you want to contact me please make your subject title eye catching!

ROYAL: Any words of advice or words of wisdom for those who want to come up?

DTM: I’m just a regular dude who likes art, man. Just be true to yourself, don’t let others sway you from your beliefs and values, however be aware of reality and don’t be a “frog in the well” (an ignorant fool). Actions speak louder than words. Know yourself so you can maximize your strengths and learn to improve or hide your weaknesses. If no one hates you then you don’t have anything they want. That’s my two cents!

ROYAL: DTM, thank you for time out of your busy schedule and we wish you all the best. Look out for DTM's album, The Universal Man coming soon!!

DTM: Thank you.

You can check out DTMUniversal and his production works at


Maxo said...

You know I've been wondering what chinese rap would sound like?
It must be very comlicated for them I guess?
Are there chinese rappers that I can heir somewhere