Prach Ly, a Cambodian-American rapper from Long Beach, California, cut his first CD,Dalama: The End’n’ Is Just the Beginnin’, in his parents’ garage. He didn’t have a mixing board––he used a karaoke machine and sampled sound bites from old Khmer Rouge propaganda speeches to create what he calls an “autobiography,” reciting stories he’d heard from his refugee family to deliver a blistering history lesson about Cambodia’s genocide.
He did the artwork himself, made about a thousand CDs, and passed it around to friends during Cambodian New Year 2000. Somehow a copy found its way to Cambodia, then onto Pnomh Penh radio, then into the country’s booming bootleg business, where Prach’s music was copied and distributed, without attribution, under the title Khmer Rouge Rap. A year ago, an Asiaweek reporter tracked Prach Ly down to let him know his album was No. 1 in Cambodia: He’d become the first hip-hop star of a country he hadn’t seen since he was a toddler.