It was a friend that convinced the Business Economics student to try out for the statewide, Melbourne Music Bank 2014 rap competition. Despite doubting his ability to make an impact, the Sudanese rapper eventually entered after a friend pushed him to give it a try. On being a runner-up and a favourite, Nyuon Thong says, “I wasn’t expecting to make it so far.”
Almost three months later, NYUON has given a string of interviews and industry folk are giving the dreadlocked dreamer their seal of approval. “[Frank Varrasso] called me and told me he really likes my music, and he feels like my sound is what’s missing in Australia,” reveals NYUON after the Bank Of Melbourne introduced his music to the renowned PR professional, who was the former Senior Director of National Promotions and Publicity at Sony Music.
The Aussie artist is as laid back as his hit single Your City, which is an ode to “multicultural Melbourne”. In much the same fashion that U.S hip hop stars rep their cities, the rapper chose to be the voice of his hometown so listeners could celebrate the place. “I wanted them to know,’oh yeah, NYUON is from Melbourne from the music he does’.”
The star speaks about his high school friend and fellow MC Cris Gamble, who recorded an earlier version of his debut single in Gamble’s bedroom in about an hour. “I wanted to write an anthem, something that me and my friends can rap along to. I wanted the lyrics to be catchy and easy to learn,” says NYUON.
In the portion of the song capturing the essence of where he’s at in life, NYUON raps a line in the second verse that speaks to his ambition and interest in making his family proud: “Live life, get money, that’s the motivation, go hard for the fam, that’s the stimulation.”
What’s inspiring is the star’s decision to re-tell the positive memories he has of moving around East Africa, because of the conflict in Sudan. Born in an Ethiopian refugee camp, the artist, who is one of five children, speaks of playing with other kids in a Kenyan refugee camp. “We used to get excited when the UN trucks would come, sometimes they’d let us get on the back of the truck and then drive us around the camp. I remember playing soccer,” NYUON says.
In 2001, the artist moved to Australia and had no problem making new friends while staying in touch with some of the other South Sudanese kids he met at the Kenyan refugee camp (who also settled in Australia). Speaking of Sudan, he recalls a 2012 trip which lasted about three months and connected him to a country he’d only heard about. “It was weird because it was the first time I’d ever been to Sudan, but that’s where my family is from. I was always in a refugee camp, in a different country.”
The trip back to his native country must have made an impression because the artist has a song called Proud in the works about Sudan. NYUON is saving the single for a time when his fan base is bigger, so he can make more of an impact with the song. “That song talks about South Sudan, just calling for the country to change. There’s no point releasing it now when no one is going to hear it,” he explains of his decision to wait.
The artist also points out that he heard D’banj’s Oliver Twist single for the first time in his native country, but is honest about “not keeping tabs” on (African) artists. Speaking to the MC, you get the feeling he isn’t trying to jump on any bandwagon or be inauthentic. “I don’t want to touch on stuff that doesn’t apply to me,” NYUON says, adding: “I’d love to see the world through music, I’d like to be at the point where I’m able to pick up other artists and help them out with their dreams too.”
NYUON also speaks about the close-knit South Sudanese community in Melbourne, and points out that the younger people hang out together at parties and weddings. Regarding his perception of home, he says, “It’s almost like South Sudan is mom and Australia is my step-mom.”
On the topic of identity and mastering his native language (Nuer), NYUON reveals that his accent seems to be a point of humour especially when he was back in South Sudan: “I only ever hear [Nuer] in the house. I think I speak it fluently but when I went back, they were like ‘nah!'” NYUON says, laughing. Along with English and Nuer, the artist also speaks Mandarin but admits that his Kiswahili is not quite polished.
Now on a semester break, the South Sudanese rapper is doing shows and refining his sound on a 12-track project that is not yet named (the title of which the polite rapper is reluctant to divulge). He does, however, talk about some of the topics that feature in his work: “Girls, life, anything that’s been going on in my life the past 18 months.”
On that note, take a look at NYUON’s debut single below and listen to more music on his Soundcloud page here.