Hella Chluy is a Brooklyn-based comedian and rapper whose specialty is doing parodies of popular hip-hop tracks — a Cambodian-American, hip-hop Weird Al, if you will. So how is it that, at present, he is the Internet’s most visible ambassador to Philadelphia’s Cambodia Town section of South Philly, down near 6th and Moyamensing? Pure love, that’s how. (N.B.: “Cambodia Town” isn’t an official moniker yet, but it seems likely that it will be.)
In the straight-to-viral clip, “Cambodia Town,” posted to Chluy’s social channels just days ago, he sings the praises of the Cambodia Town he’s learned to call home — even if he has to commute to get that Khmer Kitchen heat. (He’s also somewhat of a culinary authority on the area — see his clip with Chef Chris Cho farther down in this post.) The track — an inspired riff on Drake’s “Controlla” — is a sweet, funny homage to an area (too) many Philadelphians don’t know exists. As “Cambodia Town” pushes 250K views in a matter of days, it feels like that’s about to be corrected. We chatted with Chluy to find out more.
Where are you from? What's your connection to Cambodia Town in Philly?
I'm from Seattle, WA, but have been residing in Brooklyn, NY for 6 years now. Being from the Seattle, there is a big Cambodian community, and me living in NYC now, we don't have a big community. So with Philly being only a 1.5 hr drive away, it’s the closest thing to home. Also, my director/partner Jeff Lek, better known as Planetary P lives in Camden NJ, so we go to Philly a lot to film videos in the community and I have a strong [presence] in South Philly. Come to think of it, most of my videos are shot in Philly, on 6th and 7th street. You can watch them all at www.youtube.com/chluyfilms.
What was the inspiration to do a “Controlla” parody — how did Drake's original inspire to take “Controlla” in a different direction?
I was inspired by “Controlla “because that happens to be my fav song on Drake’s latest album, Views, which I didn't really like as much as older albums. But “Controlla” stuck out because of the catchiness in the melodies, and the beat has a nice dancehall vibe with an infectious chorus that you find yourself singing along to all day all long. I specialize in parodies, so the hook "Cambodia Town" just kind of came out while I was freestyling over the original. I then went online and downloaded the beat, wrote my lyrics, recorded the song in my home studio and shot a video for it in hopes to encourage the community to realize what they have, and to somehow support them and help them push for that official Cambodia Town stamp. Even though I'm not from Philly, I represent it like it’s my own town because the people there make feel at home. Shout out the community leaders such as K. Naroen Chhin of Philadelphia Cambodia Town group, who has been supporting my craft and bringing me out to perform in May at the Cambodia Town block party. It was a fun experience and I look forward to doing more events for the community.
What has the reaction been like?
The reaction has been overwhelming. The video is now pushing 250K views on Facebook in less than 4 days and for the most part, the comments have been positive from not just Cambodians but the other ethnicities that live in the community. And of course, there are some negative comments but that’s what comes with viral content and the negative comments don't bother me at all. I'm used to it by now.
What are the music and culinary scenes like coming out of Cambodia Town? It seems like you're a pretty good authority on both.
The culinary scene is vibrant. The food is amazing and authentic and they don't cater to the mass population. They keep the ingredients as authentic has the homeland, so it doesn't matter if you're a Cambodian from any other part of the world, you can go to South Philly and order a dish and it will taste just like mom's cooking. Some of my favorite places to eat are Khmer Kitchen, I HEART Cambodia, Mifflin Square park street vendors who sell grilled lemon grass beef sticks and stuffed lemon grass wings (My favorite) and Sweet Khmer Basil, just to name a few. Also, for nice refreshing drink on a hot summer day, you can walk to 6th and Moyamensing for the signature sugar cane drink at Boba and company.
What else are you up to right now? Performing in Philly anytime soon?
Right now, I'm on my grind trying be more consistent where it’s a comedy skit or a music video and I'm always looking for performance opportunities and travel, also collaborations with other creatives. I haven't been booked recently yet for any Philly performances but I'm open for all business opportunities.