Delicious Venom: The Dynamic Duo

Interviews

Delicious Venom can write a poem and turn it into a song. They can perform live in front of hundreds of fans without breaking a sweat. And they know what is needed to mentor minorities in the Hmong community to further themselves in life.

However, they do tend to spend a lot of time in front of a TV watching their favorite shows, like Family Guy. They even admit to watching the History channel and Animal Planet. Shhh … they even watch late night television shows like Conan O’Brian and David Letterman, just to name a couple.

While they were watching their favorite shows, I was watching Freedom Writers, which is based on a true story and stars Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. The film is about a real-life idealistic teacher, Erin Gruwell, who inspired her students for the better. It’s very fascinating to know that Ms. Gruwell happens to have interests similar to Delicious Venom: to teach, to guide, to mentor, to encourage and to strengthen the minds of individuals. It is an amazing journey of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity.

Delicious Venom has been around in Minneapolis/St. Paul for nearly six years and have quickly become one of the most talked-about hip-hop dynamic duos, along with LP, Telo, and Buddha. They are the twenty¬≠ something-year-old brothers Tou SaiKo and Vong “Knowstalgic” Lee, along with their manager Kathy Mouacheupao.

How they became Delicious Venom
Together, the brothers spent half of their lives in Syracuse, New York, before their family decided to settle down in the Twin Cities, where they currently reside.

However, as teens, their personal lives were far from perfect. There were constant battles to be waged where they were forced to choose their own destiny, to decide what and who they were. Life on the streets pressured them into doing very uncomfortable things to their conscience. Yet despite that, the brothers grew to reflect in the rearview mirror on past mistakes, to stop and ask for help every once in a while.

As teens, these amazing brothers forged ahead through life, defeating some of their inner demons. As men, they are each other’s critics, friends, and inspirations.

"Let's just say that there is never a dull moment," said Kathy Mouacheupao. "There are the delicious moments and the venomous ones, but they're worth it!"

Everyone of every race around the world has seen, known, been around or involved with someone who was a member of a gang or who has a friend, relative or family member who has been shot, locked up, beaten or left for dead. Hmong are no different when it comes to growing up on the streets where money and emotions run high.

When TouSaiKo was just a teen, he was locked up inside a juvenile facility for several months. During those months, Tou wrote poetry and lyrics to express how he felt. At times when it became too lonely, he wrote down how he missed his family and prayed and hoped to be free one day to make up for his mistakes.

“When I actually took time to acknowledge and understand our ancestors and the sacrifices they made, it motivated me to succeed,” said Tou. “We can discover ourselves through the arts and value our heritage. I got mad hope in our youth and believe they have the potential to turn their lives around to be positive. I did.”

While writing, Tou had the idea to start a rap group with a friend, Jamie Lee, as a positive alternative. However, that didn’t work out as planned. Even after Tou’s release from jail, he continued to write. His brother Vong eventually came into the picture when he mysteriously obtained some of Tou’s lyrics and started to write his own.

Delicious Venom was born. Obviously, the brothers were clueless about where to begin or how to proceed. Luckily for them, a friend gave them advice on where and how to start. One thing led to another. DV started to perform live at Hmong New Year festivals and other Hmong social events. Now they are being sought after as entertainers and are about to produce an album.

Delicious Venom was already well established among fans that knew them. It wasn’t long before Kathy Mouacheupao joined the group as the person working behind some of their many successes. Kathy is very well known among her peers as a journalist and associate editor for Hmong Today. She also happens to be the executive director for the Center for Hmong Arts and Talents (CHAT).

“I believe in them 100% – in what they do, in their music, in their style and in them, as artists and as activists,” said Mouacheupao.

Three years ago when the H Project was launched, Delicious Venom exploded into the national Hmong music scene with their eyes wide open. The H Project is a compilation CD and concert sponsored by Audio Refugee Camp, Hmong Today Newspaper, Innovative Community Elevation (ICE) and the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT) held in the summer of 2005 at the Western Sculpture Park in Saint Paul. There, DV introduced their number one song, “30 Year Secret,” which is both poetic and politically controversial. The song has hit the hearts of all Hmong.

“30 Year Secret” is a poem dedicated to the Hmong who have been in purgatory in the jungles of Laos for more than three decades. It’s a kws txhiaj to raise awareness about the genocide of the Hmong, a revelation to spark social change through art, poetry, and music. “Delicious Venom was an integral part of making the H Project happen,” said Mouacheupao. “They were there for every part of the process, beginning to end.”

The Fact Finding Commission (FFC) played a key role in the inspiration of the H Project. During a Hmong student conference in Minnesota, one of the members of the FFC, Thua Vang, introduced and presented documentation of the plight of the Hmong in Laos.

“There were groups doing petitions, vigils and holding other types of community events, but music is such a powerful tool for raising awareness,” said Mouacheupao. “Everyone listens to music every day of their lives – there are things you can do through art that can’t be done otherwise. I really believe that the H Project has been effective in reaching parts of the community that may not otherwise have known about the situation.”

The DV team came together and formed an alliance to call upon the Hmong community to collaborate with one another in using art and music for social change. The result? The H Project is still ranked number one on the top ten best sellers list on www.hmon abc.com.

Delicious Venom is the creators and geniuses behind the Center for Hmong Arts and Talents (CHAT) and Innovative Community Elevation (ICE). Both of these non-profit organizations have given people in the community an opportunity to share, critique and inspire each other’s work. The art may be on canvas, paper or through a voice, but it gives people the ability to be more at home in their own element.

In 2004, the ICE team began providing an opportunity for each minority to hold Open Mies held throughout the year around the Twin Cities, which were hosted by various local artists from all walks of life. There are also special guests who provide music, such as Watching Leona, Shattered Echo’z and Ill Ego Aliens.

DV is humbled to be able to connect with people across the country. They said it is a constant heartwarming gratification to know that they inspire and move people. They even managed to grab the attention of Roger Warner, a journalist, and filmmaker who wrote “Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos.” The DV team is honored that Warner will be featuring “30 Year Secret” in his documentary film, “Once Upon a Time in the CIA,” to be released this year.

The brothers have walked on thin ice in the past and have reached a whole new level. This dynamic duo is not about to stop where they are. No, they continue to strive to make a difference in their community. They continue to inspire others as they are inspired by their fans and the supporters.

The brothers have grown to learn more about who they are from their own family, who also gave them a purpose. It was their grandmother who sang kws txhia all those years ago in the mountains of Laos, it was their grandfather who fought to protect his family and died a hero along with his comrades in arms during the Vietnam War. It is their destiny to continue to spread their own kws txhia for generations to come.

“Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are or where you’re from,” said Vong. “No matter where you are or how far you get in life, we all share the same roots. Never forget that.”

Mai Neng Moua, the former editor of the Hmong literary and arts magazine Paj Ntaub Voice in the Twin Cities, was our Erin Gruwell, and encouraged us to express our inner thoughts as poets, writers, and artists. Delicious Venom picked up where Mai Neng has left off, leaving their marks in Hmong history to preserve the future in writing, art, and music.

When taking time out from the social clutter that is their calendar, DV enjoy having the silliest of conversations on simple stuff or sports, like every man. They even simply enjoying reading, but in Tou’s case, it’s comic books and magazines. As for Vong, he enjoys a challenge in chess and snowboarding during the winter. In the summer, soccer and volleyball is the only thing that can make him sweat when he’s not performing live on stage.

TouSaiKo and Vong have made their mark with the H Project as men who had to do something, anything to help the Hmong. It was the beginning of their journey as men behind Delicious Venom, and is their contribution to the Hmong community.