Asian American hip hop does not stick in America. They are fads that pop up each year, and fades. The central reason for this is racial.
The intersection between race and rap is deeply rooted. After all, hip hop originated in the 1970s South Bronx as the black community’s form of voicing their identity. Yet as America ethnically and culturally diversifies, art mediums naturally bleed into one another. The question now becomes, does rap belongs to a specific race? Could Asian American communities use rap to voice their identity, too?
Others argue that modern rap stereotypes the black community and appropriates their voice and style without caring about deeper social issues. And so, at least for now, please leave rap where it belongs.
Does Color Blindness Exist?
On Youtube, Eung Freestyle–a rap collaboration featuring South Koreans and spoken in both Korean and English lyrics– currently has over 10 millions views. It starts with the the lyrics, “reppin South Korea that’s where we f***in’ be.” Rich Chigga’s (Chigga being slang for Chinese n****) “Dat $tick” has over 23 million views. They’re both rap music videos starring East Asians, specifically South Korean and Asian American, respectively.
Asian American rap even garnered enough attention to be made into a documentary. Salima Koroma’s Bad Rap was a spotlight at the Tribeca Film Festival.
In general, the rap community accepts Asian American hip hop. In a reaction video to Rich Chigga’s “Dat $tick,” black rappers such as Desiigner and 21 Savages were fans of the music.
“Yo this is my n***, this is my f***ing guy,” said Jazz Cartier.
“This is the hardest n*** of all time,” said Tory Lanez.
Kendrick Lamar’s “F*** Your Ethnicity” vouches for colorblindness relating to hip hop, “Now I don’t give a f*** if you/Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, goddammit.” While it seems colorblindness is the predominant mindset, race inevitably shows up.
As the reaction video continues, comments about how Rich Chigga looks emerges. 21 Savages said, “The music’s alright, it don’t match him, but it’s alright.”
Another person commented, “He don’t look nothing like he sound, but he’s dope.”
In a Vice interview, Koroma explains the tension between Asians and hip hop, “To be honest…hip-hop is perceived to be the antithesis of what Asian Americans are considered to be in this country.”
Unfortunately, East Asians and rap seem conflicted because of rap’s current connotations. Somewhere along the way, it evolved into a one-dimensional representation of the black community. More often than not, current rap equates to masculinity, sexuality, and materialism.
In other words, East Asian rappers (mostly males) are predominantly not seen as masculine, sexual, or possessing wealth.
15 MINUTES OF FAME
Within East Asian American rap, there are a few prominent names such as Jin and Dumbfoundead. Their careers follow the same trajectory of rising quickly but never managing to stay for long, regardless of their talent and work. Their names quickly snuff out, too.
Jin’s own career in America quickly declined in 2003 after releasing his single “Learn Chinese.” It straddled racial boundaries and attempted to subvert Asian stereotypes. Needless to say, lyrics such as “Each time they [police] harass me I wanna explode/We should ride the train for free, we built the railroads” did not sit well with American audiences.
Asian American rapper Dumbfoundead addresses the problem of Asian representation in media in his song “Safe.” It says, “The other night I watched the Oscars/And the roster of the only yellow men were/all statues/We a quarter of the population.”
A Little Bit of Both
Whether or not East Asian rap is representation or appropriation, perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Just like black rap, Asian American rap has a huge range. Some are woke, other’s no so much.
Yet, the fact still stands. Despite millions of views, Asian Americans do not possess credibility due to race. Representation is a difficult issue, but East Asian rappers hope they will one day cease being a fad and taken as a legitimate art form.