How Asian People Are Perceived in Hip Hop

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Learn about Asian Representation in Hip Hop: Bad Rap Film Review – A Case Study

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Hiphop has often been said to be the great equalizer. A space where minorities could be given a voice. And so, with great interest, I came into this documentary about Asian-American rappers vying for their place in hiphop.

Rejecting the traditional path set out by their families, Bad Rap, sets out to explore how a motley crew of Asian-American rappers handle fame, success, and failure. The documentary showcases battle rapper Dumbfoundead, hipster rap “it” girl Awkwafina, Lyriks, and eccentric Rekstizzy.

Each character has a different story and reasons for getting into hiphop and reminds me of a time when hiphop was an authentic expression of youth culture. Notably, Dumbfoundead has the most experience as a veteran emcee gaining notoriety thanks to his battle credibility on Grind Time ( a battle rap league) over the years and has put out albums prior to the shooting of this documentary. His story centers around not living to the hype of his earlier but promising mark.

Newcomer Awkwafina is an odd choice. Her flow is reminiscent of Kreayshawn while her quirkiness reminds one of Das Racist. It’s very clear that she wasn’t as serious about her rapping as some of her peers featured in the documentary, already suggesting a possible move away from the music once her rapping schtick fizzles out.

Rekstizzy seems to be the odd man out. Rekstizzy early on in the documentary is at odds with his manager because he wants to pull off a controversial idea and wants to maintain his artistic integrity. While he is as quirky as Awkwafina, he seems authentically interested in hiphop and wants to push the boundaries of the culture. He tells his manager that he is self-aware. He knows that people are offended by the very notion that he is a rap artist.

The story is an important one. Not only because it tells the story of a community that is not often represented in the media but because the trials and tribulations will seem universal for those born to immigrant parents.

These are the youth that instead of following the traditional path opted into choosing hiphop as their native tongue.

The Asian-American community has played an active role in hiphop becoming accepted into a broader mainstream consciousness. Yet their experience in hiphop is often questioned whether or not it is authentic. The film explains that even if someone in the Asian-American community was a part of the street life, their rhymes could not reflect that because of a perceived lack of authenticity. As hiphop matures, it will have to reflect the changing shape of America.

A Watershed Moment for Asian-Americans

Touched upon on the documentary was the rise of Chinese-American rapper Jin in the early 2000s. The acceptance of Jin was a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, finally, there’s a voice in hiphop for east Asians signed to popular rap label, Ruff Ryders Entertainment. On the other hand, Jin was marketed by being “othered” and labeled exotic with the misstep that was his first single, “Learn Chinese”.

And there’s the rub. Many of the artists featured in the documentary talk about marketability, but no one seems to have a clear cut answer in how to carve out a lane with longevity.

The Times They Are A-Changing

It seems to be a tricky world to navigate. As the hiphop community has been slow to embrace cultural changes, the cultural zeitgeist has moved with lightning speed.

Interestingly, the documentary ends by following-up with the characters two years later. Awkwafina has transitioned from being the NYC It girl to hosting a web talk show and being on MTV’s Girl Code, and Lyriks (a 90’s head with a christian influence) has started a successful Youtube cooking channel.

A nice character arc develops at the end for Dumbfounddead who becomes our de facto protagonist. In the end, it seems Dumbfounddead has made a successful return to music and finally found his voice wrapping things up nicely.

For fans wishing to see more diverse voices in hiphop, I would say this is a must-see. It’s a great watch from a sociological perspective but also for anyone wanting to glean insights into the cold hard world of the music industry.

 

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