Hip Hop, Authenticity, and Colored Bodies

In this last blog post I examine more issues of authenticity and the idea of music made by Asian Americans. Pulling from the chapter, “Rapping and Repping Asian: Race, Authenticity, and the Asian American MC”, combined with real life audio examples of Asian and transnational Asian artists, and informal ethnography, I look at how and why there are issues with authenticity, colored bodies, and messages in Hip Hop from Asian rappers.

Oliver Wang in this chapter focuses on the growing years of Asian Americans in hip hop and their ability to be recognized along with the content that they produced. Much of what he shares shows how Asian Americans use hip hop in their lifestyles similar to that of how African Americans or Latinos did, for political messages. Because rap and hip hop has been predominantly created by these groups, can Asians and Asian Americans fit in at all? The simple answer is yes, but there are many more layers as to why and how. The examples in the text laid out that these rappers were emulating their influences who were of Latino and African American descent. So, because of the content that these groups looked at; poverty, classism, police brutality, activism, Asian American rappers were able to make their own mark by discussing the same issues and others, but through an Asian lens. Rappers like Jin and The Mountain Brothers exclaim certain race specific issues, but can be traced to issues in the larger minority hip hop world. Their lyrics like, “I sit in the back of class silent cause I can’t relate, debate is about race, today that makes me out of place”, and “we may look different, but we see the same cry, we may see different, but we cry the same cry” allow messages to become universal for all that listen to it, regardless of race. I think the issue of authenticity comes more into play when the style is then taken to another culture or language.

(listen to this as you read the next section!)

Arguably, rap and hip hop is a strict American concept adapted by the rest of the world. But I think that overseas hip hop has made the music style just as strong. It’s core concepts of raising visibility, talking about political ideas, and building communal awareness can be acquired all over the world. I think concepts like these are embodied in the Sri Lankan, British raised, M.I.A. Though she became notable only after her hit song “Paper Planes” in 2007, her career has spanned all of the 2000s to today. It is her performance and contributions to hip hop and rap that make me believe authenticity doesn’t matter when you do the art form correctly. Her entire discography is political and talks about real issues and problems in multiple areas of the world. She talks about genocide, rape, capitalistic gain, and other issues in our contemporary society. Her beats are sick and her lyrics are clever. But then we look at American rappers using other cultural concepts. In Punjabi MC’s song “Beware of the Boys” or “Mundian To Bach Ke” we have Jay-Z spitting mad game all over it. Then there is Iggy Azalea (I guess I have to consider her a rapper for this) using Indian images in her song “Bounce”. The weird thing is that these are all considered rap or hip hop and have issues of authenticity. Are they no less real though?

I took my copy of Alien Encounters out at work to read some during my break and people were looking at it and questioning what it was. After telling them about this class I got into conversation with one of my coworkers about the specific chapter I was reading. Shantelle saw that I was reading a chapter on Asian Americans and hip hop and said, “oh that’s an interesting read”. I kept the book open so that she could read some more, but started to talk about the chapter and what she thinks. Shantelle is African American and a little older than me, in that she would remember Asian Americans coming up in rap in the late 90s and early 2000s more than me. I began to ask her what she thought about the concept and if it was authentic enough or wa it bad for someone to take it away from black culture? I was surprised in what she said. She replied that she didn’t think it was more one culture’s than another’s. Minorities as a whole should be able to help each other and use things they learn to help each other as a whole. “I think people get too concerned with what belongs to what culture, and should focus more on the things that help everyone. So, if hip hop helps Asians, then so be it”. Her response, though vague, gives only a single answer for the multitude of African Americans in the United States. But no matter, authenticity shouldn’t matter, but it might always come up when the culture doesn’t match the body.

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