It feels like every time I plan a celebratory or positive post, some sort of injustice or tragedy has occurred, diverting my attention to more pressing matters. This week, we had not one, but two mass shootings take place. One took place in Boulder, Colorado, and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. While the police haven’t discovered a motive behind the Colorado shooting as yet, the Atlanta shooting was racially charged, exemplifying just one more hate crime towards Asian Americans since the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Violence against Asians has spiked since former President and forever dipshit Donald Trump referred to the virus as the “China Virus”, the “Kung Flu,” and numerous other scientifically inaccurate (but I guess who needs science, right?) names that linked it directly to the country. Unfortunately, just like Americans do to brown people, they linked the virus to all Asian people, sparing no one, not even the elderly. Someone equated the increase in attacks as to how Sikhs and Muslims were treated after 9/11, and the parallels are disturbing, especially considering the lack of concrete evidence linking the virus to China. As the country diverts its attention to ethnic and religious minority groups, we are once again witnessing white men get away with terrorist attacks simply because of their blinding privilege, and honestly, it’s infuriating. As a result, I wanted to write this post to show the beautiful ways Hip-Hop has paid homage to Asian culture through lyrics over the decades.
I would like to add a disclaimer of sorts. I do identify as Asian American. However, I think that there is racism in our own community that needs to be addressed, especially because this blog focuses on Hip-Hop before anything. I hope that after these events, we as a variety of cultures can acknowledge a rooted evil in which has been embedded in us for centuries; not only racism but colorism as well. There’s been mistreatment of Black people for years, and that honestly isn’t very surprising when the continent has numerous countries that equate wealth, status, and caste to the color of your skin. There are connotations for being darker-skinned, and it’s caused divisions all over Asia. I’m still trying to overcome the colorism that has been instilled in me, the teachings that I’m not beautiful if I get too dark. I hope that after these attacks, we can offer more compassion for Black people, as this is nothing new in comparison to the things that they have endured.
With that being said, while there is a beautiful overlap between Hip-Hop and Asian culture, it has been difficult to find lyrics that appreciate Asian culture without playing into stereotypes and misconceptions. As Hip-Hop has become more sensitive, along with the rest of our media, there are a lot of references that don’t shine Asian culture in the best light, reinforcing these ideas that have shaped America’s views. Furthermore, there’s a fetishization of Asian women that not only impacts their safety but objectifies them in a way that no woman should endure. While I won’t be talking about those particular lyrics today in efforts of keeping things positive, it is important to acknowledge that it is extremely prevalent in the culture. Secondly, while I will be focusing on Eastern Asian countries, specifically China and Japan, it’s still important to remember just how many incredible and diverse cultures are rooted in Asia.
To kick off the post, there’s one name that has to be mentioned. You may have seen it floating around, but you may not know his story or the impact he had on Hip-Hop. Born on the same exact day as J Dilla, Jun Seba, more popularly known as Nujabes (which is his name flipped around) changed the music scene in Tokyo and then brought those influences to the US and UK. He opened up two record stores, T Records and Guinness Records, in the Tokyo city-ward Shibuya, and then later went on to start his own independent Hip-Hop label, Hydeout Productions. However, that wasn’t the extent of his talents. In fact, it was just the beginning. It’s his production that he’s most well-known for, which he released under his label. With such a notable name, you would think he had an intense discography, but unfortunately, his life was tragically cut short on February 26th, 2010, when he was in a car accident. During his time, he released two studio albums, Metaphorical Music (2003) and Modal Soul (2005), and his LP, Spiritual State (2011), was released posthumously following his passing.
Nujabes pioneered the bridge between Hip-Hop and Anime, among other things, when he worked on the show, Samurai Champloo. The show, which illustrated Samurais living in a historic Japan, incorporated Hip-Hop and street culture such as graffiti, to tell the story. Furthermore, his innovative ability to utilize overtly jazz elements throughout his production, specifically demonstrated throughout his collaborations with Shing02, created a chill style of Hip-Hop and spearheaded what is known today as Lo-Fi. Through this style, he inspired popular rappers and brought a new-found awareness for Hip-Hop in Japan, while simultaneously exposing artists around the world to the music scene in Tokyo. While his work helped provide Japanese rappers with a spotlight, he also created music with notable names in Hip-Hop history such as CL Smooth and Fat Jon.
We’ve also seen how innovative producers can get when sampling Japanese and Chinese music. While some artists, such as Dr. Dre, take to the music for inspiration, utilizing Japanese instruments such as the Koto, which he used in “The Message”, others use the songs to sculpt their own production. One of those examples is Gunna’s “Who You Foolin'”, which samples the Chinese singer Tong Li’s song, “Ling Ren Ge.” The whole album, Drip or Drown 2, actually takes on a lot of Asian themes, including song titles such as “Yao Ming” and “On a Mountain,” while utilizing traditional Chinese flutes in “Out the Hood.” It should come as no surprise that Masta Killa sampled Wang Zhaojun’s “Cantonese Minor 4 Lovesick Tears”, in his track, “Masta Killa.” Wu-Tang Clan is probably the most notable example of how Asian culture has influenced Hip-Hop music over the decades, so to see one of the members using a Chinese sample is very on-brand. Furthermore, DJ Premier sampled Japanese composer, Masaru Satoh, in the song, “MVP”, as Ludacris raps over the rhythmic beat. In a quirkier fashion, Lil Yachty and Skippa Da Flippa sampled Japanese Pop-Singer DAOKO’s “Kakete Ageru”, using her high-pitched, fun vocals to sing about their “Good Day.” Lastly, in a bit of a more obscure example, is De La Soul and Mos Def’s “Big Brother Beat.” The song, which was originally pitched to A Tribe Called Quest, samples the theme from the computer game, Circus, which was created by Yellow Magic Orchestra, a Japanese Electro-Pop band.
If there was ever a group to appreciate Asian culture, it’s the Wu-Tang Clan and their consistent admiration of Martial Arts and Kung-Fu movies. While they have used numerous pieces of dubbed dialogue spewing wisdom throughout their music, particularly in the Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album, RZA even went on to direct his own martial arts movies: The Man With the Iron Fists. The group actually named themselves after the 1983 movie, Shaolin and Wu-Tang. They then used it throughout their debut album, featuring audio clips from the movie on a significant number of tracks, including “Bring Da Ruckus”, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'”, “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber”, “Clan In Da Front”, “Conclusion”, and “Method Man (Remix)”. The group additionally manipulated snippets from the movie, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin to help name their first album as a group. However, that wasn’t the only impact that these movies had on the group’s music; it also helped influence the storylines and characters throughout the album and the rest of the group’s careers. While they may have the most recognizable relation to the movies, other artists followed suit, sampling Kung-Fu cinema to create a story within their music. In paying homage to the group, Logic also utilized Shaolin and Wu-Tang in his track, “Wu-Tang Forever.” Similarly, Big Pun sampled the movie in his song, “Tres Leches.” While the references go on and on, even deep into the members of Wu-Tang’s solo careers, other artists used Martial Arts focused games and characters to enliven their music. In her track, “Chun-Li”, Nicki Minaj looked to Street Fighter II: The World Warrior to create an alter ego for herself; Chun-Li. Chun-Li was a Chinese fighter in the games, but she also made history as the first female character that you could play as in any fighting video game. Furthermore, Kendrick Lamar named himself Kung-Fu Kenny after Don Cheadle’s character, Kenny, in Rush Hour 2, who not only owned a Chinese-Soul food restaurant with his wife but also mastered the Tiger Technique.
While racism against Asians is nothing new in the United States, the overt violence shown towards them in the last year because of the words that came out of Donald Trump’s disgusting mouth is just another example of the everlasting damage that this buffoon has left on this country. His followers blindly listen to everything that he says as if he is the final prophet, exposing the racist thoughts that have become synonymous with patriotism. How do you take pride in a country that wrongs so many people because of their complexion, gender, or religion, but then basks in being the land of opportunity? People come to this country with hopes and dreams because of what America has been built up as but then are faced with judgment and the disgusting sentiment that they are destroying this country. This country is what it is today because of immigrants and diversity. To say otherwise is what is un-American. To believe that white is right is un-American. Killing innocent minorities because of a badge while protecting the rights of white men who have bad days and kill a dozen people is un-American. To allow this behavior to continue, and to be alright with it; to turn a blind eye, is un-American. We need to stop letting others think that to be a true American, you must be white, close-minded, and only concerned with your own liberties. We’ve let others define that as what being a true American is, when in reality, they are just the ones with the loudest bark. If you would like to do something about it, I’ve included a link that provides you with detailed petitions, resources, places to donate, and other information.
If you’d like to learn more about the rising Anti-Asian violence and what you can do to help, please take a look at the following document.