By Lillie Madali
Curating a mix for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) led me to an immediate existential crisis. I wanted to craft a mix that embraces my love of Southern hip-hop, and introduces Asian American artists that are rapping in this style. What I found in the process was a lot of Asian trap rap artists -- that is rap artists in Asia, embracing the trap sound. They exist, but I did not exactly find a lot of Asian American artists embracing the Southern trap sound, rapping in the same style, and talking about the same subjects.
It is not like there aren’t any Asian people in the South, in metro-Atlanta. In Clayton County, home to Waka Flocka Flame and Trinidad James, five percent of the population is Asian. In Cobb County, where I grew up, home to Lil Yachty and Bone Crusher, there is also a similarly sized Asian population. Eventually, it occured to me that the reason why you would find more Asian trap artists in Asia versus in America where the art form originated, is because of the Model Minority Myth. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “This myth characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.”
Even though I grew up in metro-Atlanta, as one of a handful of Asian people, all the way up until high school, in and around hip-hop, I could never act on my love of this music because of this model minority myth. My parents never told me what I was going to be, but I still felt the pressure to be successful, to make my parent’s immigration journey worth it. So I picked up the violin instead of the drums, and I tucked my rap journal (yes, a journal of rhymes, Eminem style) away for English homework. And while I tried to contain my hip-hop to just a hobbyist level for so long, almost two decades later, I am now finally working this out as a DJ.
It took a lot for me to get to this point where I am fine living my truth as a part time DJ, full time public servant. In my case, breaking the model minority myth required me to live authentically, accepting my flaws, and a rejection of perfection. I hope that young people or even Asian Americans of all ages listen to their hearts and pursue the life of their dreams, not what is expected of them.
Which brings me back to this mix -- for the culture. Thanks to groups like Kollaboration and 88Rising, I believe that we are going to start seeing a lot more Asian and Asian American artists in these spaces, living their dreams and rejecting expectations of society. I know that there could be so many different artists, this list is not at all exhaustive. There is diversity by country and gender, and area of the US. These songs and artists were grouped together because...it slap.
Bugoy Na Koykoy - “Tinatawag Ng Tropa”
Gloc-9 - “Hoy”
Cookie$ - “BOGO”
Suboi - “Đời”
P-Lo - “Going to Work”
G Yamazawa - “North Cack”
Awkwafina - “My Vag”
Keith Ape - “잊지마 (It G Ma)” feat. JayAllDay, Loota, Okasian & Kohh
Rich Brian - “Dat Stick”
Dumbfounded - “Harrambe”
88Rising - “Let It Go” feat. Higher Brothers & BlocBoy JB
Jackie Chain - “Rollin’”