I think a lot of it has to do with the times. Like back then it would have been more accepted for other ethnicities to participate in Hip-Hop due to the nature of its open minded founders and their roots. But now we have such opinionated people like Lord Jamar. At the same time there are so many subgenres that as the time changes, so do people so some are more accepting while others are more reactionary.
S: Right. I think you’re right about that. It’s more global. I think that’s where the fear comes in. Like Tanning of America and how everything is sort of blending. I think people who come from a generation where it started, they fear that because if you start losing control over that art form. Not only do you have Macklemore, you have Lil Debbie, you have Riff Raff…
J: Wait. I don’t feel comfortable categorizing Riff Raff with Macklemore in the same sentence.
S: No, no. But that’s my point. I think I can categorize them together because Macklemore is talking about sh*t in his raps that a lot of Black artists traditionally would not be talking about. They’re so different from the traditional aesthetic of what a rapper is supposed to be. You’re a rapper who’s talking about how you used to think you were gay. That’s so taboo. And it’s coming from somebody who is outside of the Black community. I think that’s scary for people who are traditional Hip-Hop lovers.
Right. So we’re in a relatively weird part of history where new topics are being breached by people who are not Black. Looking at you two, Jaeki, you being Asian and Salima, you being black, how have your backgrounds led to creative differences and similarities? What has that dynamic been like?
S: I think the conversation we just had, Jaeki and I can have nice debates like this. We definitely have some differences how we perceive certain things. I think that is a great thing because where Jaeki is happy that all of this inclusiveness is happening, I can understand why people aren’t happy. Like my best friend, I showed her the trailer a long time ago when I first started it. This is a girl who went to college for African American studies. She was like, “F*ck this sh*t. This is why this is not okay.” And we had that discussion. Whereas I don’t know if you [Jaeki] had that discussion with people around you. We both put in our knowledge base and I think that helps. I think it’s perfect.
J: I agree. In a way, Salima is pretty contradictory herself. She’s a Black girl who runs a K-Pop site. But, is that wrong? There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not a part of the nation of Islam or the Zulu nation. I’m not preaching a philosophy about like Afrika Bambaataa. The way I accepted Hip-Hop is like how a lot of people of our generation accepted Hip-Hop: television, radio, rappers, magazines. I’m sure it doesn’t have to be a Black or White thing. I’m sure most kids who took in Hip-Hop culture accepted it through a similar channel. Because of our ethnic background that pertains to a certain kind of community, we do have a difference in opinions that when it’s making a documentary, that needs to have a critical observation of such, these kind of discussions, these kind of views, creates something where it’s in the middle. It’s grey and not black and white. That type of perspective makes it a better journalistic output than having one point of view. It’s like a checks and balance. Lord Jamar, he’s not really getting that. He probably needs a Jaeki in his life. [laughs]
When I look at Hip-Hop, I see it as a relatively young genre. On top of that, Asians have entered the playing field after Blacks and Whites. Do you think that maybe Asian Americans are just late to the game and have to catch up?
J: I could have a whole discussion with you about this. But there are so many reasons why. I know them but I don’t feel like everybody else knows them. It could be a socioeconomic issue. It could be the racial stereotypes that comes along with it. It could also be the financial strengths that Asian Americans have because of their limited population in America. It could be a multiple of different factors. Let me break down the finance part because I feel like that usually gets overlooked. White American consist of about 75%+ of the country’s population. Black Americans maybe 15%.
J: 13? So 15 was close. Latinos maybe 15%. Asians and other ethnic groups less than 5%. We are still a minority, literally. If you are a gatekeeper that owns Sony, Universal and you’re telling your A&Rs to pick up an artist, you’re thinking in your head, “If I sign this kid, how many records am I going to sell?” And if your population is less than 5%, the likelihood of you investing in this kid for that return is going to be slimmer. Even if you are f*cking ill out of your motherf*cking world, you’re thinking, “How am I going to make money off this kid? Am I going to flip him in China, where there’s more people that look like him? Or am I going to do that sh*t in America where the likelihood of kids in middle America is going to look at him funny?” The other perspective is that you and I can both relate to, who’s our role model?
J: Who’s your role model watching television? Bruce Lee, right? Homie died 41 years ago. He died in 1973. Of course Asian males are emasculated. Salima so sickly pointed out that Hip-Hop is the only genre of music where machismo and aggression and bigging up yourself and braggadocio is openly celebrated and required. It’s like the antithesis of what an Asian male is represented in America as a whole. There’s a survey where African American females are the least favored and Asian American females are the most favored. Whereas White males are the most favored and Asian American males are the least favored. So in a way, we are both the least favored. [laughs] Salima and I are the least favored people in this country.
S: I just have two more. One, this is something I’ve asked several times while making this film. Who’s good enough? So who is that person? You have Big Pun for Latinos who opened that door. And you have Eminem of course. But has there been that one person for Asian Americans? I ask that question a lot to these artists and I ask them, “Are Asian American rappers good?” The most resounding answer I get, which I think is funny, is, “No. A lot of them are trash.” I think there needs to be that person. I hear that that person has to be better than most of the rappers that are in the game right now. That is sorta like Jin but Jin was a battle rapper and wasn’t able to break through that rapper, I don’t think.
J: She’s completely right. We talk about having successful Latino rappers. Considering the number of Latino rappers out there, there hasn’t really been a mainstream star for them yet. It’s very limited. They had Cypress Hill. They had Pun. They had Fat Joe. It’s a limited few. Even white rappers. You know how many White rappers are out there? There are so many White rappers out there.
Yeah, I’m noticing that I’m getting more and more music submissions from White kids.
J: Even for them to be accepted and be recognized by the culture, you gotta be extra good, better than your “Black counterpart.”
S: The last thing I was gonna say is that you [Jaeki] were talking about role models. I don’t think there has been an Asian person for Black people to see and accept. That person is Bruce Lee but there hasn’t been that person for consumers of Hip-Hop. There are caricatures of Asians in movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That’s what mainstream culture sees. It’s not just that Asian Americans are seeing those images but that everyone is seeing them. That’s why it’s hard for us to accept it.