By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
For most high school students, typical after-school activities may include competing in a high school sport, performing in a music group, or planning the layout for the school yearbook.
But for Steven Cong, a 17-year-old senior from Governor John Rogers High School in Puyallup, extracurricular activities include coordinating events around one of his biggest passions, hip hop music.
“I’ve always loved hip hop,” said Cong. “And I believe there’s a rich history and culture between Asian Americans and hip hop right now.”
In light of the China earthquake in 2008, Cong held a hip hop benefit concert at his high school to raise funds for the victims. With the profits going to UNICEF, the event was a success, and it inspired him to organize another show with a specific focus — a concert named Words of One People — that aims to showcase Asian American hip hop talent to diffuse stereotypes between race and music.
“While we’re still a minority, and we have a ways to go to prove ourselves in certain fields, I think that [hip hop music] is a great way for us to express ourselves in a new light,” said Cong.
Cong tracked down and booked emerging artists from hip hop blogs that he follows. As well, he got in touch with performers who he had worked with for his previous benefit concert. He then secured a venue at The Vera Project, a nonprofit music-arts center, run by and for youth.
He quickly found sponsors that were eager to support the event. These groups included the Vietnamese Student Association at Seattle University, the UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center, and Ulysses’ Social Media Marketing Company.
“I hope this concert will bring visibility and awareness to the Asian community in a genre that doesn’t exist today,” said Gil Gido, principal consultant of Ulysses’ Social Media Marketing Company and president of the National Association of Asian American Professionals in Seattle.
“It’s important to give leadership opportunities back to our community. Today, there are a lot more Asians, and with our populations growing and reaching areas where we have no role-models, like hip hop music, I see these [concert] artists as pioneers for the industry.”
Performing hip hop music as a hobby has also risen among Asian American youth in past years. Andrew Fung, one of the concert’s slated performers (his stage name is Inglish), developed a huge passion for the genre at a young age.
“My older brother introduced me to hip hop, so I was always listening to it as a kid,” said Fung. Although Fung dabbled with creating music, the thought of performing had never crossed his mind until he hosted a junior high talent show. His first experience on stage brought a rush that quickly hooked him to performing.
“I do see more Asian Americans coming out onto the music scene, and they’re taking hip hop more seriously than ever now — specifically a lot more youth,” said Cham Ba, another concert artist (known by his stage name, Massiah).
Ba also embraced hip hop performance as a young adolescent and gained his reputation by networking locally with friends in the underground hip hop scene.
“Our music community is growing and for it to prosper, we really need to start organizing after-school programs targeting Asian American youth so they can learn about the art form from an early age,” said Ba.
But even with the emergence of Asian American hip hop artists, many artists understand the difficult reality of changing perceptions in this genre.
“I want to break a stereotype, but I understand you cannot break all since more come from that. It’s an ugly cycle,” said Fung.
“But I do want to show that Asian Americans can perform really well and have a good time, too — so I’m doing this concert for them.”
“There are many stereotypes about what Asian American kids need to become when they’re older,” adds Cong. “But with this concert, I hope people take away the message that anything is possible … you can really do anything if you’re set on it.”
In addition to Inglish and Massiah, the Words of One People concert will feature hip hop acts G.O.W.E. (Gifted On West East), Know Choice, Nam, and Canary Sing. Sonny Bonoho will host the event with DJ Sureal of 206 Zulu Nation serving as the DJ. A portion of the proceeds will return to The Vera Project and the Asian Student Association at Governor John Rogers High School. ♦
The Words of One People concert will take place at The Vera Project at Seattle Center on Feb. 27, 8:00-11:30 p.m. Tickets are $9. All ages welcome. For more information, visit www.theveraproject.org.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.