By Steven Cong
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Most of the rappers that I grew up listening to were Black,” said George Quibuyen, a Filipino American rapper who performs in the group Blue Scholars. Quibuyen goes by the stage name Geologic. “The average person may or may not listen to hip hop, but the average music listener still associates rap music with Black culture.”
Quibuyen, along with his DJ, Alexei Saba Mohajerjasbi, who goes by the stage name Sabzi, formed the Blue Scholars in 2002 while they were attending the University of Washington. The group performs nationally on a regular basis and has started their own record label called Mass Line Media.
Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. is the director of diversity at the Bush School in Seattle. He is involved in both the Black community and the hip hop community, and he hosts the annual Northwest Hip Hop Summit. Moore thinks that there can be a conflict between Blacks and Asians regarding hip hop due to a lack of communication.
“The disconnections start really early at the middle school age,” said Moore. “It seems like Black kids own the music and culture, and nobody else can come in. And this Asian kid comes in, and they’re kind of like an imposter.
I think, absolutely, that there has to be cooperation and collaboration, but it has to start early.”
Kevin Park is the Korean American director of Kollaboration Seattle. Kollaboration is the largest Asian American talent show in the nation; it began in 2000. The 2010 Kollaboration will take place in 10 cities across the globe, and Kollaboration Seattle has been scheduled for Oct. 23.
“Hip hop did start with Blacks. It’s part of their heritage,” said Park. “They are protecting what they started, but music can’t be patented if it speaks to somebody. If someone can feel a beat or lyric, that’s when it becomes universal.”
Can’t disregard the source
Quibuyen, Moore, and Park all agreed that while hip hop needs to evolve, credit must be given to the ones who created the genre.
“If I can’t rap, then what does that say about any Black person doing martial arts? It’s a culture that’s shared,” said Quibuyen. “But that shouldn’t be an excuse to just take someone’s culture. There’s an obligation to acknowledge its history and how it came to be and where you fit in.”
“I think it’s important that hip hop is given props for its creation out of the Black community, and for the reasons, and the pain, and the stories,” said Moore. “But I do think that an Asian might bring some cross-cultural or global perspective that just adds to our community.”
The key to respect between both groups is honesty. Lyrics become controversial for both communities when they do not express the artists themselves.
“There’s this song by Murs called ‘Asian Girls,’ ” said Quibuyen. “I know the dude, and we actually both grew up in communities that had many Filipinos. If you didn’t know that, you’d just think this dude’s got an Asian fetish or something. If you dig deeper, you’d find out that in his eyes, this is who he is.”
“The most negative piece for me is an Asian rapper that’s not grown up around hip hop,” said Moore. “They have some resources in suburban areas and bought their way into hip hop. [However,] if an Asian artist comes from a community where their stories are similar, or in the same vein as a Black rapper, then there shouldn’t be any restrictions.”
Asian Americans and Blacks may have different backgrounds in hip hop, but that does not necessarily imply that one group is more interested in the music than the other. Rather, it can be seen as a result of what hip hop means to both communities and its history with both groups.
“For Blacks, [hip hop] is speaking about their history. They are a part of that culture,” said Park. “For Asians, it is a way to break out of that cultural mold and control, and to almost rebel. Asian Americans have grown to integrate it into their culture and use it as an avenue to chase their dreams.”
Moore contrasted hip hop’s appeal to the Black and Asian communities. He reiterated that hip hop is inherent to Black culture, while it may be a form of escape for Asian Americans from cultural norms.
“I think it’s just wired in what we do,” said Moore. “I remember hip hop from as far back as I can remember.
I think the way [Asian Americans] pick music up is through rebellion or some entertainment factor, and it’s just more arbitrary to them.”
Park added that Asian Americans have come to develop a rich background with hip hop in areas other than rap.
“When we’re talking hip hop, it’s not just rap, either. It’s also breakdancing. If you look at the top breakdancing crews, they’re from Korea. When you mention hip hop, Asian Americans are right there in terms of that element of dancing,” said Park.
“We all know that the best dancers are Asian,” said Quibuyen. “But whenever they’ve made a movie about it, it’s mostly Black or white people.”
The media consistently emphasize stereotypes of both groups in the hip hop community. The stereotypes that surround both races are different. That is a result of how their individual histories have been perceived.
“Black people’s history is rooted in slavery, so the stereotype that has developed in the white psyche is that of the dangerous savage — to justify the slavery,” said Quibuyen. “Asians share a similar [racially influenced] history, but it took a different form. For most of the 20th century, America was at war in Asia. Combine that with stereotypes of Asian people who are going to take over the world with their swarming mass of yellow and brown people, and it made sense to see the Asian male as just another number, less than a man.”
These perceptions have changed over time, but its essence remains in contemporary stereotypes. The media’s portrayal of these stereotypes impact how both groups are viewed by society.
Moore mentioned that Asian Americans are at a disadvantage in terms of mainstream acceptance due to the way the media stigmatizes hip hop. He claimed that the media confined the image of a hip hop artist to negative stereotypes commonly associated with Blacks.
“A lot of [the stereotypes] have to do with the criminal aspect of the gangster,” said Moore. “To me, this criminal piece doesn’t fit [the stereotype of an] Asian man. You may have the evil business man, or maybe a villain in a kung fu movie, but they’re not the guy you’re afraid of when you walk around in an alley who’s got the gold teeth and bling on his neck.”
Hip hop provides a medium for youth of all races to overcome stereotypes. Both Moore and Quibuyen referred to the genre as a “voice for the voiceless.” The complexity of this music has turned it into a lifestyle. Its appeal breaks racial boundaries.
“It’s multidimensional. It’s universal. Hip hop involves rapping, dancing, and writing. There are so many different options,” said Park. “That’s why it’s so well liked.” ♦
For more information on Kollaboration Seattle, visit www.kollaborationseattle.org. For more information on the Bush School, visit www.bush.edu. For more information on the Blue Scholars, visit www.bluescholars.com.
Steven Cong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.