Anomaly In The System
By Farhan Muhammad
Clothes 5 times your size, Encye and Cam’ron are just a few examples that helped define the early 2000s. Hip hop was rapidly growing, and its associated fashion, and lifestyle was popularised and marketed to the masses.
It was then when Jin emerged, no, not the K-pop one, I mean MC Jin, or Jin (depends what year) a skilled lyricist who first made a name for himself by killing it on 106 and Parks ‘Freestyle Friday.’
Off the bat Jin was hit with every stereotypical remark in the book about Chinese people, and he never failed to repel each one with on the spot rapid fire retorts. As his popularity grew, he became the first Asian American to be signed onto a major record label (Ruff ryders) and in 2004 to release a solo rap album.
Jin’s sudden rise to fame fell short as his album underperformed and was subsequently let go from the Ruff Ryders roster. However, his short time in the rap game had an inspiring and lasting effect to Asians everywhere. Big influencers like Tim or X quoted that Jin’s appearance on 106 and park helped influence them to be creative and start rapping. Jin’s presence albeit short helped show me and many others that we could be represented in what should have been an already diverse landscape.
Whilst the sales were disappointing Jin’s album (X) had some pretty great hits. Throughout there were tracks that referenced cultural heritage, food and even skits that portrayed Chinese stereotypes that Jin fought so hard against.
At the time Jin was barely 21 and had a growing platform to make a statement that represented Asian Americans. Whilst NPR debates if it was fair to put such emphasis on a young artist, Jin’s first single and arguably his most popular song ‘Learn Chinese,’ was met with mixed responses.
While trying to fight back against racial stereotypes Jin’s track managed to exemplify and market a regressive stereotypical image that pushed back his entire message. He stated on an interview with Arena:
‘the intentions were pure, but the execution may have been where there was a miscalculation, even if you talk about visually, the video, running around and doing karate kicks and sliding on the floor all that extra stuff.’
After being dropped from Ruff Ryders, Jin’s career became somewhat reclusive. He eventually was signed onto a HK label and operated there before coming back to the states and releasing another album titled XIV: LIX.
This album was a clear turnaround for Jin, instead of an unapologetic attitude he came across somewhat prideful. On the track Chinese New Year, he reflected on his first hit Learn Chinese and said that whilst he may have lost sleep over the track and its release subsequently lost him his credibility, he just wanted to make his people proud.
That’s what ‘Chinese New Year’ was about, it was much more respectful and well executed approach. However, the platform that Jin once commanded had shrunk considerably.
The intention of this article it not to just look up at Jin and say he was the only Asian American artist that’s been successful. Instead we want to celebrate a key step of Asian Americans being represented in the music industry. The Pacific Arts movement released a Music Video History of Asian American artists, segmenting specific time periods in the past 46 years to help depict Asian American artists not as an ‘other’ or an alternative. Instead, an already established part of The US Music industry.
The video highlights the successes of Linkin park, Mountain Brothers and YOX. With a great emphasis on what they dub the current ‘Owning it’ period where artists like Raja Kumari, Anik Khan and Awkifina are releasing tracks that just straight up represent their cultures, with flawless execution. However, it is difficult to see their success without Jin’s first steps onto the scene, initially falling into a trap and misstepping allowed future artists to learn from his shortcomings to ensure their success.
There are so many artists I could recommend for you guys, but I’ll just limit them to 3.
Dumbfoundead – A proud Asian American rapper that has been making waves on YouTube for over 10 years with features ranging from Anderson.Pak, Wax, Keith Ape and many other talented artists. He has been recently experimenting with working with more Korean artists as well as making Korean music. Definitely an artist to pay attention to.
YUNA – I first heard Yuna on the 88rising spotlight and I’ve been hooked ever since. This Malaysian singer and songwriter uses her melodic tones and harmonic voice to help make a statement. Her music is truly international and with recent work alongside major artists, Yuna is anything but underground and that isn’t a bad thing; It’s great to see her as part of the mainstream music landscape.
KLASSY – A rising Filipina artist from LA. Her work focuses heavily on recognising proactive women’s rights as well as highlighting Filipino culture. She has recently made tracks that directly reference the human rights violations made against Mexican immigrants across the border.
Asian Americans haven’t always been a huge part of the music industry. However, as more pioneers set examples for the rest of us, we can expect their popularity to grow. We haven’t even mentioned KPOPs nor 88Risings explosion onto the international scene in this article because the sheer size of that subject deserves its own story.