We Know...WTF? It's a Perspective on Identity within Music.
Way back in May 2018, ‘cause that seems like forever ago in 2020’s simulated timeline, Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover aka Troy Barnes aka Young Lando released a little music video and song called “This is America”. In case you missed it, here’s a great article from Time Magazine that explains it’s symbolism and meaning (along with the video itself).
The song/video is the embodiment of where lit meets music, utilizing both the lyrics and music video to convey its message. There’s no need to critique it any further. It’ll be around in 2120 assuming we don’t boil away from global warming (or some other nefarious reason).
One day, I pulled up Awkafina in Spotify. Thank you, Crazy Rich Asians.
In 1986, my uncle introduced me to Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. Later, he’d introduce me to more hip hop and rap. Completely appropriate btw for a ten-year-old to listen to Young MC and Big Daddy Kane. Parental Advisories? He did the right thing. I would’ve found it anyways. We used to have a thing called radio and Yo MTV Raps back then. As if the "beep" they put over "Beep the Police" really made a difference. Truth be told, early hip hop and rap didn't use many vulgarities. See also - Tone Loc.
As a ten-year-old, I performed Young MC’s “Bust a Move” at my uncle’s housewarming party. Man, I wanted to be a rapper. I wanted the gumby hair style. I knew and practiced all the lyrics way before that night. “This here’s a tale for all the fellas!” I rapped and did the running man. I jumped over my leg. I wore shades in the dark. I wore a blazer and black leather jeans. Thank goodness phones were just for talking back then. Like Courtney Cox jumping Bruce Springsteen’s stage, a cool sixteen-year-old girl came out of the crowd and danced with me. I wanted limos with spas and at least three to four scantily clad women riding along. I wanted stacks of cash and gold chains. I wanted a boombox on my shoulder.
Then I realized I’m Asian.
Flashback. My uncle and I were poor immigrants. Refugees.
I think (amongst many other things), within hip hop and rap, we identified with the common motif of the “struggle”. We needed some confidence and swag like we saw in every rapper. We needed to “come up”. As Biggie said, “from ashy to classy.” We identified with trying to get rich. America, the land of milk and honey, right? “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’!” Reagonomics. Capitalism! YES! Of course we identified with being looked down upon and being marginalized in a land that we didn’t understand yet.
We wanted to fit in, but we didn’t know where or how. Like hip hop and rap. The criticism was that it wasn’t “real” music. The Grammy’s didn’t give a “Best Rap Album” until 1996. “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang released in 1979. Rap started in the 1970’s.
And then Childish Gambino. I’ve been a fan since 3005. The glorification of profiteering, violence as entertainment, violence as the norm, racism. All ignored because "we just want to party." “This is America” now. And then.
So…what the hell does Awkafina have to do with this? Well, first let’s look at some her song titles:
“Marijuana” … Not Dope, Grass, MaryJane…but yes the actual formal name
“Janet Reno Mad”
“Fresh Water Salmon”
“Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margarita)”
I’m not sure if she’s trolling the hip hop industry lol, considering her comedy. But I don’t think she is.
What I find interesting is that Awkwafina raps about the same motifs and themes that many hip hop and rap songs embody, but from an Asian "middle-class" perspective.
What other rapper would use Law and Order, Snuggie, and apologize to their mom for not being a doctor? This is from “Marijuana”:
“But I think I catch a Law and Order marathon Send a couple texts, put a motherfucking Snuggie on I'm sorry Mama, that I am not a doctor That I rap about the vag and I smoke marijuana-juana I'm sorry Mama, that I am not a doctor That I'm talkin' that shit when I smoke marijuana-juana M-marijuana-juana' M-marijuana-juana M-marijuana-juana”
Also, who the fuck is Janet Reno? I’m kidding.
Ultimately, Awkwafina’s music is how she fits in with America. I’m totally fine with this. Give her a listen. I think there’s some genius in her work. Awkafina tries to fit herself into rap.
I think Eminem is another great example of someone that fits themselves into rap as opposed to trying to fit the “stereotype”. There's plenty others like Tupac and, even though some might disagree, Drake. There's plenty outside of hip hop and rap.
Which brings us back to Childish Gambino. When I look at “Rap Caviar” on Spotify (or frankly any playlists). When I search for something new and inspiring, I realize that the themes and motifs most definitely still fit. The struggle is still there.
We continue to search for our piece of whatever that piece might be.
Maybe...Some of us are still looking for our fit.
That's all. Thanks for reading.