Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Asian American Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop in Asian America






Asian American Contribution to Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop, began in the 70s as a musical genre and culture, by African Americans in the Bronx, New York. Typically it involves rapping over a rhythmic beat or “free styling” over a DJ’s turntable skills. Hip-hop consists of rhyming to the accompaniment of a beat, and usually entails storytelling by the artist. Beyond rap, hip-hop has extended to become a culture that involves disc jockeying, dancing, more specifically breakdancing, fashion, and language.

In an effort to cross the binary racialization of hip-hop (strictly black and white industry), hip-hop in Asian America emerged in the 1990s in various regions of the United States, by Asian Americans who represented diverse backgrounds under the umbrella term Asian Americans. Since its development as a sub-genre, several artists have contributed to the hip hop community and culture through three ways: the fusion of traditional Asian music with popular music in America, the transition into mainstream culture, and the offering of new perspectives to hip-hop. "Hip Hop is American. I mean we're Asians, but the problem is we got to look at ourselves as American before we look at ourselves as Asians. Just because you're doing hip-hop doesn't mean you're doing a black thing. You're doing an American thing," says Ted Chung, Marketing VP of Doggystyle Records. Because of the constant discourse regarding identity politics, Asian American hip hop music has been praised and simultaneously been criticized for its context and how much artists promote their racial identity through their music.


Lyrics Born (Japanese American rapper; half of duo Latryx)

Asiatic Apostles

Yellow Peril

Seoul Brothers

Mountain Brothers (Chinese American rap group)

Key Kool (Japanese American rapper)

Jamez (Korean American rapper)

Jin (Chinese American rapper)

Shing02 (Japanese American rapper/producer)

M-Flo (trio: rapper, producer & DJ) (Japanese-American)

Seamo (Japanese American rapper)


DJ Phatrick

DJ Qbert

DJ Rhettmatic (Filipino American DJ)

Invisible Skratch Picklz

DJ Babum

DJ Shortkut


Chad Hugo (half of production duo The Neptunes)

Dan the Automator


CHOPS (producer for Young Jeezy, The Game, Bun B, Lil’ Wayne)

Timeline of Asians in Hip-Hop



1990s Early Asian American Hip-Hop

Early Asian American Hip-Hop began with Asian American artists performing independently on college campuses for example; for the most part, these artists and/or groups were politically charged. Artists and groups strived to let their voices be heard, as well as challenge and encourage change and differences within the music industry and the hip-hop sector. Some politically based groups include Asiatic Apostles, Yellow Peril, and Seoul Brothers.

In 1991, Steve Wei, Scott Jun, and Christopher Wong also known as Styles, Chops, and Peril, respectively, formed the rap group The Mountain Brothers at Penn State University.

In 1995, Rap duo Key Kool (Japanese American) and DJ Rhettmatic (Filipino American) released their debut album Kosmonautz independently.

In 1996, The Mountain Brothers release their single, in the same year they won a rap contest sponsored by Sprite. This breakthrough year enabled them to become the first Chinese American rap group to be signed to a major label.

1998 was a year of re-emergence for Asian American Hip-Hop. After the release of Kosmonautz by Key Kool and DJ Rhettmatic, Asian American rap appeared to be dying out earlier than anticipated. According to scholar Oliver Wang, “in what seems serendipity, the latter part of 1998 has seen the release of hip-hop influenced albums by three Asian American artists [Mountain Brothers, Jamez, and DJ QBert], each representing a very different set of aesthetic and geographical perspectives” (Wang).


In 2004, Jin was the first Asian American to be signed to a mainstream recording label Ruff Ryders. Chinese rapper Jin initially became interested in rap by listening to the radio first and later on began writing. In a Washington Post article, Jin states, “Then I started going to the record store and demanding, like, 'Yo, what's the newest artist out?' ... Eventually that made the transition from listening to starting to write my own rhymes ... and then the hobby just turned into my life" (Wartofsky). Most of his fame can be attributed to his performances in various freestyle rap battles, most of which were considered underground. BET’s hip-hop program, 106 & Park hosted a series of rap battles where MCs would challenge that week’s champion. After winning for seven weeks straight, Jin became the second rapper to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A recording contract with Ruff Ryders followed thereafter.

Contributions to the Hip-Hop Community & Culture

Asian American Hip-Hop artists have contributed much to Hip-Hop’s already rich history. An industry often restricted to black and white musicians has been permeated by some of the most talented Asian Americans. While breaking racial boundaries, Asian American Hip Hop artists, producers, DJs, and breakdancers have all acknowledged Hip-Hop’s origins and do in fact acknowledge its African American foundations. Asian American contributions to the Hip Hop industry have exemplified their expansion and continuous evolution of hip-hop as a musical movement and culture.

Fusion of traditional Asian music with American music

Jamez, born James Chang, originally from Los Angeles moved to Flushing, Queens, is a prime figure in the fusion of the Asian and American cultures. O his debut album Z-Bonics, he demonstrates and incorporates traditional Korean music with hip-hop. He uses hip-hop as a form of social commentary to advocate social and political empowerment, which demonstrates his support of hip-hop as a means of having one’s voice heard. Jamez uses a traditional Korean musical instrument, Poongmul drumming, accompanied by beats to create his music. "So many of us are influenced by Western standards of beauty, speech and music. I want to expose Asian Americans to their rich legacy of music. Our beat of life," Jamez says.

Transition into mainstream culture

Artists like The Mountain Brothers and Jin have transitioned into mainstream American culture for various reasons. These artists have signed with major record labels, giving them exposure to different audiences.

Offering of new perspectives/innovations to Hip-Hop

Artists are utilizing a myriad of modes for gaining exposure in the hip-hop world. Groups like the Mountain Brothers have chosen to release their music independently through the Internet, for example. DJ Qbert, for example, uses new technologies on his albums. He fuses electronica with hip-hop because he believes the future of Hip Hop should include new innovoations.


Mountain Brothers’ Chops Interview:

Chad Hugo in the Studio

Jin Freestyle against BET’s 106 & Park Freestyle Friday Reigning Champion


Le, C.N. 2009. "Martial Arts, Video Games, & Hip-Hop." Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. (March 17, 2009).

Rap's freshest face is Asian American By Alona Wartofsky | Special to The Washington Post

Asian Americans and Hip-Hop By Oliver Wang (1998) <>

Asian American Hip-Hop Musicians Wikipedia (March 17, 2009) <>



  1. i'm from Brazil and i liked this blog
    visit my blog/

  2. Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Centri Records is a New York based independent record label owned by Rhandy Acosta. It originated as a way for local talent from Queens, NY. Rhoyale’s new single Tonight is now available on Apple Music and Google Play. Add it to your playlist today.