Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Asian Americans in R&B

There are two different types of Asian American musical artists in the R&B genre: Asian American artists who downplay race in an effort to appeal to a broader audience and Asian American artists who use their race to openly discuss their ethnicity and identity through music.

(1) Asian American R&B Artists who minimize the impact of their Asian identity

Artists such as Cassie, Amerie and Kelis are popular as a result of their efforts to downplay their racial differences and appeal to a larger mainstream audience. Similar to Hip Hop, many R&B artists of Asian decent find that “listeners hear them differently on whether they’re already known to be Asian American.” (Wong 252) R&B artists who are Asian American try to limit initial perception to their sound in an effort to achieve mainstream success. These artists acknowledge that it is harder to receive the acclaim their white and black counterparts receive if they acknowledge their ethnicity into their music.

Mainstream artists like Cassie, who’s father is Filipino and mother is of Caribbean, Mexican and Native American heritage does not make explicit references to her father’s Asian heritage or its influence on her music and identity. Her big hit “Me & U,” released in 2006, sold over 1 million digital downloads and was a dance club success (Cohen). “Me & U” could be sung by a number of R&B artists of various ethnic backgrounds as the song pertains to a typical heterosexual relationship situation experienced by all ethnicities.

Other R&B artists such as Amerie, create similar music in which discussion of their ethnicity is downplayed. Songs with themes of love, hate and difficult relationships are more common. Amerie, daughter of an African American father and a Korean mother allows herself to move between identities, sometimes embracing her African American heritage while appealing to urban radio airwaves and sometimes embracing her Asian heritage singing in Korean -- competing with non-Asian artists such as Ashanti and Tweet.

Many of the best known and most popular Asian American musical artists tend to be multiracial Asians ('hapas') Successful multiracial Asian solo artists include Norah Jones (Asian Indian and White), Michelle Branch (Indonesian and Irish), and Amerie (Korean and African American). Many believe that record executives feel multiracial Asian American artists are more "culturally acceptable" or "marketable" to American consumers. These producers are more eager to promote the multiracial Asians than monoracial Asian American artists. (Writers, Artists, Entertainers: Asian Nation) . The generalization of Amerie's songs topics is common among R&B artists. In singing about love, Amerie is able to appeal to a wider audience and achieve greater popularity but she is also keen to incorporate some Asian features into her music, whether words from the Korean language or symbolism in her music videos. Asian images are used to display attractive exoticism that is intriguing to mass culture.

Other artists like Amerie are Kelis (whose father is African American and mother is Chinese and Puerto Rican) and Debelah Morgan (of African American and Indian heritage). All of these artists are of mixed Asian decent and another ethnicities. Being mixed allows artists to highlight one identity over another when important. More often, it is the African American identity that is highlighted as R&B is typically seen as originating from African American culture.

(2) Asian American R&B artists who incorporate their Asian identities into their Music

These artists and bands are typically less well-known because their musical aesthetics and politics are appreciated by a smaller audience, usually Asian Americans.

These artists include:

-ROSE ANN DIMALANTA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Ann_Dimalanta)

-KEVIN SO (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiCc4fzRJlk)

-JENI (http://margeauxs-mix.ew.com/2009/01/jeni-fujita-ind.html)




Cassie “Me & U” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6EJZtQjiYA
Amerie “One Thing” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa1qaAcJG70
Amerie “Touch” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs0tub17v3E&feature=PlayList&p=6D45D545ACE74C23&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=17
Cohen, Johnathan. “Diddy: Cassie CD Will Catch People ‘Off Guard.’” Billboard.Com. April 7th 2008. NY. Date accessed: 3/15/09 < http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003786642 >

Le, C.N. 2009. "Writers, Artists, & Entertainers." Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. (March 16, 2009).

Wong, Deborah. “Speak it Louder”

Afro Asia By Fred Wei-han Ho, Bill Mullen pg 306

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