Latter-day philosopher Terrence Howard once opined that it’s hard out here for a pimp, which may very well be true in a general sense. But for someone trying to launch a career in hip-hop, at least in the world of Hustle & Flow, there’s no better starting point. Stepping on the scene as a diminutive, young Asian-American woman from a relatively comfortable background and style lifted from the Clinton Hill Salvation Army, however — that’s hard.
That was the uphill battle fought by Awkwafina, a New York MC featured in the edifying new Tribeca documentary Bad Rap. (She’s doing pretty well for herself nowadays, with a handful of viral hits, a steady gig as a commentator on MTV’s Girl Code, and a role in this summer’s Neighbors 2 to her name.) She’s just one of the many colorful, charismatic, and dauntingly talented rhyme-spitters appearing in this patchwork survey of reluctantly underground Asian hip-hop. The documentary shines a light on one of rap’s most underrepresented factions and exposes a thriving culture of wit, dopeness for dopeness’ sake, and fraught negotiations between the social and the personal.
With roots spanning from Tribeca Film Festival’s own New York City to the K-Town district of Los Angeles, a roundtable panel consisting of rappers Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, Lyricks, and Dumbfoundead, as well as director Salima Koroma and her co-producer Jaeki Cho, convened for a conversation with Uproxx. In between fits of laughter, the tight-knit group discussed being a minority among minorities, reading YouTube comments, and Chris Rock’s “stupid” Oscar jokes.
After a day full of interviews, do y’all get tired of answering questions about Asians and hip-hop?
Dumbfoundead: Eh, we can talk about it still.
Awkwafina: I’ll talk about it all day!
Dumbfoundead: I’d say it’s not talked about enough.
How do you balance being visible in the public eye as Asians in hip-hop and representing that heritage, with not wanting to be branded that way or otherwise put in a box?