Awkwafina, Asian American woman rapper: double bamboo ceiling?

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Hip Hop and rap is an industry that is hardly captivated by Asian Americans. Due to the history of hip hop being birthed in African American communities to really capture the oppression, anger and life; rappers and singers from African American communities have dominated the scene and industry. In thinking of the hip hop industry within the networks of commercialism, it is important to think about marketability and visibility, which seems inseparable from hip hop. In this way, this process of marketing an artist can be a lens or perspective in which to analyze the dynamic of Asian American rappers within the hip hop industry. Through reading about a few Asian American rappers and their interviews, it seems to indicate the inseparability of commercialism and how it impacts not only the hip hop industry, but also especially for Asian American rappers. Often times, it is said that the African Americans “own” hip-hop, which makes it hard for non-black rappers to penetrate the industry. There is a danger in accepting this notion without critical eyes not only to the Asian American rappers, but also for African American rappers.

This conversation expands further when we’re talking about Awkwafina because not only is she Asian American, but she’s a woman. She is famous for her song called, My Vag, which seems to be an anthem for feminists especially Asian American women. The line that especially rings feminists is when she says “and her vag is 50 times better than a penis”. In studying Awkwafina within the hip-hop industry, it’ll be interesting to look at the media’s power to not only use race and gender as the basis of marketing, but also to market one dimensionality of a race or gender in the name of commercialism creates little to no space for Asian American rappers or females in the hip hop industry.

“and her vag is 50 times better than a penis”

This idea of simple marketability is not foreign in the music industry as artists are marketed to the audience. Artists, more often than not, market one characteristic of them whether it’s Taylor Swift and her girl next-door character or Nicky Minaj and her sex appeal. This idea of visibility only in terms of one dimensionality can be expanded further into a whole type of music in relation to race. With the prevalent assumption that the African Americans “own” the genre of hip-hop, both the genre of hip-hop and African American males are at the risk of being prescribed one character and only that one character.

The danger of this one prescription becomes more evident when one particular character becomes attributed to a whole group of race. This is easily done through media, consumerism and controlling images that all tell the audience that one group of race is associated with one particular way of behaving or character. Hip-hop is heavily associated with images of African American men in certain baggy clothes, singing about women, drugs or money and moving their bodies in a certain way. There is a simultaneous and perpetuated stereotyping that takes place by saying that African American men “own” hip-hop while also these particular images are pervasive within the industry. Not only is this detriment to African American male, but also excludes other non African American rappers and female rappers.

For example, Asian American men are seen as the exact opposite of what hip-hop should be because of this. Wang describes the dynamic as “Black masculinity is associated with stereotypes of hypermasculinity and sexuality, physical aggression, and the underclasses, these stand in almost diametric opposition to so-called model minority of Asian masculinity: effete an asexual, passive, and middle class” (41). There are various image constructing that happens for both African American and Asian American and the music industry is one place where this detrimental consequences play out.

Within the entirety of conversation, women rappers are close to not existent. Even in the article written by Wang, no Asian American women rappers were talked about even as examples of the few Asian American rappers trying to make it out in the scene. Awkwafina, one of the few Asian American rappers who are somewhat visible, points out the fact that Asian women are usually hypersexualized. This is seen repeatedly true with the images of Dragon Lady or Lotus Blossom that continues to be prescribed to Asian women’s bodies. With this, she says that she tries her to separate that image from her music as much as possible because of people that say “you’re just doing well because you’re a woman” with the implication that women’s sexuality can be a profitable selling point.

This problem of media constructing one particular character to a whole group of people, in other words stereotyping, can be limiting in various ways as seen by Awkwafina as an example. Because she is Asian American and a woman, people expect her to be something and not a rapper. This circles back to the lack of visibility she has because of this reason. There is no clear answers or direction that should take place, but this is a good place to start conversations regarding race and gender that play out in the music field.

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