Since the days of Yo! MTV Raps, music videos have played a huge role in the identity of Hiphop in the cultural consciousness, to the point where “the reception and marketing of music is almost synonymous with the production of music videos” (Rose 8). Music videos can be a way for artists to better set the mood of their track, express the meaning of their lyrics, or even to simply just stunt. In many cases, music videos draw from not just the experience of the artist but also from other cultures to which they are exposed, allowing artists to develop unique “hiphop cultural style and aesthetics” (Rose 9). In the context of Hiphop x Asia, we’ve highlighted numerous examples where Asian influences are evident in American rappers’ videos, and vice versa. The blending of Asian and Black culture in these videos are used in a variety of ways - from the Wu-Tang Clan’s homage to their kung-fu influences in “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'”, to Asian-American artists like Dumbfoundead using Hiphop to discuss the difficulties of straddling two cultures in “Safe”, and even to the less-sensitive appropriation of Asian culture and aesthetic in Migos’ “Stir Fry”, it’s safe to say that this cross-cultural pollination is not simply an isolated event.
The 2018 Hiphop x Asia Music Video Playlist aims to illustrate this cultural interplay as well as capture the diversity of the interaction between Asian cultures and Hiphop. To get started, below we've highlighted five videos from the playlist. Check out all the videos on YouTube, and listen to the songs on Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal.
1. “Made in China” - Higher Brothers feat. Famous Dex
In this video, the Higher Brothers celebrate their Chinese heritage as they rap in front of distinctly Chinese backdrops and boast about the ubiquity of Chinese products around the world. They also touch on the racism encountered as Asians in hiphop and the censorship so prevalent in China during the Famous Dex feature.
2. “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” - Wu-Tang Clan
“Early on, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and I used to watch kung fu movies, leave the theater, do some kung-fu fighting, get on the train, keep fighting, and then run into MCs and musically battle them like it was a kung-fu fight. That was my weekend habit.” – RZA ("RZA's Edge: The RZA's Guide to Kung-Fu Films" by Jason Gross for the Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was a manifestation of the deep-seated influence of martial arts cinema in the music and overall philosophy of the RZA and the group as a whole. The video for “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” channels, and puts a hiphop twist, on its opening dialogue samples from the films Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983) and Five Deadly Venoms (1978) as well as the film behind its name, Mystery of Chess Boxing (1979).
3. “Safe” - Dumbfoundead
In “Safe”, Dumbfoundead explores the struggles that Asian-American faces in terms of equal representation and opportunities in media. The song was inspired by his experiences watching the Oscars, where he noticed that “the only yellow men were all statues”. To highlight the underrepresentation of Asians and other minorities in modern mainstream media, the video superimposes Dumbfoundead’s face on famous white men in iconic movie clips.
4. “NYC Bitche$” - Awkwafina
In this video, Awkwafina stays true to her quirkiness, humor, and New York City roots. She raps in various areas of the city and documents several funny moments with passerby. While it is less apparent in this video than in some of her other music, she also speaks about women's issues as an Asian female rapper.
5. “Stir Fry” - Migos
“Stir Fry” is rather controversial in its portrayal of Chinese culture due to the Migos’ seemingly flippant attitude in producing the video. While the video is obviously influenced by Asian aesthetics, it seems to use these influences in a purely surface-level way, without giving any deeper meaning or respect to the underlying culture.
Hiphop x Asia: During the month of April, we are investigating the interactions between hiphop and Asian cultures. The 2018 Hiphop x Asia series will highlight artists from Asia, celebrate the intersection of hiphop with Asian culture, and examine how cultures can draw from each other while promoting mutual respect. Learn more HERE.
Jeff Chang is a Senior at Harvard College studying Computer Science and Statistics. His favorite artists are JPEGMAFIA and Kanye West.
Christian Floyd is a Senior at Harvard College studying Sociology and Human Evolutionary Biology. His favorite artist is Childish Gambino.