Bad Rap – Better A Second Time?

The quest for authenticity in hip-hop features quite heavily across Bad Rap, a 2016 documentary following the career of popular Korean American rapper Dumbfounded as well as three other Korean American rappers popular in the scene – Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks.

(Other Asian American rappers like Jay Park, Traphik, and Decipher show up across the film in brief segments, but they’re not the focus.)

Directed by Salima Korona, the film opens with some necessary hip-hop history. One of the things I appreciated the first time I watched this documentary was the way it nodded to the impact that Filipino rappers had on the game and gave viewers an introduction to a side of hip hop history that many of us don’t know.

These are rappers that probably WON’T be showing up on Netflix’s big hip hop history documentary series – which sucks because it’s a history we don’t talk about and don’t focus on – despite needing to.

So off the bat, I appreciated the look at these pioneers of Asian American hip-hop and I want to learn more about them. What are they doing now? What do they think of current rappers? Are their flows still fantastic?

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Introducing Authenticity (Mini-Essay #1)

I sound like a Barbie doll most of the time.

Or Daria.

If you heard me on the phone without knowing anything about me or without seeing my profile picture, you’d probably think I was a sure front runner to play Elle Woods in the musical adaptation of Legally Blonde.

For all intents and purposes, I “sound white”.

I’ve sounded like this my entire life, even when I was a child growing up in the Virgin Islands.

Out of all of my siblings, I am the only one without a recognizable Caribbean accent. If I’m around the right people – my friends and family from the islands or other Black people from other islands – sometimes I sound similar but, it doesn’t happen all that often.

All my life, I’ve struggled with authenticity.

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Note: This timeline is an attempt on my and Jaeyoung’s parts to show a trajectory and some major moments for hip-hop that potentially put these cultures into conversation.

As a result, timeline does not cover every single event that happened across Black and Korean hip hop history. Otherwise, it’d be book-length and I would be a hot mess from having to wade through my sources even longer.

(Please let me know if you need or want a PDF copy of this timeline and source post!)

1974 – The birth of “hip hop” as a genre in the United States.

While the foundations of hip hop music were laid in 1972/1973, multiple sources claim that the genre didn’t take flight until 1974. Further sources claim that Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins (from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) actually came up with a name for the genre four years later in 1978

1978 – “Rap music” as a term coined in the United States

This source claims that in 1978, the music industry coins “rap music” and shifts from DJs towards MCs. However the etymology of the word “rap” and the African (and African American) tradition of rhythmic speech (often) alongside beats dates back way further and we have evidence of Black artists dating back to the Sixties performing a spoken word style that they called “rap”.

1978 – Afro-Korean singer Insooni debuts as part of the Hee Sisters in South Korea

Born in 1957 to a Korean mother and an African American GI, Insooni is a soulful diva that remains one of the most well-known performers in Korea. She’s a still-active singer who performed at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She’s important to mention at this point of the project because she’s also a household name and cultural icon within Korea now and a sign that Black people from Korea are known to the citizens.

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