Awkwafina, Fierce and Funny (and Asian-American), Takes on Hip-Hop

486305_445471435527672_884527493_nOne might say the illest new rapper on the block is a water brand.

Or, rather, the name of a water brand re-envisioned as an Asian-American rapper, Awkwafina, who introduced the superpower of the queef in her album Yellow Ranger, released in February. More recently, Nora Lum—the New York-based artist behind Awkwafina—has been working on a documentary about Asian-American rappers entitled Bad Rap. The film, produced by Salima Koroma and Jaeki Cho, also features Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy, Lyricks and a number of other rappers.

With 40 minutes of footage, the producers have taken to Indiegogo to raise money for the project. At publication, the documentary has exceeded their initial $25,000 goal and raised more than $30,000, with the campaign set to close on June 12.

A focus on Asian American rappers is unusual because many are largely unknown. In the documentary’s trailer, Dumbfoundead notes, “I don’t think (producers) think they can market me right now.” Cho speaks to this concern in an interview with The Source, in which he argues that producers don’t know if Asian rappers would sell given the small percentage of the U.S. population that is Asian. (As of 2012, Asians accounted for a little more than 5 percent of the census.) Oliver Wang of KCET notes that Asian-American rappers must also grapple with the contradiction between perceived “‘model minority’ passivity” and “hip hop’s association with equally stereotypical black aggression.”

This underrepresentation in the hip-hop community is even further exacerbated among women. “A little diminutive Asian girl,” as Awkwafina says in the documentary’s trailer, is not expected to bust out a tune about her vagina.

Recently, commentators have been working aggressively to tout the intelligence of hip-hop performers, as evidenced by their large vocabularies. Unfortunately, only four of the mentioned performers in “The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop” are women.

Meanwhile, Awkwafina has certainly started popping holes in hip-hop’s men’s man’s balloon.

Her inflection recalls comedic deadpan, churned out in a gritty tone somewhere between the vocal version of a sneer and a head nod. It speaks to a refreshing confidence that suggests she isn’t asking for anyone to hold her hand when she crosses the street.

With the help of a no-nonsense delivery, her lyrics are hilarious. Her diatribe on vestigial gooches in “Mayor Bloomburg (Giant Margarita)” could be a stand-alone comedic sketch, and her representation of female anatomy in her “My Vag” video is far more hilariously empowering than that of any high school sex-ed teacher. Yet hidden behind that comedic veneer is an honest approach to issues such as overcoming stereotypical expectations and breaking through sexist and racist norms.

Indeed, Awkwafina says that her album is “emancipating pussy like I was Abe Lincoln” in the album’s namesake rap, “Yellow Ranger.”

A pompous claim, to say the least, but if anyone’s working to destroy the perceived connection between a woman performer’s sexuality and her talent, it’s Awkwafina. Confronting the frequently sexualized world of hip-hop, her album makes no efforts to constrict and process the female body to fit an idealized model.

Indeed, Awkwafina offers a very different face than is typical on a rap album. She is Asian, female, less curvy and fully dressed, and throughout her album she proudly announces her various identities. In “Yellow Ranger,” she raps, “I bring that yellow to the rap game / High with these eyes, Po can’t tell if I’m blazed.”

Similarly, her lyrics accept, joke about and vehemently praise her body as is. In “My Vag,” she alternatively hypes her pussy as “a operative ballad,” as “Harvard Law School” and as “a Beyoncé weave”. Not only does she take on the female genitalia with a comedic vigor reminiscent of Community’s Troy and Abed, but she does so without turning her sexuality into a lollipop, packaged and ready for your consumption. Her vagina not only does not need a penis to confirm its value, her vagina is in fact “50 times better than a penis.”

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In “Queef,” she turns the dreaded vagina fart into a superpower that could blow someone away, and in the video she attempts to convince a woman of her “queefsion” (queef + mission). All women whose vaginas have bled, queefed, itched, discharged and started barking at the neighbor’s dog will understand that, while we love them, our vaginas are not always glamorous. Awkwafina represents the sexy reality of womanhood in a way that many vajazzled women artists do not.

Not to say that this is the only way to represent or praise a woman’s sexuality. Across industries and time, women have dressed, danced and acted in ways that would popularly be perceived as promiscuous or sexualized. Yet these women have also done so in ways that characterize their fierce ownership over their bodies and sexualities. Awkwafina represents another manifestation of this ownership, choosing to lay her claims in terms that might be more accessible to the women who, for the life of them, cannot figure out how to strut down the street like Beyoncé or Iggy Azalea.

Awkwafina will be taking on Los Angeles in October as a performer at Festival Supreme alongside the likes of Margaret Cho, Peaches and Jenny Slate. The show should be fantastic, especially if she brings her cat.

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Margaret Nickens is a senior at Brown University and an intern with Ms. magazine. Check out her blog or follow her on twitter

 

 

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