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Streetwise Model Minority: Hip Hop and Afro-Asian Encounters


This paper examines Hip Hop as a social space with mixed implications for contemporary Asian-Black relations. Through establishing common grounds based on mutual interests and shared cultural identities, Hip Hop bears the potential to facilitate meaningful cross-racial exchange. Concurrently it may exacerbate existing tensions, shaped by dominant cultural politics that have situated these groups in tandem. The growing emergence of Asian American rappers has brought accusations of cultural misappropriation--comparable to white co-optation of Black popular culture--revealing deep structures and embedded histories of mistrust. Compounding such inimical responses are the polarities between popular notions of Asian and Black subjectivities, rendering Asian American rappers racially inauthentic in a cultural world where Blackness is the normative. In exploring these divergent interracial dynamics, I ground my project in the case study of Chinese American battle rapper, Jin Auyueng. The national public primarily recognizes Jin as a contestant on the highest profile rap battle stage, 106 & Park's Freestyle Friday, aired on the cable television network BET. Initially received with skepticism and later lauded a brilliant performer, Jin's checkered career emblematizes the possibilities of changing Asian-Black relations via lived social interactions. More than shared cultural habits and tastes, the direct encounter in a common platform is what helped realize these interpersonal associations. By examining recordings of Jin's 2002 performances on Freestyle Friday, I trace the vicissitudes of interracial relations through this sort of engagement, accounting for existing conflicts while appreciating the possibilities of hard-won solidarity, rendered and fulfilled.

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