Culture Music NYU

Dumbfoundead on Asian-ness, Activism, and Aspiring Artists

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Last month, Generasian Editor-at-Large had the opportunity to interview Dumbfoundead (also known as Parker and Korean Jesus) after his performance at NYU ACE31. Parts of this interview have been released on Kollaboration NY and One Reason Recordings, but below is the full transcript, in which he talks about his thoughts on everything from Asian activists to how he approaches the music and entertainment business.

You mentioned Asian stereotypes in your first song, what are some that really affected you personally?

I think any Asian American has dealt with stereotypes, especially in the rap world—that’s all material for rappers to start using as ammo, you know what I’m saying? So it was cool to me when I was hit with a lot of those stereotypes and I always found it kind of cool, like I always appreciated clever racial punchlines, I guess. You know what I’m saying? If they’re just like ching chong ching chong, that’s whack. Dave Chappelle had a good bit about how when Kramer dropped the N bomb on Dave and when he had that controversy. Dave said he saw that set and he said that’s when he found out that he was 80% comedian and 20% black, because instead of being offended, he was like, ‘that dude is having a terrible set right now’. There was no like black and white, there was only black and tight, you know. But I mean, I got hit by it all, same as any Asian American would, and it didn’t faze me. I just want to come back harder and I liked that they underestimated me and they thought they had me in the corner just because they had these few stereotypes.

When you’re on stage, do you identify more as Asian, or are you just a rapper?

I’m just a rapper, but I go up there and be like, I’m Asian and I represent us hard because we’re definitely a minority in the entertainment business. So to me, I want to come up. I think I definitely had identity issues like a lot of Asians when they’re growing up, just ‘cus they’re like, where do we fit? And young Asian kids, you know, they’re like any other kid. We’re watching TV and listening to the radio and they’re looking for voices that they can follow and inspire them and to motivate them to follow that same blueprint. But when you don’t see any Asian role models, it’s like, where do these kids go? So they usually cling on to other cultures, whether it’s black culture and hip hop or white kids and rock music. They choose a side, you know what I’m saying? And with Asian kids, there weren’t really role models — we’re still creating that blueprint. We’re all pioneers now, everybody who’s doing right now, we’re pioneers.

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Yeah, I definitely identify, and now I’m definitely strong about representing, I represent hard. I’m not up there saying like “Asian pride,” but I think just me being myself and saying whatever the f*** I want is important. I don’t think I should hold back in being rambunctious or being a crazy dude because we need role models like that. We already know about these Asians who are, you know, doing good stuff behind the scenes. The doctors and lawyers — they’re doing great work, but we need the balance, you know what I’m saying? Jeremy Lin’s cool, but I want an Asian Ron Artest — like I want that balance, you know, so I think we need more of that. We need to break that stereotype of every Asian guy being timid and shy.

So how do you feel about the entertainment industry — do they treat you differently because you’re Asian?

No — you know what, they don’t treat me differently. But when I’m looking at mainstream media, I always wonder why there aren’t as many Asian Americans on TV or radio, and that bugs me for sure. That bugs me because I’m trying to be one of those voices and things are starting to change, like Eddie Huang, Arden Cho, David Chang, a lot of Asian actors too. [They’re] not just doing stereotypical roles, but it’s very slow progress and it always will be. Even when the black community was trying to break into entertainment in the beginning, they had to do a lot of stuff that even their own community criticized them for, so like that’s the kinda s*** that we might see. For example, Ken Jeong from the Hangover. So as much as I don’t like seeing that s***, we have to start from somewhere. We kinda have to go through that before we climb over that hill.

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It’s been said that yellow is the new black, rising up, do you think that’s true?

Funny thing about being Asian is that there’s a lot of cool s*** about Asian culture that people f*** with, but it’s not fully cool. You have Jet Li in Romeo Must Die and he was the lead role, but no one believed that he would smash the lead. They tried to sell that, but we haven’t had any Asian leading dudes that were cool. Girls right now don’t see movies and say ‘I wanna f*** that Asian dude’—they did a study… Asian girl—most desired girls in the planet. Asian guys—least desired guys on the planet. It doesn’t help that we have f***ing stereotypes, that’s f***ed up. I just think we need more role models, speaking against that s***, Asian male porn stars, that’s what I’m pretty much saying…nah I’m just kidding, but there really isn’t one…

In terms of role models, you’ve worked with other established artists, like Epik High…

I’m strictly speaking for America, because those are international markets. Kpop is big, all over the world, even here, but the general American is not going to know about those stars, and that’s fine. There are White girls, Black girls, Latina girls, who are into Kpop, but a lot of them are actually the outcasts of American culture too. If you meet a lot of those girls, those are the outcast kids in school, and I love that about the Kpop fanbase, that you get all these weird kids. I was a f***ing weird kid, so I love that they have something to attach themselves to and be a part of. If I’m talking general marketing in America, we’re still the butt of a lot of jokes. You can hear a corny-a** Asian joke that’s been played out so many times, but you can go to a comedy club and it still f***ing works, you know? It still works, and it’s so whack. And that’s education—it all comes down to education. It comes down to educating the general masses about what Asians are—people don’t have an idea of what Asian people are in America. It’s all anime, kung fu—that’s real s***.

In terms of some of the Asian American activists on the scene recently, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jeff Yang, who writes for the WSJ, and Suey Park…

Yeah, of course, I keep up. If there’s any Asian mother***ers making noise, I’m up on it. And that’s how a lot of Asian cats are, because we have so few that as soon as we hear about one Asian mother***er doing some s***, we find out about it. I found out about Awkwafina a long-a** time ago. She put out one video and I was like who the f*** is this? I did mad research, I emailed her, me and Rekstizzy, who was on stage, we’re up on our Asian s***. If there’s one Asian mother***er slightly making noise, I’m gonna find you, and I’m gonna try to make some s***. And that’s how few there are, you know what I’m saying? We gotta search for mother***ers, and I’m not even a f***ing manager or record label, I’m just trying to f***ing relate to mother***ers.

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Actually the charity that I work with, ORR, we’re doing that—we’re supporting independent artists, and actually one of the artists we work with, Jae Jin, he’s up-and-coming. What’s your opinion on record labels? Let’s say an artist gets an offer from a big record label — what’s your advice?

I think the fact that major labels are failing is the best thing to ever happen to Asian Americans — real talk — because now we can do whatever the f*** we want. Asian kids aren’t thinking, “I need to get a major label deal,” because everybody is killing it independent. Asians, we’re already a long-a** distance from getting signed to a major label. Now that gap is slowly getting tighter and tighter, where we can just skip that s*** and be like, “We’re gonna put out our own s***.” YouTube is like Asian Hollywood — that s*** is crazy.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring Asian artist, what would it be?

I would just say you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone — that’s number one. What I’m scared about for the Asian entertainment community is that it’s going to have an Asian entertainment scene that becomes a comfort zone. [For example], you start performing at just Asian events and people feel confident just in that circle, and don’t want to step out of the circle. There’s enough money in there to survive, so they don’t want to strive for higher, or beyond that. That’s f***ing scary — that’s why the YouTube scene kind of scares me, because all those YouTube kids reach a plateau in that and they don’t go further than that. You have to graduate from that into mainstream media. What I mean is, [for example], if there’s a YouTube kid who has half a million or a million subscribers who has never played a show outside of his bedroom, he might have a lot of viewers and followers, but once he gets a deal and they throw him on the f***ing stage, is he gonna he know what the f*** to do? That’s f***ing scary. That’s why I admire the black community — they have sh** like The Apollo where if you suck, they boo you offstage. To me, that was dope, because it’s tough love.

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You need that from the Asian community. Asian motherf***ers are way too nice to each other — you’ve got to tell them that they’re whack or that they need improvement. Asian people are way too nice to each other about criticism and feedback and that doesn’t help everybody — real friends stab you in the front. I told that to Kollaboration’s Roy and PK — it’s important to support your own kind, Asian Americans, but it’s way more important to support dope Asians. I don’t want whack Asians on the front line. Kollaboration has been doing great work, but they need to be stricter, really tighten up. Kollaboration has 12 cities — every year, they do a show in a different city, so there are 12-15 shows a year. But you’re not going to find the best of the best Asians like that. It’s hard finding one f***ing crazy ass Asian a year. You’re trying to have a showcase of 10 acts in every f***ing city? You have to tighten it up [to find the] best of the best. Have one act — one show in the U.S. and get the f***ing best motherf***ers every year.

What do you think makes someone the best?

You know! The people know, the community knows, we know — we’re not stupid. You can’t underestimate the audience. The more you underestimate them, it’s going to be the norm. It’s going to be the norm for us to watch every Asian performer do a f***ing Bruno Mars cover and that’s the s***. Like how many times have you heard that s*** — someone do a Jason Mraz or Bruno Mars cover on stage with a guitar? Let’s get some original content. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been doing this s*** a long time, since college. I’ve seen it all, the worst of the worst, the best of the best.

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So recently there have been more publicized reports of anti-Asian racism…do you think there is an actual rise in prevalence of these events, or is it just that Asian communities are being more vocal?

No, I think Asian cats are being more vocal. I don’t think there’s been a rise of racism, I think that s***’s been there. We’ve had a very steady amount of racism and it hasn’t decreased—it’s there. But yeah, Asian cats are being more vocal, and also the medium of being vocal has changed. We’re talking about the technology, which is one thing that I’m kinda half and half about, like ok it’s cool that people are being vocal, but with hashtags and s*** like that…but you know, don’t be scared to get in front of the camera or a f***ing microphone and go off.

That was my follow-up question, the whole twitter infighting—

Like Suey Park and shit like that? I don’t know…I think it’s easy for her, it’s like slacktivism [Cat: keyboard activism?]. Yeah, there have been people fighting that fight for a long time. It’s cool that they got this reach but I think that they need to do a little bit more research and pay dues, just like anything else, before they kinda just get out there. If you’re representing a community like that, you gotta be careful and you gotta do your f***ing research and study that shit. That’s why Suey got that f***ing heat, because you can’t just go out there and be like ‘this is how the whole community feels’ when it isn’t.

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So which activist do you align your views most with?

Mmm, like Asian activist? I like cats who don’t jump to conclusions—they just kinda present that out there and inform the people more and not sway or try to preach. I don’t like the preachy cats at all.

Many thanks to Justin Choy for arranging the interview and to Jason Moy and Peter Ou, who provided the images for this post.

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