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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tribeca Review: Asian-American Marginalization, Cultural Appropriation, and BAD RAP

The title of the film already says it all: BAD RAP. Sure, it's a play on words, but it also highlights a type of music that has long been considered the source of racial, political and social aggravation. Which makes it ripe for exploration in a documentary. But filmmaker Salima Koroma doesn't focus on the negative sociopolitical issues persistently discussed in the media (misogyny, cultural appropriation, sexism, etc). Rather, she opens up the conversation to the far less discussed marginalization of Asian-American rappers in an industry dominated by African-American men.

"I hated being called an Asian rapper." Through interviews with rap artists like Lyricks, Rekstizzy, and Dumbfoundead, Koroma peels back yet another layer of a complex industry that fosters essential narratives just as much as it ostracizes them. Each of the subjects share their perspectives on everything from the lack of opportunity, battle raps in which freestyle lyrics against their ethnicity are praised, their parents' disapproval of their careers due to their own preconceptions, appropriating black hip-hop music videos with scantily clad black women, to their authenticity in rap challenged due to their race and assumptions that they bare no relation to the lifestyle they perpetuate in their songs.

While generalizations and stigmatizing of Asian-American culture and contributions is certainly not an unusual concept in the world of American entertainment (cough, Ghost in the Shell, cough, All You Need is Kill), it's interesting to witness some of those same Asian-American male artists turn around and solely attribute the success of female counterparts like Awkwafina to the fact that they are women in a male-dominated industry (and not, you know, on account of their actual talent). Further, while the concept of cultural appropriation is partly connected to Asian-American male artists who have half naked black women dancing in their music videos, it seems to be more controversial because the women are black--and not the fact that they're barely clothed. Which sounds more like a double standard on just who has the right to be misogynistic in their videos.

But BAD RAP isn't about what's wrong with rap. Even in the video clips featured above, you can see just how powerful the genre is and how it continues to birth amazing talent nationwide, across all ethnicities. And there's room for all of them, that's the point here. Is the industry perfect? Far from it. In fact, it's deeply flawed on a number of levels (like many other areas of entertainment). But great rap is about storytelling, and everyone has a story to tell. If only we'd listen.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)


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