3.3.05

Chink.


"The 22-year-old first encountered the double standard in his teens, as an aspiring MC competing in rap battles, the gladiatorial head-to-heads portrayed in the film 8 Mile. Every rapper he faced would bombard him with tired Asian stereotypes - Bruce Lee, fortune cookies, egg rolls and so on - to delighted whoops from the crowd. "I realised, and this was way before 8 Mile, that I should use the Asian jokes first so that they lost a lot of their value. Using equivalent stereotypes against a black opponent was never an option. "Hell no! I wouldn't even last 10 seconds. If I had said one thing even remotely about him being African-American, it would be over. I'd have a lawsuit or something. I don't feel bitter about it. That's just how it is."

As a rule, rappers make lousy interviewees. Jin's conversation, however, is as sharp and engaging as his lyrics. He's also the first MC I've ever interviewed who turns up early. The Japanese restaurant where we meet is a regular haunt of his. When his family moved to New York in 2001, he would stand outside nearby record shop Fat Beats trying to sell his self-produced tapes, then use the money to buy lunch. Within a few months he had won a slot on Black Entertainment Television's popular battle show, Freestyle Friday. Correctly guessing that the reigning champion, Hassan, would resort to Asian gags, he struck first: "If you make one joke about rice or karate/ NYPD be in Chinatown searching for your body." Hassan was so wrongfooted he couldn't even finish his rap, and Jin became the new champion. He was eventually "retired", undefeated, after seven weeks to give other rappers a chance, by which time he had been snapped up by the Ruff Ryders label."

~ Straight Outta Chinatown, an interview with Jin Auyeung, the first Chinese man to be signed to a major rap label in the US.