Yes, he hangs out in Chinatown. Yes, his parents were traditional Asian parents who didn’t, at first, support his now lucrative career. And you know what? He even folds origami, dammit.
But for 21-year-old rapper Jin, the media’s focus on his nationality has almost become a burden.
“They ask me the same questions. Everybody wants to know,” says a noticeably irritated Jin, whose full name is Jin Au-Yeung. “I think I’m going to do one big press release that answers all of that. It’ll be like, ‘Newsflash: Jin is Chinese, and no, he’s not the Asian Eminem, and yes, his parents didn’t support him at first.…’”
The son of Chinese immigrants, Jin was born and raised in Miami, Florida. After discovering his passion for hip-hop and battling “everywhere possible,” he decided to follow a dream in 2001 and move to New York to pursue it as a career.
"To an extent, I feel like I’m representing for certain individuals who hate me, or don’t want to see me succeed. "
“Actually, my parents weren’t as strict as I recall a lot of my friends’ or cousins’ relatives being,” he says. “They were open-minded to an extent, [although] not so much open-minded when I told them I wasn’t going to college and I was going to be a rapper. That wasn’t good news.”
While initially skeptical, Jin’s parents did eventually relent, and accepted his move to New York to become a rapper. The determining factor, Jin explains, was when he started winning $1000 cash prizes at various emcee battles he attended.
“I’d be coming home with like a thousand dollars [worth] of 20s. I had footage [too] and I’d be showing them footage. They speak English, but not to the extent where they can understand what I’m saying in a rhyme. I would explain to them how it works, translate it to them – loosely – what I said to them and what they said to me, and [my parents] were like, ‘Oh shit, you’re good! Wow, this really requires some sort of talent,’ you know?”
Ironically enough, Jin says that the bulk of race-based criticism he receives is from other Asians.
“I encounter all different types of ethnicities who for the most part are like, ‘Yo Jin, you killed it on [BET’s] 106 & Park. I’m feeling what you’re doing,’ and when I do encounter the negative, it be other Asians,” he says, with a ring of perplexity in his voice.
“Maybe they rap too, and maybe they feel that they should be the one in my position. One thing I’ve realized lately is that I don’t think people really realize the position I’m in and really how difficult it is. On top of the music industry and rap, and all of that [already] being a hard business to be in, I’ve got to deal with the extra stuff like that criticism and the non-believers. To an extent, I feel like I’m representing for certain individuals who hate me, or don’t want to see me succeed.”
If that is the case, the haters are going to be miffed because Jin is succeeding. To date, he’s won countless emcee battles on 106 & Park; joined the prominent Ruff Ryders label; made his acting debut in last year’s 2 Fast 2 Furious alongside Ludacris, Tyrese and Paul Walker; and has been featured in Vibe, Elle Girl, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. All this and he still hasn’t even released his debut album yet.
Currently, the video for his first single, “Learn Chinese,” can be seen on MTV and BET. The video is a fusion of both his Asian heritage and modern-day rap: It features an intricate storyline, weaving together fight scenes reminiscent of classic kung-fu flicks with a mess of the token hot chicks found in most rap videos today.
While Jin claims he wants credit for being “an emcee” as apposed to “an Asian emcee,” you can’t help but point out that he seems to be perpetuating the cycle himself. With song titles like “Learn Chinese” and “Asian Girls,” it’s expected that the media is going to talk about it.
“This is an overgeneralization, but can’t Asian rappers rap about anything besides being Asian?” asks one critic at New York-based hip-hop site Diesel Nation. “I’m sure there are a lot more to these people than being Asian, but I can’t see it in their lyrics. I may not be looking hard enough, though.”
Another critic begs to differ. “If you replaced all the Asian people in the video with African-Americans… you wouldn’t notice a thing,” he points out. “It is a typical rap video: glamorous people looking good in front of the camera. For me, the big problem is not Jin. The problem is that people still see non-blacks as a novelty in rap music, yet the vast majority of the hip-hop scene is very diverse, and white, Latino and Asian artists have been playing a huge role in the development of the genre since the late 1980s.”
Jin’s reply is that he is simply proud of who he is, and chooses to express that in his music and is not using his ethnicity as a gimmick or a crutch.
“Hopefully through the music and the album I will accomplish more and that label will go away,” he says optimistically. “I know it’s not something that’s going to go away overnight, because that’s the fascination right now. That’s just how the media is, so I’m not surprised.”
His debut album, The Rest Is History, is scheduled for release on March 23rd on Ruff Ryders. It features production by Wyclef, Swizz Beats, Kanye West, Bink, and several Ruff Ryder producers such as Elite, Devone and Neo.
Touching on another Asian stereotype, is Jin any good at math?
“The only numbers I want to see are SoundScan numbers and how I do in the first week,” he says with a laugh.
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