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Asians And Hip-Hop Culture

Hilarious video from Nokia proposing a whole new origin of hip-hop…

What is the attraction between Asians and Hip-Hop? Furthermore, do our churches reflect this?

Is this further evidence that Asian American churches equate Christianity with Whiteness, whereas Asian Americans who are more self-aware of their social circumstance as minority identify more strongly with the urban art form of hip-hop?

Maybe it’s just that Asians have bought into the veneer of “niceness” that churches portray, but there is a whole other side of the immigrant experience that we suppress and  fail to vocalize. I wonder if it’s more than just hip-hop is cool…maybe it’s an attitude that attracts young Asian Americans, something we would like to have, but don’t. I wonder if the church could address this…is there an anger here that can be channeled as creative expression? Or is this an opportunity to heal and care for our young souls?

I think it’s unusual that Asian youths in church listen to David Crowder, but Asian youths who don’t go to church often listen to hip-hop…so the music they associate with worship is White, the music they enjoy or would rather listen to is hip-hop or urban, even though many of them live suburban lives. What a strange world in which to worship in. Perhaps we don’t even have a strong theology of worship? Or maybe our sense of worship is just as mixed as we are…


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

16 responses to “Asians And Hip-Hop Culture

  1. Kweli ⋅

    this is dope!

  2. Anthony1 ⋅

    I still like good old rock’n roll. I think a lot of worship songs these day reflect that. Christian radio in my area, LA, CA. are not playing much HIp Hop at all. I’m glad for that.
    I think it’ll be hard to play hip hop songs on acoustic guitar which is the main instrument for worship in fellowships. Maybe it’ll be drum machines instead……:-)

  3. Anthony1, thanks for the comment…this is interesting. the christian radio stations really only offer “White” worship, so that’s where the industry is. But what if they played more gospel, do you think that your worship would try to play more of that? Is the instrumentation a factor?

  4. Charles

    The distinction that you pointed out between “white” and “urban” forms of music was interesting. Personally, I am one of those who has lost taste for “white” musical forms of worship. Something beautiful that I feel that the black church has to offer to musical expressions of worship is the “soul” element. That very element that one not only hears… but that one can feel. It’s the very expression of suffering made manifest in melodies and harmonies. And I feel that element is often lacking in “mainstream” forms of worship. Not that everyone has to re-arrange their music in order to add in those soulful chords… but rather… it is the posture we must all take in order to be honest about the suffering within our midst and to sing them out… not just lyrically… but also musically.

    This begins to make sense when we look at the global emergence of jazz. Jazz wasn’t just an american phenomenon… those dissonant chords and melodic structures were also arising around the world in places like Brazil, South Africa, Europe. Or even a few decades earlier… you can see the simultaneous emergence of arirang in Korea’s struggle for independence… and those soulful forms coming out of the sharecropping American South. The pentatonic structures of music… as well as the call and response form… is strikingly similar.

    Hip Hop is the artistic expression of urban america, particularly the disenchantment many youth feel… well… “good” hip hop is that anyways. I guess when i look at the phenomenon of hip hop in asian-american communities… I see something deeper we are trying to express. So perhaps it is that element of suffering that connects those stuck within the racial hierarchy of America.

    props to you and your thoughts you put out here. forced me to think deeper about some things i’ve been putting off.

  5. what’s up charles, you’re singing my song now…
    i think that is what needs to be happening, but again, i think the attraction of having everything appear “oriented” in our faith and in our worship comes from the dominant majority, and our willingness to pursue the God of Whiteness. when we observe AsianAms who are in touch with their ethnicity and their social realities, urban music and hip-hop are appreciated as a musical form that gives expression to injustices. and you insightfully have pointed out the soulfulness that is associated with it. i have no idea why most asian churches don’t realize that we are creating the cleft even more deeply between those who are christian and those aren’t by reinforcing the musical forms of the majority and not acknowledging themselves as minority. the dissonance can only grow as we step away from real social issues that other asianams face…

  6. This is very interesting indeed. Your last paragraph has a stunning observation.

    Allow me to brain vomit.

    The asian american church borrows from and models its worship styles from the dominant white culture. But then you step out of the christian Asian American circles, and you see what some people dub as “wangsta’s”. Just as Asian Americans emulate white culture in terms of their model minority mentality, there also seems to be a simultaneous attraction to the emulation of the lower-class urban culture. These east asian american guys dress up like tupac, drive in their escalades, have puffy marshmallow jackets (okay, this is more when I was in high school… obviously, the culture has evolved from there…). It’s ironic- they are able to achieve the dream of leaving the ghetto that the urban culture presents. It’s not dream, but achievable reality, made possible by mom and dad’s software engineering jobs (yeah, massive over-generalizations here, apologies… even the affluent model minorities have financial, relational and obviously spiritual brokeness… ).

    Are they trying to achieve the cultural status of urban culture by emulating it without actually experiencing the suffering that Chucky brings up in his previous comment? What’s the price of that?

    I’ve seen –some– of my “wangsta” friends genuinely embarrassed when they actually enter a poor neighborhood or even when they just hang out with my southeast asian friends from the other side of town. I don’t get it. Perhaps we try to emulate those we fear to cover up that fear.

    What kind of difference would occur if Asian Americans didn’t just emulate the glorified images of host cultures (whether the dominant or the oppressed), but decided to actually enter into both the joys and pains of other cultures? To walk beside instead of imitating from a distance?

    But then there is what Chucky brought up earlier that perks my ears- good hip hop is the music of disenchanted youth. Perhaps it is not disenchantment from not having financial or social mobility in society- perhaps the disenchantment is from seeing that the achieved status of the model minority is a sham that has done nothing to heal the brokenness of their hearts, families and communities.

    Although they are far from real hip-hop, I remember in high school how many of my friends (at lynbrook high school in San Jose, CA, which has a 70 percent East-Asian/south asian population) would be able to relate to the rage that was expressed from the band Linkin Park, who had an Asian American rapper. Somehow his disillusionment and anger at the futility of the postmodern wasteland of broken systems struck a chord as the singer belted out, “I tried so hard, and got so far… but in the end, it doesn’t even matter!” Doesn’t that sound like the ethos of a post-model minority subject? Of the second generation looking at the achievement and culture of their parent’s generation, and feeling like its standards are irrelevant and empty, yet bound to them by a culture of shame and guilt?

    Perhaps there is a legitimate disenchantment buried within second generation Asian-American culture. Then of course it is interesting that the immigrant church circumvents the engagement of this disenchantment… perhaps an act of saving face? Hiding the disenchantment and attempting to maintain the illusion that we have become equal to whites? And the reaction to this saving of face is a second generation that attempts to reject the white culture and finds resonance with those that have been oppressed by it, because they, too, feel they have been oppressed by that culture, although not expressed by white people themselves…

    Ah… I could go on. The hybridity and thickness of Asian-American culture is so rich, one could write pages of random thoughts.

    One thing I know for sure. The gospel is not about achieving status among men. It is not meant to be a falling in with the standards of dominant culture or about maintaining illusions of dominance. It is also not a paralyzing disillusionment of dominant culture. It is not imitation, disillusionment or dominance of culture, but it is the REDEMPTION of culture. Again- can this next generation of Asian-Americans take the next step… from being the imitators of cultures to the redeeming agents of cultures on the behalf of the kingdom of God?

    (sweeping statements and questions I will have to toss and turn about in my sleep)

  7. elderj

    Daniel, just reading your comment made my head spin in a listening to good spoken word kind of way

  8. Anthony1 ⋅

    Traditionally and as far back as since I’ve been going to church in the 70’s, my church was always follows the Maranatha Praise series as well as other similar style of music. As the mainstream worship songs change, I think we just follow that. I don’t think we’ve ever thought about coming up with our own Asian flavor or follow the Hip Hop style of music. I do hear more and more of Kids praise song being sold with Hip Hip flavor to it.
    As far as instrumentation, guitar is probably one of the most portable instrument as far as keeping the rhythm and tune goes. The mainstream also tends to be easier to play for someone with minimum lessons on guitar.

  9. daniellui…you rock, keep tossing in your sleep because i think you’re right on. i can assure you there is disenchantment, but the church does not give room for this type of disorientation, the church is a place only for the oriented, only for the righteous…and you know what Jesus would say to that, don’t you?

    anthony1, i agree with you, but want to push back a little bit…when you say, “mainstream”, you mean “white”, right? i mean, if we had valued “blackness” or gospel (music), we could have copied them…certainly there are points of confluence. but why don’t we? and how is that we’ve come to so easily accept this industry of worship music? again, you point out guitar as portable instrumentation, but the guitar is just as known for jazz and blues as it is for rock and country. i agree with you that we have followed the mainstream, i guess i’m asking what it would look like if we took a step back and stopped following the mainstream. what would we look like and sound like? how would we appeal to our brothers and sisters who are not attracted to Asians who don’t act/sing/think Asian-ly in church?

  10. Anthony1 ⋅

    It’s pretty hard to sing blues or jazz together though….don’t you think?…:)
    I think the emphasis is how easy for everyone to sing together. I do noticed that we take worship music from white and some attitude and how we talk from blacks.

    how would we appeal to our brothers and sisters who are not attracted to Asians who don’t act/sing/think Asian-ly in church?

    Hmmm, I know some people that sings out of tune but their hearts are totally intune with God. That’s what great about America…there’s so many style of worship….you dont’ feel comfortable in one church, just go down the street a little further.

  11. well, if we’re to have an asian american church, it would be nice if they weren’t emulating “whiteness” or like you say, we might as well go to the church down the street. personally, i don’t think that there are that many styles of worship, and i feel that diversity in that area would actually help if it spoke to the ethnic identity of the church. worship should reflect our own response in worship, not someone else’s. don’t you think?

    i think that’s part of what will attract brothers and sisters who don’t feel that asian american churches are really asian at all. they feel that many AA churches are vestiges of colonialism. that’s part of the problem in my opinion.

  12. Anthony1 ⋅

    Why does worship has to be done in our ethnic way? Jesus taught us how to pray. He said when you pray, pray this way. He did not say ” oh, you Gentiles pray this way, you Jews, pray this way. I don’t think we need to hold on to our culture. We need to live out our faith and perhaps abandon some of our cultural practices that hinder us from worshiping God or the process of ” working out our faith”.

  13. anthony1,
    i know what you mean. and in some sense, i agree that some aspects of culture can hinder our worship. but in another sense, i wonder if there is a value in redeeming culture and looking back in our cultural narrative to see how God saved us and brought us to him. from the book of revelation, we can see that God clearly values cultures…but we tend to think of it as a hindrance. perhaps we assume that unity requires uniformity. but maybe not. maybe we can add to the depth of God’s worship by seeking an authentic culturally-borne response. the other mistake that we make is that we assume that we can transcend any culture at all, that we could worship God without any cultural context at all, but that’s not reasonable. We often subscribe to dominant majority culture and consider it a virtue, i suppose all i’m asking for is a bit more examination as we worship.

  14. elderj

    Worship is always done in a cultural way, whether it is the language we use, the instruments, the types of songs.. the whole package. I think David’s push is appropriate in that Asian Americans chose to emulate “mainstream” i.e. White styles and assume that it is somehow neutral, while hip-hop, blues, jazz, etc, are not.

    As for me I am continually flummoxed by the responses I get from people when I suggest doing songs in the gospel style as if they were more difficult to do, or as if Black people were somehow genetically gifted to sing in that style. In as much as I as a Black American had to learn how to sing contemporary Christian music so then can anyone else learn to sing gospel or learn to play it for that matter. The fact is there is no incentive to do, because Black people, music and culture are not seen as “mainstream” and hence not worthy of emulation — except when it has to do with things outside of the “sacred sphere.”

    As for instrumentation, gospel music actually requires less and can be sung accapella since vocals predominate in ways they do not in contemporary Christian music, or with only a keyboard.

  15. the categories, while they are not typically part of the conversation, then are really important. the forms we worship in, as elderj points out, matters. because we find that our worship then might be short-circuited by our surrender of authentic response-and-call practice of worship dialogue with God.

    asians who have emulated black art forms in dance and music (pop-culturally), and certainly benefited from the civil rights movement…it seems strange then, that we distance ourselves from their influence in our worship or our christian lives.

    if you are trying to be multi-ethnic, then this is a good place to start. if you are trying to be more true to a monoethnic context then, shouldn’t it also be examined and differentiated theologically and sociologically?

  16. Kev ⋅

    the white man rules the world,
    and missionaries came as white folk

    in turn
    asians want to emulate the people in power

    as for the video posted, it is staged and they are using the trend of people loving hip hop by connecting it to their roots, how are u gonna deny the funny in that

    hip hop is a revolutionary movement for what it is and the empowering feeling people get from it, but i do agree most asian people become hip hop nerds, huge identity crisis.

    but thats what happens with asians in america regardless of what type of asian you are.

    Most kids that are attracted to hip hop have gone through struggles and trials and turn to it as a culture to freely express or vent there feelings where worshiping is a different phenomenon (not to say its constricting).

    To the kids that get into it because its the cool thing to do, they’re time will pass because it is a phase to them, but there are kids who really need something like true hip hop in giving them an outlet from the hardships of our society. Oh and the internet had a big impact on who is what now too, because they can process everything in the world quicker than before and choose what is “cool” to them.

    everyone is different even inside of their own ethnicity.
    i was always the black sheep of my church because i my path in life was different and i lived in a broken home and chose things like hiphop to free my anger.

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