By Veronica Espinal | @_veronica_es
Asian-American rappers, Jason Chu and Alan Z, get real in their new album Face Value. The two rappers joined hands to collaborate on a musical project with features from various artists from the Asian diaspora. In a time where social and racial tensions are at its highest, the two rappers gathered together to tackle the pressing issues that afflict the Asian community.
Face Value stemmed from a conversation Alan and Jason Chu had early last year, around the time that COVID-19 hit along with the initial sparks of the Anti-Asian attacks. During their discussion, the two artists were brainstorming what actionable plans they could implement to shed light on the issues affecting their community. Their passion for storytelling led them to build a full concept album that touches upon Asian-American history to heal and unite communities through music.
“We were talking about how the media and how people are framing this as almost as a new phenomenon. Just very like surface level,” Alan tells EnVi. “We touch on Asian-American history, but tied into what’s going on today. So you see the lineage of how we’ve been affected. So you can see how long this has been going on in terms of discrimination and systemic racism.”
DIVE INTO ASIAN AMERICAN HISTORY
Album opener, “Asian-American History,” begins with a heavy-hitting rap from Alan as he and Jason tell the history of their people, the prominent leaders in their community, and their unknown story. The rappers serve as teachers, speaking on the hypocrisy of a nation that benefited from the labor and struggle of their people while shunning them. “Separated families over that one-drop rule/ and even still, they enlisted without throwing a coup/ singled out by their lieutenants like, this who you’re supposed to shoot/ fighting in the white man’s war to kill our own/ and they still called those Asian-Americans soldiers gooks.”
While the education system lacks in talking about the history of Asian-Americans in the U.S, with this song the artists made sure to open the door to that discussion. “That was a huge reason why we did it as well, because we want to push this towards schools, especially colleges and high schools. If we can get this into educational modules it can be really helpful.” said the artist. “If you don’t know enough about your history or ancestors, you’re kind of standing on very shallow foundations.”
For Alan and Jason it’s important that the youths in their community have a strong understanding of who they are. “I feel like it’ll help a lot of Asian-American youths to look into their past and see all of the contributions we made, all the icons and important historical figures who laid the ground before them. So they have more confidence of who they are & step into situations with more confidence and assertions.”
THE MODEL MINORITY MYTH
In the lead single, “Model Minority Myth,” Alan and Jason are joined by South Asian Canadian singer Neela, and Filipino-American actor Dante Basco, to dismantle the ideology that has damaged and divided the Asian community since its inception. The track begins with Jason’s soft rap expressing his grievance over the fasle label placed on his people, as he criticizes society for their hypocrisy, “time called us ‘out-whiting the white scholars’/ drove a divide between us and our black brothers/ you got admitted to a dominant white college?/ still you ain’t valid for most of them white collars.” Continuing on, Neela lends her sweet vocals to the powerful chorus; the harrowing lyrics hit close to home as her elegiac singing leads the way for the coming rap verse.
Brutally honest, Alan’s verse discusses the negative affects the myth has had on the Asian community: the dehumanization and the removal of their individuality. “Model minority is not a portrait/it’s Asian caricature/ to lump us together is parody work/before you call us wealthy/ let’s talk about our income disparity first.” Income disparity in Asian communities isn’t talked about as much, this myth has made it so society believes that’s something unimaginable.
“All that talk about white-adjacent, Asian privilege, all that stems from the myth that we’re talking about. The model minority myth, this stereotype that people got wrong, you know,” Alan tells EnVi. “Because if you look at New York, some of the poorest people are Chinese people. Some of the most undocumented people are Asian, there’s so much that people don’t know about our community.”
Closing out the song, Dante uses his words to play tribute to the victims of the Atlanta Spa shooting that occurred this past March, stands in solidarity with the Black community, and ends with the words “we will never be invisible again.”
The authenticity of the stories of Face Value stems from the diverse voices featured in the 15-track album of artists within the Asian diaspora and beyond. If Alan and Jason wanted to make an album that discussed the history and experiences of Asian-Americans, they knew that the inclusion of other Asian artists was paramount.
“We had like East-Asians, South-Asians, South-East Asians, even mixed Asians. You know Michelle Myers, she’s half and half. We wanted that kind of experience to show the diversity not only in our nationalities but our thoughts and feelings,” Alan told EnVi. “Everyone has been through different things, so we had everyone come in with their important stories. That was important of us to tell our stories in a very real way, and also in a way that does not erase anyone else’s experience as much as we could.”
Representing South-Asians is Canadian spoken-word artist Humble The Poet, who shares the pain and frustrations of his community in “Making The Banned.” “And please excuse my French: What the fuck’s a Muslim Ban?/ divide your citizen it’s ignorance perhaps/ or weaponizing fear/ like when they shot Balbir Singh Sohdi.” Despite being faced with misfortune, the spoken-word artist illustrated his determination to stand together with his people and other minorities as they fight the injustices to their communities.
In “California Dreamin,” spoken-word artist Michelle Myers, explores gender, community, and culture as she opposes the misconceptions of Asianness. “Instead our shared troubles test our abilities to overcome adversity/ establish mutual respect and fortify family stability/ so despite our image as a model minority/ we didn’t get rich of no fruit stand or laundry.” The biracial Korean-American artist expressed her people’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity, pointing out that their richness doesn’t come from society’s image of them, but from the protection and love within her community.
BEAUTIFUL: TO HEAL AND UNITE
“I never saw the void/ till I found my peace/ So I write this piece for the kids like me,” raps Ruby Ibarra, on “Beautiful” the 10th track off of Face Value alongside Alan. In the song, Alan and Ruby explore the intersections of beauty, racism and gender as they talk about the toxicity of society’s unrealistic beauty standards. For his verse, Alan touches upon the stereotypes society created about Asian men, such as the lack of a role-model similar to him growing up, and the hypocrisy of fetishizing Asians while hating them.
“Started fake rumors pertaining to size/ cause they were scared of us taking their women../ ranked on the totem pole, down at the bottom/ But we’re their fetish now, K-pop is in.”
Continuing his verse, he shared that their wish is to be accepted as humans, to be given a fair chance, and to be judged by their character not their skin color. Ruby shares her own story about not feeling worthy enough in her skin, never feeling like she could see her true self because of the words of others. “Look in the mirror, but I wasn’t proud of the person/ the value and worth of my name/ didn’t feel like I could ever see me.” As she goes through her verse, she realizes she owns her own name and story, of which she’ll always be proud of and never let others erase.
“We plant the seeds and watch them grow, blossom from the ground ‘til the roots will show. ‘Til the seeds are flowers for Vincent Chin, and our kids have power and we let them know.”
Alan’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlanZmusic
Alan’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alanzmusic/?hl=en
Jason’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/jasonchumusic
Jason’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jasonchumusic/?hl=en
Want to see more album reviews? Check out the review of Kang Seung Yoon’s album here.
Thumbnail Courtesy of South China Morning Post