SOUNDBITES 005- More Than a ‘Femcee:’ Asian American Womxn in Rap

Don’t call me a femcee… My fate is more than the gender you assign to me

—Rocky Rivera

Following last week’s Girl Groups & Girl Power tribute and playlist, this week keeps focus on Asian American womxn artists. To start us off on the same page, please stop using the word “femcee;” we don’t say “male emcees” so drop it asap! Period! When it comes to Asian American womxn representation in Hip Hop, we are underrepresented by comparison amongst mainstream or top 40 rosters, however, that doesn’t mean we don’t exist. Peep these three Asian American emcees:

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KLASSY — From the esteemed roster of Beatrock Music, Klassy caught my attention through her verse on Ruby Ibarra’s “Us” and performance at the CIRCA 91 album release in San Francisco in 2017. Recently, Klassy made her return to boom bap with “Inside Out,” complete with a full music video, which was shot throughout different locations in Los Angeles, including Historic Filipinotown. Through visuals, two solid verses and a soulful melodic chorus, Klassy walks us through an introduction of her world, including her adorable son, her craft as a tattoo artist, her beloved Nike Cortez, her Filipina American identity, and- without hesitation- her feelings on the issue of gentrification. We anticipate her upcoming debut project, Dirty Cortez.

As pulled from Beatrock:

Klassy began making waves in High School, writing and performing her songs throughout her hometown of Echo Park in Los Angeles, and began recording her work soon after. With a show stealing verse on Bambu’s Party Worker LP, and continuing to shine on her most recent feature on Ruby Ibarra’s, US, Klassy is readying her debut project, Dirty Cortez — and it promises to bring the new year in with a new take on a classic formula: Emcee + beat.

Inside Out, produced by the maestro behind Below The Heavens, Exile, finds Klassy floating over the loop and weaving her style between the drums. Captured on film by a quickly emerging filmmaker/photographer from Los Angeles, Enkrypt (LA) — who’s videos have garnered millions of views — Inside Out is another benchmark performance by a West Coast lyricist from the re-emerging LA Underground scene.

That rooster though?!

Klassy: Website | Twitter | Instagram

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JEHZAN — Hailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, Jehzan first began her journey with poetry and moved onto recording over beats. As Jehzan dedicated herself to the craft of rap, she was also fulfilling six years in the Hawaii Army National Guard. Jehzan has extended her craft to education and business, and not only makes music but also runs two platforms: a blog called OTD Hip Hop that includes everything from networking to album reviews; and a visual media platform called 3RDEYEFILMZ. Jehzan’s most recent project entitled, Island Waves & City Haze (Vol. 3) is a six-track EP that pulls together beats from different producers but collectively offers a chill-hop mixtape vibe, with Jehzan’s vocals between honest verses, softly ushering the track along. Coming 2019, Jehzan will be embarking on her first independent, international tour through Davao, Philippines. See below for Jehzan’s most recent music video, “The Real,” and my favorite track off of her EP, “Kidzzz,” a slower-paced dreamy cut on staying young, including pieces of the Hip Hop classic, “Back in the Day,” by Ahmad.

Jehzan: Website | Youtube | Instagram

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CHIEMI — When I first saw Chiemi perform, she not only rapped, but she also played a mean violin solo as well. Chiemi is a Bay Area-based Japanese Hawaiian classically trained violinist and rapper. Chiemi’s flow has always reminded me of Ladybug Mecca— melodic, old school boom bap. In addition to her free-flowing vocals, Chiemi’s music offers up a range of music that reflects all her musical influences, especially jazz. Earlier this year, Chiemi was featured in Music in SF, in an interview where she lays out an incredible backstory of her family:

 My grandparents and many other relatives were apart of a generation of struggling Asian Americans who came here to work in the early 1900’s but were imprisoned during WWII and labeled as enemy aliens. I grew up with so many awful stories of being humiliated and ashamed of our language and culture, but I also always knew I would be a part of their legacy that could share their story as well. I still to this day am not able to speak Japanese like my elders, and that is something that angers me deeply… When I started getting into rap and freestyling, something switched. I always had some sh*t to say, but now I had a way to communicate with people.

— Chiemi, 2018

I highly encourage reading Chiemi’s responses in her interview, as her answers reflect so much Asian American history, being a womxn in the music industry, Japanese American representation in Hip Hop, among other important conversations.

I can’t say whether my ethnicity has either hindered or helped my career as a rapper. But I can say that because there are so few Asians and Asian women represented in hip-hop, I am always reminded to do the best that I can do and to pave the way for others like me to have our voices heard.

— Chiemi, 2018

Chiemi’s last project was a 12-track album released in 2017, titled If Love Is the Answer, What Was the Question. Between then and now, Chiemi also partnered up with artist Niebla to form the rap-duo Las Dueñas, amping up representation for mixed-heritage Asian Americans. Together, they dropped a self-titled project called Las Dueñas, which also features other Bay Area emcees. Yesterday on December 20th, Chiemi dropped a new self-produced song called “Anything.” With soft whispery vocals and layered beats and sounds, Chiemi shows us a new side to her skill-set as a growing artist.  Check out her new song “Anything” on Soundcloud, and “Wreck Ya Style,” —one of my favorite Chiemi cuts and visuals, shot and recorded in the Bay Area:

Chiemi: FacebookYoutube | Spotify

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