April 11, 2010

Freestyle Legend Reflects on Roots

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On Friday night, rap fans and freestyle afficionados alike flocked to the Appel Commons Multipurpose Room, where undergraduate students performed, battled and learned at the altar of hip-hop legend Jin Au-Yeung — better known as “Jin the Emcee.”

The event began with a talk by Jin, whose hip-hop career is as unlikely as it is illustrious. Moving to New York City after graduating high school, Jin quickly found himself immersed in the rich rap culture of the city. As a battle participant on BET’s 106 and Park, he won a record seven weeks straight, making him a hot commodity for record labels. He eventually signed to Ruff Ryders, becoming the first Asian-American MC to sign to a major record label in the process. After a moderately successful first album, he continued to release independent CD’s and mixtapes. He currently lives in Hong Kong, and as he explained in his talk Friday night, has become a devout Christian.

Jin described his signing to Ruff Ryders as life affirming.

“I remember the day I got signed to a label; I signed the contract, and it was all solidified. I remember on the way back home — I had still been living at my uncle’s place at the time — I was just sitting on the subway and looking at the check in my hand,” Jin said. “Considering that scenario, where I was and where I was headed, the experience was almost poetic.”

Jin also explained how he has been trying to find the perfect pitch for incorporating his Chinese identity into his music, while still trying to appeal to an American audience.

“It’s a tricky thing, because raised on the school of hip hop — in terms of ‘you’re supposed to be as authentic as possible’ — you always try to keep a certain alignment with your identity. Naturally, I’m Chinese so there’s no way to avoid it,” he said. “The way I do it…my challenge is to find balance. If I shy away from my Asian-American identity, people think ‘this guy thinks he’s black’ or ‘he doesn’t know roots,’ but I put too much emphasis on being Chinese, people think ‘Okay, we get it. You’re Chinese.’ Ultimately, I just look in mirror, ask myself ‘are you cool with it,’ and make sure it’s all cool.”

Several student rap performances followed Jin’s talk, including Chauncey Jenkins ’11, as well as Money Mars, a local Ithacan whose beats are provided by Douglas Cloninger ’10.

The highlight of the night was the battle competition, which featured seven student rappers, and Jin himself, in a tournament to crown the king of the mic.

Each MC delivered a 30-second spurt of verbal fire, backed by a beat, followed by a 30-second a cappella round. The winner of each round was chosen by a classic “hype” contest, as whichever battler got the louder applause would advance. Jin himself participated in the event, advancing to the final round before allowing two students to battle in his place. The winner was K.C. Aharanwa ’12, who went against Jenkins in the final round.

The night culminated in a performance by Jin, where he rapped several songs off some of his most recent albums.

Danny Lee ’10, one of the event’s organizers, expressed his respect for Jin.

“I like how he represents and defends Asians during rap battles because a lot of times during rap battles, one of the first things people attack is race. We need that kind of representation in society,” Lee said.

The crowd was very enthusiastic about Jin’s appearance.

“I think it’s really cool seeing someone who has been on [TV] in real life. I never thought I’d actually get to meet him,” Samantha Jayawickrama ’11 said.

Original Author: Melissa Kim