RapReviews.com Feature - Verses and a Beat
Author: Clara Wang
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I heard my first Tupac song. I was sprawled out on the couch,
munching on something nutritionally empty, while VH1 was spinning through their selection of
"40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs." Being from a predominantly white, upper-middle-class school in
suburban Minnesota, Flo Rida's "Down" had been the extent of my exposure to hip hop until
then. Nothing without the N word scratched over had passed my ears; mentions of gang violence
had been restricted to whatever occasional urban novel I got my hands on.
The beat. The rawness. The total disregard for everything I had been brought up to reverence. I
loved it. It was Tupac who tapped into my need to question authority, the drawling swagger of
Biggie that showed me a world of glamorous riches can stem from a true Horatio Alger story
while paying tribute to humble beginnings. Misogyny aside, rap taught me a lot about the world
outside the conventions drilled into my head.
I began to reach out more; rather than trying to mold myself into my idealized opposites, I
searched for personal relatability in different forms. Hip hop became my gateway to self-
I didn't idolize the icons. I've worked with urban children, I've seen firsthand the struggles
these inner-city kids have to go through, and the vicious cycle of poverty they're caught up in.
It's never right putting violence up on a pedestal. While I recognize many of today's rap songs
basically consist of product placement, violence, and debasement of women, it is not just the
"forbidden" aspect of hip hop that I ascribe to, although that was part of the initial lure. It
was the real, organic themes - ones expressed in callous terms devoid of any attempt to hide
reality - that rang true to me on a level that my culture didn't. I felt a common ground, a
spark of instant recognition.
What does a black gangsta rapper who grew up around gunshots and crack fiends have in
common with a little Asian girl born into a childhood of Ivy League ambitions and ugg-clad
I'm a first-generation Chinese-American, emphasis on the hyphen. I am that hyphen. Unlike
most Asian immigrant children I know, I'm a walking "WTF?" to all stereotypes, a miasma of
odd contradictions. I'm short with extremely nerdy glasses. I crack profane jokes on the
I play piano competitively. I'm curvy. I hate math. I try my best to be a filial daughter to my
parents. I do over-the-top, extremely unfiltered things on a whim simply because I feel like it.
Hip hop is the voice of a generation of youth deprived of art lessons and free school instrument
rentals, thanks to funding cuts. Tupac, if given the chance to continue in drama school, may
have been a Blair Underwood. The really great rappers - Nas, Tupac, Scarface, Run-D.M.C. -
experienced a clash between their artistic souls and the mundane brutality they were surrounded
by. Smothered by the hopelessness of their neighborhoods, they get the sense that they're
different. And they shout it to the world.
Why am I so different? The same reason why the world has embraced hip hop music. I shout. Hip
hop shouts. When the first lines of "Keep Ya Head Up" dripped past my ears, I instantly felt
a connection because I had discovered there was a world out there where people didn't have to
restrain themselves in their expression like society was constantly telling me to do. Not just
in overt behaviors, but the way I am, because I, so outrageously, uncontrollably, don't fit in
any of their boxes. My body. My sense of humor. Me.
In many ways, hip hop has influenced me throughout my life. But the most impactful thing it has
revealed to me only took about 8 verses and a dope beat. That I'm not the only one who shouts.
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Originally posted: December 16th, 2014