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Unsung Heroes

2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Bad Rap (2016)

The documentary “Bad Rap” encapsulates the travails of Asian-American rappers striving to make their voices heard. Some profiled here are relatively well known, most notably Awkwafina, who has parlayed her viral hit into VH1 punditry and bit movie roles. Another is Dumbfounded, an underground artist who recently garnered mainstream attention spitting verses on #OscarsSoWhite and #WhitewashedOut with the viral track “Safe.” Jin, the first Asian-American rapper to score a major label deal following an impressive freestyle-battle winning streak on BET, gets honorable-mention treatment.

Their struggles against stereotypes and conventions are edifying, and their views on success, fame and jealousy will no doubt raise some eyebrows. Director Salima Koroma sidesteps some of the more contentious issues, chiefly cultural appropriation as a means of empowerment – both Asian Americans’ coopting of hip-hop and the genre’s frequent Orientalism (Wu-Tang Clan et al.). Curiously, the film ultimately undermines its celebration of dedication and diversity by having an industry type assess these Asian-American rappers’ legitimacy by critiquing their music. Surely enough, he pooh-poohs the socially conscious tracks on the Asian-American identity and experience in favor of a novelty song.


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