When I was a kid, Asian Americans in hip hop was about as common as a unicorns. They just didn’t exist. It wasn’t until Mountain Brothers in 1999 did I see someone that kinda looked like me rapping.
The moment that changed everything was when Jin went on BET and won the freestyle battle. I knew then that we would one day have a voice in hip hop. If you’ve never seen Jin’s BET appearance, stop reading and click here.
However, I grew old and I think hip hop passed me by. That doesn’t mean I don’t keep an eye on what’s going on in the Asian American hip hop scene today.
I don’t know this for a fact, but there seem to be more Asian American rappers now than ever before. And not just Far East Movement but emcees from every city in America and even in Canada! Don’t believe me? Check out Channel APA. I feel like every time I go on there, there’s a new API rap video from an artist I’ve never heard of.
One of my favorite Asian American rappers is DANakaDAN from afterschoolspecial. The first time I heard him I was blown away by his talent, his passion, and his sound. Check out the afterschoolspecial’s Wong Fu music video.
I was lucky enough to sit down with DANakaDAN and ask him eight questions about him and afterschoolspecial:
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Musical influences? Etc.
Hello Kind Sir. I go by DANakaDAN of afterschoolspecial and I’m based in San Diego, CA. As a basic background on myself I live and work outta San Diego but am originally from Ventura County, and before that was in South Korea in my mother’s womb.
As far as musical influences, I’m all about live, raw energy. I draw from bands, musicians, and emcees that are high energy and just raw in nature. That’s why I’ll always say it, but the best group alive is truly the Beastie Boys. They’re raw and completely personal and honest no matter if they’re in their 20’s or in their 40’s. They’ve got one of the most insane live shows too. I like emcees that enunciate too. That’s a really unusual thing to like about an emcee- but something I appreciate. I like Asher Roth, Eminem, Slug of Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco, and P.O.S. I really, really like P.O.S. actually. I’m a big fan of fusion music- the way he mixes rock, punk, and hip hop is incredible.
Tell us about afterschoolspecial. How would you describe your music? Names of the people in the band. Etc.
afterschoolspecial is the rap/pop/rock band that I’m a part of. It’s a nice fusion of rock, pop, and rap music with an emcee and soul singer lead. DANakaDAN- Emcee, Jaylen Green- Vocals/Acoustic Guitar, Brian- keyboard, Keane- electric guitar, Todd- Bass, Victor V- Drums. We’re probably best known for (and most proud of) the music video collaboration we did with Wong Fu Productions for our song Name off of our last album, IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD.
Where did the name DANakaDAN come from?
Not a very interesting story actually. I was thinking of an emcee name one day and was thinking to myself “DAN aka something something….DAN aka something something…DAN aka DAN….that’s kinda clever.” I thought that it worked and just kinda stuck for a little while as I never really attempted to come up with another emcee name. But I’m really happy with it- it’s pretty easy to remember and sounds really awesome when you say it 10 times fast. Try it. (Don’t really try it as I actually don’t know what it sounds like 10 times fast.)
What do your parents think of your career as a emcee?
My parents are a little overly enthusiastic about my career as an emcee and being in a band. Unlike what I originally thought (not that I thought that they’d be completely unsupportive), they’re super into the idea of me performing and definitely try to see me perform whenever they have the opportunity. However as someone who’s trying to be as personal as possible through the lyrics that I write… they’re not completely parent friendly and are especially things that I wouldn’t necessarily want my parents to listen to. One of the songs on the last album for instance is about alcohol addiction. But I guess that’s one of the tradeoffs of having your music public.
Who’s your favorite rapper of all time? And who’s your favorite Asian American rapper of all time?
Koji. I know your personal affinity for Tupac. And he’s definitely on my list of influential emcees. So this may be a cop out, but I don’t think I’ve got one rapper that I can say is my favorite of all time. I like different rappers for different reasons. However, if we’re going to play that game- then I’m going to have to say Slug of Atmosphere for his style, his lyricism, and incredibly raw, personal tracks. As far as Asian Pacific American rappers, it’s gotta be Dumbfoundead (DFD). He’s the best right now- he’s got commercial/mainstream appeal, underground clout, and one of the nicest flows, Asian or non-Asian, around. Actually wait…ok, copping out again- it’s a tie between him and Geologic from the Blue Scholars. He’s incredibly intelligent, like DFD he’s respected in and out of the Asian Pacific Islander music scene, and the music is just plain good. Cheap plug for him too- the Blue Scholars are about to release their next full length album, Cinematropolis. All the songs are inspired by films, it’s got a bit of an electronic/synth feel to it, but still stays true to the earthy tones of their previous work. DFD’s coming out with a new album too- not sure when… probably fall.
If you could have composed any single piece of music that already exists, which would you choose?
The theme from the Nintendo game, Zelda. Gets me every time. I’m actually a big fan of cartoons and video games, but don’t have the opportunity because of time to ever play any video games or watch cartoons. That’s why I love nerdcore rap and think that maybe one day I’ll move into nerdier topics. I think it’s pretty fascinating (insert shameless plug for my favorite Asian American nerdcore rapper, Adam Warrock)
What advice would you give to aspiring/young Asian American rappers?
I have no idea what my level of skill actually is or how people view my music, but I know one thing is for sure- that I’ve got to be at least a little bit better than how I was when I first began. What’s my point- that’s not really good advice… My point is that one’s ability to rap/emcee/and flow, like all other passions, hobbies, and skills, improves over time. Even if you’re the worst emcee in the world when you first start, you know damn well that if you keep at it and practice all the time, that you’ve got to get at least a little bit better as time goes on (and at that point you can decide if you want to continue). So keep at it if it’s your passion and I guarantee that at least something positive come from the experience. I’ve got at least two hundred positive outcomes that have been the result of continuing to pursue music.
Where can we listen/see your music? What are the best ways for people to support you?
We’re doing a huge show during San Diego Comic Con on Friday, July 22nd. Comic Con is a big pop culture event that happens in San Diego- I’m sure that there are some 8Asians readers that will be attending this year- and I’d love to see ya there. It’s not directly associated with Comic Con, but just an excuse to throw something big during that time with friends and fam that are in town. It’s on a rooftop too… which is pretty baddass. Plus the show will include Kero One and IAMMEDIC- two acts that I’m fans of (and I’m still locking down other special guests). Because I love 8Asians, anyone that e-mails me at [email protected] and mentions 8Asians I’ll give ya a discount to get in. Or if you want more info e-mail me there too.
Otherwise- hit up the media that’s social:
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