Hip-Hop or Hip-Pop?

Y. Peter Kang is a senior majoring in Asian American studies. Next week: Part Two - The White Rap Movement. Send comments to [email protected]

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This week, a film called "Black and White" will hit theaters. The film's Web site says it is about a group of white, privileged New York City teens and their reckless fascination with uptown hip-hop culture. The film looks like a cross between "Kids" and "Menace II Society."

Director James Toback came up with the idea in 1994 while he was trying to convince Leonardo DiCaprio to do a movie. Toback was fascinated with how obsessed DiCaprio and his crew were with the hip-hop scene.

I, too, am intrigued with the phenomenon of "wiggers," the combination of "white" and "nigger." (Don't ask me, I don't make the stuff up.) Each year, rap music is heard by increasing numbers of people outside the black community. In 1998, rap music outsold country music - the former reigning genre of American music.

Whites bought 70 percent of those 81 million rap CDs, tapes and vinyl records sold in 1998. That's a big chunk of change, and the advertising execs and corporate types are catching on - and cashing in. These days, you can see hip-hop's mark on mainstream culture everywhere.

Turn on the tube, you see weakass Burger King commercials filmed with an "urban" flavor. You can picture the old white men sitting around the boardroom contemplating their next commercial: "We need something hip, something with Pizazz, Zing, Kapowza - we need something with a Negro in it - possibly with one of those wild Afro hairdos. Bob, can you get us a Negro actor?"

And so on. Actually, some of the advertising execs are getting smarter. Budweiser has had amazing success with commercials of the guys who do nothing but say, "Whaaaazzzzuppp!" During spring break, I was at a bar near USC and I heard these two white country club types at the end of the bar yelling at each other, "Whaaaazzzupppp!" Very annoying. It didn't help that their inflection was all wrong. But who am I to judge, I'm not black, I'm merely yellow. But I guess any exposure for minorities in the mainstream is good. Or is it?

Some say that hip-hop's popularity is good for the African-American community. One analyst said rap's popularity can help bring races together. "It's a little more difficult to go out and talk about hate when your music collection is full of black artists," USC Professor Todd Boyd told Time magazine.

This reminded me of a conversation I had four years ago with an acquaintance of mine, who was white. He told me, "Man, I know all about black people, man, I listen to all kinds of rap; I know what it's like for them." Later on, I saw this same guy drunk, asking people to tell him any new black jokes they'd heard recently.

A recent popular magazine article described white kids' fascination with hip-hop as an "audio rap safari that give(s) white kids a chance to get a taste of the urban jungle through technology." Ice Cube agrees with that assertion.

"It's kinda like being at the zoo. You can look into that world, but you don't have to touch it. It's safe," he told Time.

Another thing I found interesting is the use of the word "nigga" abundant in so many rap lyrics. In an online poll taken at one hip-hop Web site, voters picked "nigga" as the most overused hip-hop word or phrase, beating out "playa hata" and "keep it real" by a wide margin.

Being a yellow person, I sit on the outside of the black-white binary schema prevalent in America today. As a result, I've been privy to some very interesting situations.

Situation 1a:

A white kid is bumping Tupac's "How Do You Want It?" There are no black people present in the room. He raps his heart out: "How do you want it? How does it feel? Comin' up as a nigga in the cash game livin' in the fast lane, I'm for real."

Situation 1b:

Same white kid. Same song playing. One black man is present. Right after the kid sings "... How does it feel?," he trails off. An uneasy feeling settles over the room, albeit subtle.

Situation 2a:

White kid. He greets a group of non-blacks as he enters the room, "What up, niggaz?"

Situation 2b:

Same white kid. One black man present. White kid greets the group as he enters the room, "What up, niggaz?" The kid remembers that a black guy is present so he says, "Oh, sorry." The black guy just looks back at him, not knowing whether or not to accept the apology or just ignore it.

What exactly is the problem here? Behind closed doors, the white guy will just go with the flow and think nothing of rapping along to "Nigga this, nigga that." He'll say, "C'mon, I know what they're going through, it's all good. Nigger is racist, not nigga." But once that one black dude walks in, does he still say it? No.

But I admit that I, too, have said "nigga" plenty of times. I see some of my Asian brethren, among each other, address each other with "nigga." While I'm not gonna claim that being a minority justifies my utterance of the "N" word, I will say that I have done my part to try and find alternatives. Once I tried to start a movement to make "gook" and "chink" terms of endearment among my Asian brothas.

I tried it out for the first time at a local watering hole while making a toast:

"To all my chinkz - and for all the gookz that ain't with us, this is for you, homies."

As you might have guessed, it never caught on.


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