Asian Female Emcees Amaze At UHall

I covered this show for The Vinyl District.
July 19, 2011

Sulu DC’s Saturday showcase Miss Fortune: Spotlight on AAPI Women in Hip-Hop was a vibrant celebration of the true ethos of hip hop: community.

Funded in part by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities and presented in conjunction with a number of community partners including Kollaboration DC, it was a tightly-run, eclectic showcase of talent that shattered stereotypes and expectations. If the only Asian MC you can name is Jin, you should have been at this show because while the artists were, yes, female, and yes, Asian-American, their viewpoints and styles were illustrative of the fact that these reductionistic labels are not keys to the grand creative milieu.

As spoken word artist and the show’s MC, Kelly Tsai put it, being a feminist and listening to most hip-hop often requires “selective listening” skills. As good fortune would have it, all you needed at this show was an open mind and open ears. The show was about girl power without being about girl power [the commercial version].

Sulu DC’s event was subversive by its very nature—where else can you go nowadays to hear Queen Latifah and Monie Love played [as spun by Sulu resident DJ The Pinstriped Rebel]!? The female artists took “Asian-American” and “female” from disenfranchised to identity-affirming, and all with a positive, uplifting stroke of the pen. It was definitely a “U.N.I.T.Y.” moment if there ever was one.

Spoken-word artist Kelly Tsai opened the show with her powerful piece “Real Women I Know” and kept the festivities moving with flair and comedic panache.

Kickrocks Crew, a local dance troupe, performed a hip-hop dance medley and got the crowd amped.

The true scene stealers of the show were a violin-and-MC sister duo from Brooklyn, Misnomer(S). Their powerhouse, raucous performance turned the oh-so-familiar cultural cliché of the violin-playing Asian kid on its head and then some. Knewdles and SOS’ natural synergy was palpable and single-handedly nudged the strings-and-hip hop paradigm out of its slumber [especially if P. Diddy’s cheesetastic tunes are what you are thinking of right now].

Knewdles described the theme of Misnomer(S)’ music as “identity”—the duo opened with the thought-provoking “For What It’s Worth,” which Knewdles explained was originally a piece that won her second-place in a slam poetry contest and first got her interested in MCing. “I was a poet before I was an emcee and I studied poetry in college.” She cites fellow Brooklynite Biggie as one of her major influences. “For What It’s Worth” could well be the anthem of the dual-identity generation—as an immigrant myself, Knewdles’ frustration with constantly being asked “no, where are you *really* from” and other equally inane off-shoots as “go back to your own country” [which, in her case, is America-doh!] rings especially true. Misnomer(S)’ music is refreshingly devoid of braggadocio and focused on relatable themes: living and working. In fact, their song “Worker Bee,” is one of the cleverest takes I have heard on the drone aspect of working to live and living to work, complete with smart references to Asian exploitation and the Chinese building railroads.

Knewdles’ passionate delivery, clearly well-honed from her stint in the slam circuit, inflects their music with a creative, indelibly feminine cadence and makes the duo really stand out in the indie hip hop circuit, along with fellow New Yorkers like Cool Calm Pete. If anything, it showcases that being confrontational and in-your-face is not requisite for delivering a social message or having something of value to say.

The show closed out with headliner Rocky Rivera, a seasoned MC from the Bay Area, who rapped like she had been at this for eons—with a professional, precise delivery that most male MCs would have been envious of, especially when one considers how hard it is to sound live like one sounds on record [have you ever been to a Wu Tang concert? Yeah, about that…]. With tons of swagger and style, Rocky evoked the golden days of Lil’ Kim. Her performance of “La Madrina” and “Married To The Hustle” got the crowd properly hyped.

SuluDC have artist showcases every month—definitely support their upcoming events!

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