(Asian American?) Hip Hop: Cool Calm Pete’s “Black Friday”
by Jane Park — University of Oklahoma
April 29, 2008 – 06:44
Cool Calm Pete is a Korean American rapper who grew up in Queens, New York, studied fine art at Cooper Union, began rapping as a member of Brooklyn-based trio Babbletron, and is on the independent hip hop label Embedded/Definitive Jux with Dizzee Rascal, R2J2, and others. Along with M.I.A. and Rob Wall, he won Hip Hop Site’s Rookie Award in 2005 for his debut album Lost. Unlike fellow New York-based Chinese American rapper Jin, Cool Calm Pete rarely refers to his racial identity in his songs. When he does it’s a brief, geek-cool nod to his ethnicity: in “Windsprings” he calls himself the “Korean Buddy Holly.” When I first saw “Black Friday” on YouTube (thanks to a tip from a former Korean American student and b-boy in Oklahoma), I was blown away by Pete’s clever and skillful assemblage of popular media clips and his slow, resonant, and deliberate style of rapping, which functions as smart critical commentary on the postwar US consumer culture that emerges from these images. Since then I’ve used the video in the classroom to initiate discussions on consumerism, media “addiction,” and detournement - but never on Asian American identity or culture. So I thought I’d post it here to perhaps begin complicating what we mean by “Asian American” media, identity, and culture. What is “Asian American” - if at all - about this particular song/video (I would venture to say nothing or not much though I guess I could shoot from the hip about how Asian American identity can’t be articulated except within and through the interstices of white American popular culture, etc) or an artist like Cool Calm Pete who chooses not to explicitly “represent” that aspect of his identity? On a side note, I also think it’s quite telling with regard to the globalization (and to some extent deracialization - but not toward the side of default whiteness) of hip hop that none of the students in my current class here in Sydney had a clue that Pete was Korean American. I think Asian American artists like Cool Calm Pete and media texts like “Black Friday” gesture toward new ways of theorizing the relationship between an artist’s racial identity and his/her work, which might be questioning the assumption that people of color should always bear the “burden” or responsibility of representing that identity. Does this example indicate we’re moving “beyond race” in US popular culture or perhaps suggest that the ways in which “race” - and embodied forms of identity more generally - need not always be addressed with respect to what one does, how and what one creates?
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