By Larry Kao
Jin Tha MC
The Rest is History
An Asian voice can finally be heard in mainstream hip-hop and rap. With a CD released in October, promotional mechanisms of major labels and distribution kicking in, Jin has vastly increased his exposure. His debut album, The Rest is History, and the publicity behind it has given him a good chance at rising to mainstream hip-hop stardom.
Born in 1982, Jin--whose full name is Jin Au-Yeung--is the son of Chinese immigrants. He grew up in Miami, Florida, with his parents, in the restaurant industry. He later moved to the New York Chinatown area, and began his rise in the hip-hop world. A long-time freestyler, Jin finally got his break in 2002 when he appeared on the popular BET segment, "Freestyle Fridays." He was often picked on because of his Chinese heritage, but his rhymes preempted the material opponents might think of. Through his skillful freestyling and his exposure through BET, he soon attracted the attention of the famous hip-hop label Ruff Ryders, which released his album jointly with Virgin Records.
Musically, The Rest is History is pretty straightforward hip-hop; the beats and samples are catchy. Additionally, Jin's voice is versatile for his rapping style, and his rhythm flows smoothly. The songs on the album are split between faster beats and slower jams, not anything diverting from the norm for hip-hop. The only divergence is when he uses Cantonese sampling in the backing beats. The real controversy with Jin is the content of his lyrics. Lyrically, he's hit or miss; a departure from the witty retorts of his freestyle days. Some of the songs that he uses to distance himself from, or poke fun at the stereotypical hip-hop image, are too contrived despite his efforts to be tongue-and-cheek about it. On some of his better songs, he draws from his experiences and forms them into rhymes. Because of his socioeconomic status growing up, his themes are similar to African American themes of poverty. But his Chinese ethnicity adds a unique dimension different from standard mainstream hip-hop.
Jin's latest song, "Learn Chinese," is also his most controversial. In the song, Jin says “Chink” and “China man"--derogatory terms for Chinese--several times, which has offended some in the Chinese-American community. The song itself also brings up stereotypical Chinese images, but in reality is about Jin's experience as a Chinese-American in the African American dominated genre of hip-hop. His use of the derogatory racial slurs could be an attempt at empowerment and an incorporation of them--similar to the urban African American incorporation of the n word--but use of them, regardless of his intentions, has been controversial.
At the end of the album, Jin redeems himself in the song "Same Cry," addressing not only issues that Chinese Americans face, such as poverty and immigration, but also issues that China faces, including population control, SARS, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. At times, Jin can be somewhat presumptuous, declaring, “I gotta speak up, without me my people have no voice,” but given the lack of other Chinese-Americans in mainstream hip-hop, he has the right to be.