Live from the Asian future: Jin at Supa Jam
The call came from a member of our Chinese posse, whose name and personalised number plate I cannot reveal for legal reasons. He was hemmed in by a police checkpoint designed to stop the Asians leaving Howick that night. Our Eastside man was driving without a license - he'd just had it revoked for, like, being Chinese. What a gangsta.
The cops were clearly trying to stop the cultural revolution brewing at Waitakere Stadium. They knew that if Chinese kids took to hip-hop over Canto-pop, The Man would be in for a world of trouble. But The Man was too late. Jin was here, the Chinese-American MC, the newest, shortest, yellowest Ruff Ryder. And to greet him that night in West Auckland, the Asians had arrived.
And I mean all the Asians. When the white folk use 'that' word, you tend to have to check who they're talking about exactly. But out West Saturday night, the full spectrum of Auckland Asian hip-hop came together in an unprecedented mass of Jin-fever.
Despite the diversity, I won't pretend there wasn't a lot of false-alarm Jin-spotting. Is that Jin? Nah, not enough bling on that cat. Is that Jin? God, I can't see, his bling is shining right in my eye. How about that guy? Nah, too tall. Of course. Him? Still too tall. That's gotta be Jin. Those guys are Korean, fool. I couldn't see, I was blinded by their matching white shirts and Nikes. How about him? Way too hot. Is that... Oh sweet Jesus, is that my mother? In the Nike jacket? Looks like it from here - hi Doctor Mok! Ah, there he is - Jin. See, he's got his name written on his neck. He's smaller than all those little kids shooting hoops with him, that's why he was difficult to spot.
My gang figured the crowd to be about 50%, maybe 60% East-Asian. I initially thought it less, but then I realised all the mainland Chinese guys were outside smoking. Smoking and waiting for Jin. Jin had hoisted the PRC flag during this collaboration with Juggy (a UK Asian: ie brown, not yellow), and had certainly won the hearts and minds of this hard posse of international students. They told me Jin was big on the Mainland, and that as well as for China, they were fronting for Three Kings, Three Kings and Hamilton respectively.
'Three Kings?' I exclaimed, 'Roskill represent!'
'You in the hood!' said my bro.
On the stands were the smooth Koreans of Daemang Productions, representing for Howick and the Shore, staying inside under the lights so they could blind us with the whiteness of their branding. They're having an album release 21 May. Bring your shades. The affiliated Japanese DJs were also nearby, exemplifying global hip-hop solidarity in trying political times. Hey, the Rising Sun logo may be the swastika of East and Southeast Asia, but you go there anyway, right? For the beats and the Japfros.
All through the stadium there were hardcore one-point-fiver packs, gangsta fobs, super-chiggers, and fobulous TABs galore.
Chinese boys had brought their South-Asian mates along, further cementing the Harold & Kumar/Jin & Juggy ethnic-geek-chic-alliance.
On the local-born front, a substantial herd from Auckland University's 'Kiwi Asian Club' was shifting about. And a relatively new phenomenon of note was the mixed local-born/one-point-fiver crew, such as my own. Some of these groups were held together by love, some just by hip-hop.
Local-borns in wide-eyed discovery-mode included fellow crew-member Dr Drasnor aka RIC1ER, genuine Chigger and infamous Rice-bomber of Pt Chev. I have a wonderful photograph of him staring gapingly at the Asian invasion, but it cannot be shown lest his bombing identity be revealed. He'd originally been ambivalent about attending.
'What do your other Asian friends think of Jin?' I asked him during negotiations.
'You and Al are my only Asian friends.'
Russell Brown mentioned this year in an entry on the Pasifika Festival, that he sensed Asian kids were integrating more than they used to - he saw an occasional white guy hanging out with them. Again, I'm not sure which 'Asians' he was referring to exactly. White boys with Yellow Fever are nothing new. But some of the people he saw could have been local-borns who are starting to hang out with other Asians for the first time in their lives, and might be bringing the odd whitey along for the ride.
Although Supa Jam was an ill-conceived, sloppy, tiresomely expansive event with a lot of waiting involved, the sociological observation made it worth the down-time. Somewhere between the third basketball game and the second Thai Kickboxing match (don't ask) I said to Dr Drasnor:
'Dras, you're not bored are you?'
'Nah man! I'm buzzing out! Look at all these Asians! Woah, check out the ice on that dude!'
'That's [Eastside Renegade]! Hey bro, you made it. Is that ...a Rolex?'
'Oh, it's my dad's.'
'How'd you get here?'
'Took the Southern.'
Eastside took in my bling appreciatively. Dr Drasnor had, under the influence of narcotics, persuaded me to get fully pimped out in jade, gold, and a ludicrously oversized chain which had previously held a light-fitting to the ceiling of my parents' living room in the early 1980s.
'That is badass,' said Eastside.
And our fobulous posse was complete. Me and Drasnor; Al Kwun aka 'Mr Asia', first generation New Zealand-born Cantophile and publicist for seemingly everything; Eastside Renegade the Taiwanese one-point-fiver skater-boy; and also around and about was Steven Chow himself, a bit distracted by all the recent critical comparisons of Kung Fu Hustle to Shaolin Soccer.
On with the show
Why do we like Jin? Like a good Chinese boy, he takes his Tims off at the door.
Why else? With a huge, echoing stadium, a small fanatical crowd of a few hundred, and the worst acoustics ever invented, he knew from the outset there would be no point in a conventional set. And so, he turned a crap set-up into a heartwarmingly inclusive show. Did I say heartwarming? Gangsta, I meant gangsta. An inclusively gangsta show. Reverting to old-school call and response, Jin hustled everyone around him tightly, and led the pack of Asians in and out of the boxing ring, around the basketball court and through the stands, breaking out b-boy battles and freestyling competitions every which way, flushing the local Asian talent out of the woodwork, and even taking it to the Chinese mums in the stands waiting for their Chinese kids.
A lot of Chinese geeks were stars that night - the biggest of whom was a boy known to us only as The Abercrombie Kid. It was his first hip-hop show, and his face was agleam as he rapped along word for word to lyrics no-one else could make out through the stadium reverb, until Jin pulled him up and gave him the mike. This kid would have busted through those Howick roadblocks using only the pure force of his qi.
'You're from China?' I asked him later.
'Yeah, International Student! International Student!'
School student I would wager. International Student Pride. It's good to see. He was representing for my old stomping ground Chengdu, and what a flow he had on that mike. They should start using Jin's Learn Chinese to help Chinese kids to Learn English.
Mr Asia said he observed a flow of white kids leaving as Jin exhorted them to Learn Chinese (or Cantonese, to be precise). I'd prefer not to believe that.
The freestyling turned up some superstar invaders. "I'm with some real MCs here", said Jin, and one of them was Aya. Phil Fuemana told me in a yumcha joint five years ago about his idea for a venture into an Asian hip-hop crossover project. I'm fairly sure he mentioned the name Aya, but no-one can check with him now. Was it the same girl?
'Nah, I'm not famous' said Aya, and fled the paparazzi after her tour de force on the MC battleground.
Amid the free-for-all audience participation, Jin engineered an intense sociocultural experiment by holding a multiethnic audience-choice dance-contest, which, oddly, I have no photos of. Jin picked a geeky Chinese guy called Chan who had come up from Hamilton for the show, a Pacific b-boy professional and some slick off-white dude. Then he picked a fine Pacific sista, a tight-bodiced Filipina Senorita type, and a geeky Chinese girl. Put them in the boxing ring. Then said:
'Guys, pick a girl to dance with'. Any local-born Chinese would recognise this as a familiar and demoralising moment.
I asked Jin later: 'You knew didn't you, that the Chinese guy would hesitate self-consciously, and the Chinese girl would get picked last. And you knew that the Chinese couple would have to pair up like nerdy rejects, like they always do, instead of choosing each other purposefully. And you knew didn't you, somehow, that they would suddenly shed all geekiness and bust it shamelessly like a well-oiled Pharrell and a sluttier kung-fu Beyonce bitch-ass ho'dog and that the Asian-dominated crowd would go wild and the Chinese couple would win, and it would be the Revenge of the Hip-Hop Nerds? How did you know Jin?'
He answered me in fluent gangsta, which, like Chinese, I can understand pretty well but have difficulty reproducing in writing. It ended in something like 'it's all about that shit.' Got me right here.
Then, like a lot of the Mainlanders that evening, I said 'Jin, Jin, you gotta learn Mandarin.'
He made a face at me like I was his mother.
Thanks to the Lumiere Reader and Alistair Kwun for the media pass to Supa Jam. And apologies to Lumiere for not having conducted a full interview with Jin, but I was just really really tired from the dancing.
While we're on the announcements, I'm looking for a flatmate - Freeman's Bay apartment, $155pw, email me through the site.