Words by Samantha Pak
In an effort to bring you more joy, we wanted to share a few of our favorite music videos—both the coolest new releases and older clips from AA+PI artists we think just don’t get enough mainstream play. This week’s theme: Spitting bars. Have a video you think we should know about? Hit us up at [email protected].
‘Happy Song’ by Joe Kye, featuring Rasar (2015): Working contradictions
Opening for world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma would be an impressive feat for any musician. But Joe Kye has also taken the stage ahead of comedian Hari Kondabalu, rapper Warren G and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Kye is a one-man band who uses a loop pedal to lay his tracks as he sings about his life, love and family and candlelit dinners of spam with ketchup. His lyrics may speak to his immigrant experience but they’re also about contradictions.
“Happy Song”—off of Kye’s 2015 EP, Joseph in the Well—is a perfect example of those contradictions. Despite the upbeat title, Kye sings about spending the night alone and crying on the kitchen floor and Rasar raps about life being so hopeless he wants to die. Speaking of rapping, when was the last time you heard anyone spitting rhymes over a violin being strummed like a ukulele? Like Kye’s career, it doesn’t make sense on paper but he makes it work. And it works so well.
‘The Kimchi Song’ by Che Sehyun (2018): An ode to elders and pickled cabbage
Che Sehyun told the radio station KUOW that he was supposed to be a doctor. But after taking some history classes at the University of Washington and learning more about his culture, he gravitated toward ways to express himself, teaching himself the guitar and composing songs. Sehyun’s art goes beyond music. He’s since become an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, traveling throughout Asia, documenting the people he meets and spiritual sites he visits.
One of Sehyun’s recent projects, The G’ma Project, was a way to honor the elders in our communities and from that project, “The Kimchi Song” was born. As you can probably guess from the title, the song is all about kimchi, with Sehyun literally rapping about what goes into the pickled cabbage side dish. The video also features a posse of aunties and uncles, dancing and (what else?) preparing kimchi. I’ve got to admit that while I love a good pickled vegetable, I’m not a huge fan of kimchi. But this song is so fun that I may just have to give it another try.
‘This is Asian America’ by Jason Chu (2018): A glimpse into Asian American life
Many Asian American millennials (myself included) remember the first time they heard “Got Rice?” by AZN Pride back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was one of the first rap songs with lyrics that spoke specifically to our experiences as Asian Americans. For Jason Chu, who has been releasing music since 2011, that was what propelled him to start performing. With his relaxed flow and beats, Chu is very much a West Coast rapper. I categorize West Coast hip-hop as music made to blast in your car, on a sunny day with the windows rolled down as you cruise around town. And Chu fits right in with that description.
Chu’s “This is Asian America”—off his 2018 album of the same name—is about many of the issues Asian Americans face. From being invisible and not fitting into the American narrative, to being seen as perpetual foreigners and skin bleaching, Chu speaks to very specific aspects of Asian American life. When he raps “This is Asian America,” he’s right. From the beat and flow, to the video itself and the short message at the end, Chu also doesn’t hide the fact that his song was inspired by Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” This could have easily turned the song into a parody or a joke but Chu is able to make “This is Asian America” his own, while paying homage to the original—in a way that it can be an extension of Donald Glover’s masterpiece.
‘Heatcheck’ by Francis Arevalo (2018): Who says rappers can’t dance?
Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Francis Arevalo’s roots are in slam poetry. The Filipino Canadian rapper and songwriter uses music to uplift, inspire, and energize his communities.With his jazzy beats and smooth delivery, Arevalo is reminiscent of groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest with a dash of Freestyle Fellowship, mixed with vocals reminiscent of fellow Canadian rapper Classified.
Rappers, as a whole, are usually not known for their dancing abilities. They’re known for their rhyming skills. In “Heatcheck,” which was released as a single, it’s obvious rapping is his forte—fitting a whole lot of words into three minutes and 48 seconds—but Arevalo proves he can do both. Were his dance moves groundbreaking or technically difficult? No. But who knew I would be adding a dance break atop the frozen food aisle to my grocery list?
Published on September 19, 2022
Words by Samantha Pak
Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.