Parker (DFD) on Repping Asian-ness and Keepin’ It Real
On April 10, 2014, rapper Dumbfoundead (also known as Parker/Korean Jesus), took New York University by storm at ACE 31, NYU’s annual fashion show. Known for being rambunctious and speaking his mind — as well as for being a passionate and no-holds-barred performer — he set the stage on fire with killer performances of ‘Are We There Yet’ and ‘New Chick,’ to name just two, with a special surprise appearance by fellow rapper Awkwafina.
Catherine Ye, guest blogger for Kollaboration New York, was given the opportunity to interview Dumbfoundead after his show, focusing on his experience as an Asian artist and advice he would give to other artists and music organizations like Kollaboration and OneReasonRecordings. Special thanks to Justin Choy for arranging the interview.
Kollaboration New York: When you’re on stage, do you identify more as Asian, or are you just a rapper?
Dumbfoundead: I’m just a rapper, but I go up there and be like, I’m Asian and I represent us hard because we’re definitely a minority in the entertainment business. So to me, I want to come up. I think I definitely had identity issues like a lot of Asians when they’re growing up, just ‘cus they’re like, where do we fit? And young Asian kids, you know, they’re like any other kid. We’re watching TV and listening to the radio and they’re looking for voices that they can follow and inspire them and to motivate them to follow that same blueprint. But when you don’t see any Asian role models, it’s like, where do these kids go? So they usually cling on to other cultures, whether it’s black culture and hip hop or white kids and rock music. They choose a side, you know what I’m saying? And with Asian kids, there weren’t really role models — we’re still creating that blueprint. We’re all pioneers now, everybody who’s doing right now, we’re pioneers.
Yeah, I definitely identify, and now I’m definitely strong about representing, I represent hard. I’m not up there saying like “Asian pride,” but I think just me being myself and saying whatever the f*** I want is important. I don’t think I should hold back in being rambunctious or being a crazy dude because we need role models like that. We already know about these Asians who are, you know, doing good stuff behind the scenes. The doctors and lawyers — they’re doing great work, but we need the balance, you know what I’m saying? Jeremy Lin’s cool, but I want an Asian Ron Artest — like I want that balance, you know, so I think we need more of that. We need to break that stereotype of every Asian guy being timid and shy.
KNY: So how do you feel about the entertainment industry — do they treat you differently because you’re Asian?
DFD: No — you know what, they don’t treat me differently. But when I’m looking at mainstream media, I always wonder why there aren’t as many Asian Americans on TV or radio, and that bugs me for sure. That bugs me because I’m trying to be one of those voices and things are starting to change, like Eddie Huang, Arden Cho, David Chang, a lot of Asian actors too. [They’re] not just doing stereotypical roles, but it’s very slow progress and it always will be. Even when the black community was trying to break into entertainment in the beginning, they had to do a lot of stuff that even their own community criticized them for, so like that’s the kinda s*** that we might see. For example, Ken Jeong from the Hangover. So as much as I don’t like seeing that s***, we have to start from somewhere. We kinda have to go through that before we climb over that hill.
KNY: What’s your opinion on record labels? Let’s say an artist gets an offer from a big record label — what’s your advice?
DFD: I think the fact that major labels are failing is the best thing to ever happen to Asian Americans — real talk — because now we can do whatever the f*** we want. Asian kids aren’t thinking, “I need to get a major label deal,” because everybody is killing it independent. Asians, we’re already a long-a** distance from getting signed to a major label. Now that gap is slowly getting tighter and tighter, where we can just skip that s*** and be like, “We’re gonna put out our own s***.” YouTube is like Asian Hollywood — that s*** is crazy.
KNY: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring Asian artist, what would it be?
DFD: I would just say you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone — that’s number one. What I’m scared about for the Asian entertainment community is that it’s going to have an Asian entertainment scene that becomes a comfort zone. [For example], you start performing at just Asian events and people feel confident just in that circle, and don’t want to step out of the circle. There’s enough money in there to survive, so they don’t want to strive for higher, or beyond that. That’s f***ing scary — that’s why the YouTube scene kind of scares me, because all those YouTube kids reach a plateau in that and they don’t go further than that. You have to graduate from that into mainstream media. What I mean is, [for example], if there’s a YouTube kid who has half a million or a million subscribers who has never played a show outside of his bedroom, he might have a lot of viewers and followers, but once he gets a deal and they throw him on the f***ing stage, is he gonna he know what the f*** to do? That’s f***ing scary. That’s why I admire the black community — they have sh** like The Apollo where if you suck, they boo you offstage. To me, that was dope, because it’s tough love.
You need that from the Asian community. Asian motherf***ers are way too nice to each other — you’ve got to tell them that they’re whack or that they need improvement. Asian people are way too nice to each other about criticism and feedback and that doesn’t help everybody — real friends stab you in the front. I told that to Kollaboration’s Roy and PK — it’s important to support your own kind, Asian Americans, but it’s way more important to support dope Asians. I don’t want whack Asians on the front line. Kollaboration has been doing great work, but they need to be stricter, really tighten up. Kollaboration has 12 cities — every year, they do a show in a different city, so there are 12-15 shows a year. But you’re not going to find the best of the best Asians like that. It’s hard finding one f***ing crazy ass Asian a year. You’re trying to have a showcase of 10 acts in every f***ing city? You have to tighten it up [to find the] best of the best. Have one act — one show in the U.S. and get the f***ing best motherf***ers every year.
KNY: What do you think makes someone the best?
DFD: You know! The people know, the community knows, we know — we’re not stupid. You can’t underestimate the audience. The more you underestimate them, it’s going to be the norm. It’s going to be the norm for us to watch every Asian performer do a f***ing Bruno Mars cover and that’s the s***. Like how many times have you heard that s*** — someone do a Jason Mraz or Bruno Mars cover on stage with a guitar? Let’s get some original content. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been doing this s*** a long time, since college. I’ve seen it all, the worst of the worst, the best of the best.