Strolling ‘Round the Interwebs: What’s an Awkwafina?

If you’ve kept at least one eye out on the Internet (read: your Facebook feed) these past two weeks, then you’ve probably caught wind of some controversy surrounding a recent New York magazine article about New York-based rapper Awkwafina (see: “NYC Bitche$,” above).

The piece, titled “Can an Asian Woman Be Taken Seriously in Rap?” is likely meant to simultaneously provoke and introduce a segment of the musical sphere that a lot of people were previously unaware of. A win-win for both the rapper and the magazine, right? Well, kind of.

Sure, Awkwafina (real name: Nora Lum) is gaining the kind of traction and attention online that perhaps other female rappers aren’t used to — save for more mainstream acts like Nicki Minaj or Kreayshawn — but the piece really got under some notable bloggers’ skin because it, well, just didn’t dig deep enough.

Outside of her Asian American heritage (Awkwafina is of Chinese and Korean descent), the main thing to note is that the girl can rhyme. And have fun doing it. But being funny and being dubbed a joke are two very different things, and the general consensus is that Lum’s portrayal in the profile is incomplete at best, polarizing at worst.

At the end of the day, though, the fact that her very existence (and undeniable talent) are so buzzworthy in the bigger conversation about musical progress points to one blatant fact: Awkwafina is one to watch for.

So who is Awkwafina?

Kollaboration New York took it upon itself to bring you five things to know about the Forest Hills, Queens (no, she’s not from Flushing, she’ll reassure you in her rhymes). Read on to learn about what makes Lum tick, and the name of her blush-inducing first hit.

1. She’s only 24. Lum was previously working at a corporate job before she realized that her passion was her purpose, and she dove into writing and rhyming full-time, moving from GarageBand to Ableton, “a less amateur option,” New York mag writer Elyssa Goodman notes.

2. Her influences are diverse. Just because she gets compared to Kreayshawn doesn’t mean that Lum’s sound is one-note. The rapper takes cues from artists and writers as diverse as Joan Didion, Haruki Murakami and Ted Danson on Cheers.

3. Lum’s first hit is psuedo-NSFW. Awkwafina’s first single, “My Vag,” is a nod to her, well, lady parts (as well as Mickey Avalon’s equally NSFW hit “My D*ck”). And with lines like “Awkwafina’s a genius/ And a vagina is 50 times better than a penis,” it’s no wonder it created a major buzz upon its release last October.

4. She’s a New Yorker through and through. Lum grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, attended LaGuardia High School (where she studied music), and then moved onto major in Women’s Studies at SUNY Albany. “If women dabble in rap but they’re not rappers, to get from dabbling to doing it is really difficult, confidence-wise,” she said.

5. Dad still has doubts about her career choice. “He wants me to be like a sonogram technician or a nurse or something,” she said. But looks like, with a New York magazine profile and a growing number of subscribers on YouTube, Lum just might be set to blaze her own trail.

Love Awkwafina? Then check out some other great Asian American acts like Jen Kwok (Kollaboration New York’s 2012 show emcee!) or even some older rhymes from Theresa Vu of Magnetic North.  Tell us what you think about Awkwafina, who you’re listening to, and how you feel about the changing music scene via our site, on Facebook and on Twitter!

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