Photo by Isaac Miller.
Photo by Isaac Miller.

To many, rap and hip-hop lyrics might seem to speak of nothing more than women, sex, drugs and money. Those who performed at the Oakes Learning Center on May 12 sought to dispel such stereotypes.

Lyrical Union, a rap and hip-hop event, showcased a variety of performers including emcees, DJs, break dancers and graffiti artists. The event was presented by the Asian/Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA) and headlined by Magnetic North, a hip-hop duo hailing from New York City.

Consisting of Theresa Vu and Derek Kan, Magnetic North performed early on and supported the event’s theme of “Decolonizing hip-hop,” a message focused on disrupting stereotypes found throughout mainstream rap and hip-hop lyrics. 

Vu emphasized the importance of combating stereotypes applying directly to their Asian-American heritage.

 “This is something we can definitely get behind, being Asian-Americans in hip-hop,” she said. “The Asian stereotype clashes so much with the hip-hop stereotypes … you know, we’re seen as nerdy and quiet, where hip-hop is all posture and swagger. Combating stereotypes is something we do on a regular basis.”

 Crossed-out words such as “homophobia,” “misogyny” and “sexism” could be found along the perimeter of the learning center. Plastered on the walls was the phrase “What does hip-hop mean to you?,” a question that APISA wanted to keep attendees thinking about as they watched performers on stage.

“To me, hip-hop represents accessibility, especially for people who do not have anything else,” said Alicia Tang, a fourth-year community studies major. “It also represents empowerment and healing for people. A lot of people think that hip-hop … has been commodified, but we want to bring it back for people to gather around … and celebrate the community.”

Brigitte Mardigras, a third-year legal studies major, helped to organize the event and bring all of the performers together. She emphasized the importance of fighting against stereotypes commonly associated with mainstream hip-hop.

“It’s a response to how mainstream hip-hop usually leads to misogynistic, homophobic and racist language,” she said. “We really stress that we don’t tolerate that type of language.”

Derek Kan commented on the problem of mainstream rap as he prepared to perform for Lyrical Union.

“It’s not the problem with the rappers themselves — it’s the problems with the people that support and listen to them,” he said. “I think a lot of the emcees out in the mainstream, they do what they’ve been brought up to do, and you can’t really hold it against them — that’s what they know.”

Vu elaborated on Kan’s points. 

“It’s what sells in the industry,” she said. “If you stick with the status quo, and the status quo is degrading women and talking about money and cars, it’s really hard for [someone] who wants to be a successful artist to break that mold.”

Although she noted that she has “a beef with the industry,” Vu said that there are ways to combat the “cookie-cutter” mold that many artists fall into.

“From an artist’s perspective, you just have to be you, you have to make music that you believe in,” Vu said. “Hopefully, people who do like your music will support you — they’ll want to see that there is a market for something outside the radio.”

Vu said that she wants her music to portray what she deems a vital message for all artists hoping to become successful in the hip-hop industry.

“Do what you love — that’s our motto,” she said. “There’s a lot of pressure for kids, especially Asian kids, to be doctors, lawyers, engineers. … We’re all about doing what you love.”