My high school experience, in a mainly Asian/Asian-American school (demographic information here), introduced me to countless cultural ideas and expressions. One of these was the idea of a “hypebeast,” as my school was full of young men who identified with this moniker. My understanding of a hypebeast is more theoretical than concrete, so it is difficult to put into words, but it has strong connections to money, fashion, music and “urban” culture. [This article from Bustle attempts to define the term, relying on a music video by rapper Trinidad James. It is important to note that the person tasked with defining “hypebeast” was a Black male rapper.] Essentially, hypebeast culture is a more expensive iteration of Black (or ghetto or “urban”) style. Lisa Lowe would likely define hypebeast style as “aesthetic commodification” of Blackness, as hypebeasts fix their meanings of what is “cool” or “in style” using the abstraction of popular hip-hop and streetwear idols. Because it is tied so strongly to dominant hip-hop ideas, hypebeast culture has many problematic aspects, despite seemingly connecting hypebeasts to Blackness through hip-hop. Many male rappers who are Asian/Asian American can be analyzed the same way. This point is illustrated in Grind Time Now’s rap battle between Tantrum and Dumbfoundead, as both artists draw from problematic representations of hip-hop culture in the forms of racial stereotyping and hypermasculinity.
As evidenced by two of the hype men bowing in the beginning of the battle, Dumbfoundead and Tantrum occupy a space that clearly buys into stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans. Both rappers follow suit and invest in these stereotypes themselves, rather than challenge them. This can be seen in the very first verse, as Tantrum calls Dumbfoundead a nerd and a video game freak, and he proceeds to say he “has no balls.” As we already know, each of these instances draw from dominant controlling images of Asian American men. My interpretation of this trend in their verses is that regardless of whether or not Dumbfoundead and Tantrum believe in these stereotypes, they rely on them in their presentations of one another because they understand that the majority of their audience does believe in these stereotypes. By acting in such a manner, both artists betray the Asian American community by entering a space with low Asian American representation and investing in controlling images of themselves. Utilizing the perspective of Leslie Bow’s Betrayal, it can also be argued that Dumbfoundead and Tantrum are betraying the dominant narrative of hip-hop culture by taking up space as Asian American men.
The one time either rapper references Asian American identity in a way that contradicts stereotypes is when Tantrum says Dumbfoundead “joined the swim team because [he’s] too bitch to join the Chinese gymnastics,” essentially saying he isn’t “man enough.” When they aren’t relying on controlling images of themselves, the rappers express hypermasculinity, going against the very images of emasculation they perpetuate in their lines centering each other’s Asian identity.
To prove their investment in toxic masculinity, Dumbfoundead and Tantrum exhibit objectification of women, intense homophobia, and romanticization of violence. Dumbfoundead displays both his perception of women as objects and his homophobia in one line as he says, “I was getting’ paid and laid by 10’s while you actin’ gay and go rave with friends.” Both men show their investment in violence throughout the battle, with lines such as “Here I am to kill the wack version of me…” and “Imma slap you with my drunken palm…” Through these constant references to violence, the audience can conclude that both men associate violence with power and respect. This association is addressed by Rosalind Chou in her chapter Asian American Masculinity, as she points out the fact that white hegemonic masculinity has historically exhibited large amounts of violence in order to attain and express its power. Chou goes further to point out that Asian American men are victims of violence often in the US. This, along with other evidence of American society’s emasculation of Asian American men, is likely a factor in the decisions of men like Tantrum and Dumbfoundead to invest in spaces and cultures that are displayed as hyper-masculine. As their investment in such spaces certainly challenges the emasculation they face, it also works to perpetuate the discrimination against groups that are used as objects in this investment.
Tantrum and Dumbfoundead, along with other Asian American rappers, are constantly aware of the stereotypes that society attempts to place them in. This awareness is possibly a factor in their decisions to become rappers. They seem to be unaware, however, of the oppressions of other groups (in this case, Blacks, women, the LGBTQ community). This becomes an issue to our society as a whole when people fail to see (or even consider) the experiences of others and the effects that their actions can have on others, even others of the same community. It is acceptable to draw from other cultures in conveying our own experiences, but when doing so, we must be cognizant of the experiences of the people who created those cultures.