Awkwafina wants to rap for the right reasons and learn about index funds
6 months ago, we interviewed Awkwafina at her studio in Los Angeles, and we couldn’t help but feature her all over again with the coming of Crazy Rich Asians. We’ve reprinted an excerpt from our interview below, where I talked to Awkwafina about her music, her grandma, and, um, index funds. And as always, you can read the whole thing on Medium. — Natalie Bui, editor
When did you know you were going to make music as a career?
When I was ten years old, I was going into junior high school. And one of the teachers came up to me and said, “in your new school — would you like to be a part of the band?” and I was all “Oh, dope, a marching band?” But I lived in Queens, so, like, we don’t march down Queens Boulevard. It was just a band.
So, I said yes, and you know, school band, it was just in a room. And I wanted to be drums but there was like 50 people doing drums. So I was just like “let me just play the trumpet!” So let me tell you, I KILLED the trumpet.
Do you still play it?
Not really anymore, unfortunately, because I have neighbors with babies and it’s very sad. But yeah so that’s — that’s how I knew. So for a long time, my dream was to be a concert trumpeter which is, like, really weird.
But then that led into me discovering, like, GarageBand on my first MacBook. And that’s when I started producing beats, and — I’ve always loved hip-hop, I’ve always had a very strong relationship with hip-hop, and I loved producing hip-hop beats.
But hip-hop beats are not beats without vocals. So instead of inviting people into my awkward, smelling room to do this side project that I’d been doing in the nights, I just started rapping on them.
You’ve brought up the point about being an Asian American female rapper and sometimes celebrities who are people of color feel the pressure to represent the whole community. How have you experienced that as a rapper?
Well, I don’t think anyone ever sets out to feel like they’re going to represent people. But by default, anything that I do that’s in the public sphere — that can be seen on a large scale — represents in some ways an Asian community.
And in the best way, it represents girls like me — awkward, nerdy, but not in that sense — just not normal, “feminine” girls. So it represents that community, but in a larger whole, if I do something really bad, you know, then that shouldn’t represent all Asian people. But the truth is that — you don’t realize it, but you do impact your community. With everything that you do. It helps people sometimes and other times it makes people kind of mad.
So I do know you have a couple of upcoming music projects coming out — tell us about your latest music video.
So it’s been a really long time. So I think my last music video was with Margaret Cho, maybe two years ago. That was “Green Tea.”
It’s been a minute and I think my time off was attributed to filming movies, and also wanting to take the time to find an authentic space in the industry. I think that in more recent years, we’ve seen hip-hop change. And in a way, people are abusing it, I think, and not really recognizing it for its roots and respecting it. And I didn’t want to be grouped in with those people because I have deep respect for hip-hop and its foundations.
I think the music that I’m making now — what’s great about it is that it’s authentic to me. And it’s something that I feel like the people that bought my first album would enjoy.
But also, I don’t know. So I just need validation at this point.
Given that a lot of the conversations I feel like you have to have are around your “Asian-ness,” around this political context around your music— if we didn’t have to talk about it, what would you like to explore or talk about in your interviews?
I don’t know. Like, oh my god, that’s such a good question. I don’t know. I mean, I guess Bitcoin. I don’t understand how that works. Maybe like — if I put 20 thousand dollars into a Roth IRA. Or, no no no — an index fund. Will I ever lose that 20? Because that’s a question that no one will answer.
No one knows though, right?
But then — but, but — see, that’s the thing! No one knows! So if no one knows — why, why, why would I do that? I — if you don’t know, if I don’t know —
Why would you do that?
Why would I do that? Why would I do that?
Switching it back —
Thank you. (laughs) “What does it feel like to be an Asian political woman?”
What do you find yourself still struggling with in the music industry?
Well, I think that — I’ve met a lot of Asian rappers that complain and complain and Rekstizzy said this in a documentary I did, Bad Rap. And he says this quote, he says, “All the musicians that are killing it never complain.” Right? So all the musicians that are killing it — they’re successful, they never talk about how hard it is. You know what I mean?
So it’s like, my struggles with hip-hop — I don’t think that they have to do with that I’m a woman, or that I’m Asian, or that I’m not, like, super hot. Like, I don’t think they have to do with that. I think music is just so erratic as a genre, and what I’m trying to rap about, and the message in my rap, just doesn’t appeal to the zeitgeist. And, kind of going back, that’s something that I’ve kind of learned to understand and be satisfied with.
And I don’t like it when people oftentimes want me to be, for a lack of a better word, they want me to be “urban.” Right? They think that I’m an Asian rapper — and these are business people — so therefore, put me in cornrows and let me go rap.
You know, I’ve auditioned for movies that I’ve walked out on because they’ve asked more “urban.” I feel like — I want people to understand who I am. You know what I mean? And that I’m not that and I would never do that. I almost walked out of a development deal because I didn’t want to do that.
Awkwafina is a rapper, actress and producer. Her new single, “Pockiez,” came out this June. Awkwafina last appeared in Ocean’s 8, and she’s starring in Crazy Rich Asians, in wide release next week.