Music

Awkwafina is changing hip-hop one vulgar, hilarious lyric at a time

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Awkwafina’s breakout hit was a song that riffed on a popular hip-hop track. The original celebrated a male MC’s personal "endowment."  Awkwafina’s version celebrated ... well, hers.   

The song starts:

My vag, like an operatic ballad.

Your vag, like grandpa’s cabbage.

And my vag, effortless.

Your vag post ads on Craigslist.

The song, appropriately titled "My Vag," went viral.  

“The rapping could never exist without the element of comedy," says Awkwafina — aka Nora Lum. “Comedy has been a part of me since I was very young, which is why my conservative Korean and Chinese family weren’t surprised. They were like, 'If you were going to be doing anything, it would obviously be pulling a cat out of my a--.'”

You’ll just have to watch the music video for that part.

Ironically, for all of the attention her lyrics get, Awkwafina says she channels most of her musical energy into making and mixing her own beats, which she calls her "real passion." Writing rhymes is almost an afterthought in the creative process.

But it's those smart and sometimes crass rhymes that endear Awkwafina to her fans. Her audience, which includes many atypical hip-hop listeners, loves her blunt attitude, comedic edge and willingness to take on just about any topic. 

One of her most popular songs has become an almost modern-day anthem for New York City. In it, she calls out the rich kids who’ve taken over the city and turned it into a caricature of itself:

New York City b****, 

that’s where I come from.

Not where I moved to

on Mom and Daddy’s Trust Fund.

New York City B****.

That’s how I’m rolling.

You out-of-state fakes

get your iPads stolen.

The 26-year-old, who grew up in Queens, says she’s always felt like a bit of a misfit. That's especially true in the world of hip-hop and entertainment. She's had a lot of labels attached to her — comedian, hipster, feminist, rapper — but the one that usually gets the most attention is simply "Asian" — even though her music barely touches on her ethnic heritage.

In some ways, Awkwafina understands why the label attracts such attention. "We haven’t reached that level where it's just a normal thing where we can turn on the TV and see an Asian person ... that's not there for marketing or diversity reasons," she says. "There is still a degree of shock when people see me in a music video or me talking.” 

But in reality, Awkwafina says, “I am just one of the many anomalies that come with growing up in New York City and being born here to essentially immigrant parents, you know what I mean?” She was mostly raised by her Chinese grandmother and father, who came to New York when he was young.

When I meet Awkwafina, she’s decked out in what, at first glance, seems like typical hip-hop bling. But the gold rings on her fingers are a bit unusual. One of them has the word "Pho" — the Vietnamese noodle soup — on it.  And that, she points out, is just the tip of the iceberg. She owns rings that say "nachos," "sandwiches," and even "despair."

Those iconoclastic tendencies haven’t always endeared her to the mainstream hip-hop and music worlds, but Awkwafina points out that hip-hop is a constantly evolving art form: “I’m just a part of a very large wave that is changing hip-hop right now,” she says.

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