Jin is, in a word, confused. On the one hand this 22-year-old Chinese-American demands to be taken seriously as a rapper, regardless of his ethnicity. On the other he unashamedly exploits his unusual (for a rapper) heritage - playing his own race card while simultaneously denying everyone else the right to do so. As irritating as this apparent hypocrisy is, it can, in part, be explained by his personal history.
Born Jin Au-Yeung, this first generation Chinese-American has been on the margins his entire life. Growing up in the racially diverse suburb of North Beach, Miami, Jin spent his formative years surrounded by black, white and latino neighbours. After discovering hip-hop at age 12 he was soon performing and "battling" (a verbal duel between rappers) whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself.
But the local hip-hop scene was less than welcoming to this "yellow" interloper, and he frequently lost early battles to African-American opponents who were more than willing to play the race card. Jin reacted with characteristic intelligence, quickly learning to turn his opponents' slurs against them by joking about his own ethnicity.
By the time he moved to New York in 2001, Jin was a master of the battle. His natural flair for the form won him his first big break on BET's "Freestyle Fridays", a showcase of up-and-coming battle rappers. After winning at "Fridays" for seven straight weeks, Jin attracted the attention of Joaquin "Waah" Dean and was soon signed to Dean's well-respected Ruff Ryders label.
Cultural schizophrenia aside, Jin is a genuinely exciting rapper. His rhymes are clever, his delivery is technically flawless, and he has a disarming playfulness that can be very endearing. He is also unafraid to openly condemn criminal activity, frequently emphasising that he stays far away from "the guns and the drugs". And, of course, he is the only Chinese-American to ever be signed to a major hip-hop label.
Sadly, all Jin's assets don't add up to a great album. The gifts that make him a great battler - quick-witted intelligence, adaptability and stage presence - don't translate into number one hits on a CD. When confined to the studio it seems Jin is robbed of that indefinable x-factor that separates "great" from "really very good". This deficiency is at its most noticeable in collaborative tracks like "The Come Thru" where Twista literally steals the show, overshadowing Jin completely.
Despite its problems "The Rest is History" still has its fair share of catchy numbers. You can't help but groove to the cheeky beats of "Learn Chinese". The single has Jin at his most magnetically confrontational, swaggering playfully around the rap scene and poking large black men in the chest without due regard for his own safety. The lush instrumental layering of "Senorita" complements Jin's clipped vocal style perfectly and the result evokes a breathless chase through Jin's hometown on a hot summer night.
Amid all the racial politics and PR noise it's easy to forget that this is Jin's first album, that he is still only 22, and that hip-hop is easily the most competitive market in modern music. He overcame all those barriers with enthusiasm and intelligence, so what's to stop him working his way into the hearts of hip-hop fans? Ironically, the answer is his own prejudice. After spending his entire life fighting to be recognized for his art and not his colour, Jin has become his own worst enemy. If he can forgive the world for making it difficult to be a Chinese-American rapper, then he can avoid being relegated to sideshow status, and become the big star he deserves to be. We can only hope.
To listen to selected clips from the CD, click the song titles.
- Alistair Fairweather
"The Rest Is History has its share of known guests, including Twista, Styles P and Kanye, but the best moments are Jin's. The album has some weak spots, but they come in beats that fall flat rather than in the flow of the battle champ."- Dominic Umile, Prefix
"...The Rest is History sounds rushed, ill planned and just not good enough to sell big numbers. Hopefully Jin is given the chance to go back to the drawing board, rethink his style and deliver the album someone with his flow is capable of..."- Xpose, InTheMix.com.au
"Self-references like "original chinky-eyed emcee" and "Chinaman" initially feel jarring; but surprisingly, Jin's visceral rage and proud swagger reclaim these slurs the way black rappers use nigga: He makes them his own."- Janet Tzou, The Village Voice
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