Awkwafina, aka Nora Lum, is an American rapper from Queens, New York. She was initially trained in classical jazz, playing the trumpet in high school. Things changed post-college when she released her debut Yellow Ranger, known for some vulgarity and comical appeal, featuring tracks with names like "Queef," "NYC Bitche$," "Marijuana," and "My Vag."
Zander Porter and Anne Leonardo sit down with Lum at Wesleyan's own Alpha Delta Phi Society house, where she performed to a sweaty, dark, blistering group of young people.
You guys aren’t Swarthmore are you? Swarthmore was like, too cool for school. They were like 45-year olds; I just didn’t get it. They were so not down. You’re alright, right? You seem pretty cool for school.
We’re maybe the coolest in school, not too cool.
I can smell how turnt up everyone is. I like it. As long as no one slaps me onstage.
Is that a babyphat watch? That shit is where it’s at. Where did you get that? And the jacket?
I got it at the Joyrich store. And the jacket is from Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn.
Did you grow up in Brooklyn?
I grew up in Queens and moved to BK about 4 years ago.
Do people like you there?
They don’t like anybody there. The energy–it’s like, haterville.
Did you go to Hawaii?
Yeah, I went to Hawaii. Damn! It was cool. I toured through there. I met Far East Movement when I went to their show. I didn’t know what they looked like so when I met them it was like ‘Oh, hi,’ and they didn’t sing. They just danced around. I don’t think they’re rapping anymore.
And it was beautiful?
It was kind of methy, tons of meth addicts over there, just dancing. It was pretty intense.
It’s fun to talk about the titles of your songs, how profane they are. What is the attraction to a certain profanity, maybe a female genitalia aesthetic?
“Female Genitalia Aesthetic.” That could be the title of my next song. The songs are as related as they are through topics. They are their own thing. I don’t look at music like my music is a body of work. I look at is as individual tracks. Each is written at a different time, but they all come together as a thing, so that’s subject to people’s interpretation. It is vaggy; there are a lot of vaggy songs, but I think one thing is just to kind of keep it casual. I don’t like to rap about serious things. I’m always thinking about a sense of humor. I’ll be political as Nora and have my own beliefs, but when it coems to music I like to leave that in a lighthearted place. And hyper-poltical rap is pretty corny sometimes. The downside of that is that you want to make sure the sense of humor is grounded and makes sense, because you’ll have acts that want to be funny but are so deep and complex and intellectual that no one gets it.
Well accessibility is a big part of music and how it relates or can relate to people.
Yeah, you don’t want to alienate people. You want to be real enough for people to get it. I feel like all my fans are the people that I hang out with and the people that don’t like me don’t like me.
I noticed there was an article about you titled something like, “IS There Room for an Asian-American Woman in Rap?” And I thought, "Is that even a question?" What a super-provocative devil’s advocate kind of title.
That’s always gonna happen, and I was surprised at how much it happened when I first popped off. The Asian question is very obvious to people and it’s what they tend to go off of, and it’s unstoppable. Like, right now we’re a group that’s still picked on openly and you’re not gonna get condemned for picking on Asians. It’s very easy. I was listening to comedy stations on Sirius radio and every station has an Asian joke. It’s very easy, but you can’t lose your career for saying chink like you can lose your career for saying the N-word. So that’s where it’s not fair. We just have to live for another 20 years and maybe things will get better.
It’s not like you have to fill this role as an Asian-American rapper, but you end up getting slotted into that role.
And there’s an upside to that because you get recognized. There are white female rappers out there that are very similar, but they’re not given the same attention, so that’s another issue that becomes unfair.
You’d think that after a certain point the media would stop focusing on something repetitive, and I don’t know at what time in this generation it’ll happen.
It’ll be an issue always. We just have to wait for the world to evolve.