Emassin: Chinese Food, Donuts and Justice

Author: Zoneil Maharaj
WireTap Magazine
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
Link: https://web.archive.org/web/20090731122631/http://www.wiretapmag.org/blogs/arts/44372

[The following is the full article from publication listed above as preserved by Internet Archive Wayback Machine]

Eric Subido, A.K.A. Emassin, recalls his early days rapping in his bedroom at 10 years old: “It was ‘mother f—–’ this, ‘mother f—–’ that, ‘N-word,’ ‘N-word.’ My dad walked in like, ‘Is this what you want to be, huh?” Back then, the young Filipino American’s answer would have been emphatically, “Yes!” Today, as a 27-year-old grad student, the answer is no.

He’s tried making the radio hit, he’s done the music industry networking, tap dancing and jumping through the hoops. These days, he just does himself, rapping whenever he feels inspired while volunteering at a homeless outreach organization and working with youth in San Francisco’s neglected Visitacion Valley neighborhood.

We caught up with him to discuss his latest album, keeping his work and music separate, and the use of the N-word amongst his peers.

Your latest album is called Chinese Food and Donuts [Download the album here for free]. Why did you choose that title?

Emassin: When I see them “Chinese food and donuts” spots in the city, I’m like “WTF,” but at the same time, it hella goes. That’s what this album is like: classic [and] ‘80s rock music and me rappin’ over it. Like, what the f— is that? But it hella goes. It’s produced by Arndroid from Cinestra.

Producer Arndroid and emcee Emassin
[Photo currently unavailable]

[The album is] raw and there are no reading between the lines. I didn’t write down a damn thing for most of the songs. All of it is off the top, memorized with repetitive practice. The most I’ve probably written was bullet points. But you can kind of tell as you listen to the songs that I’m just going off the top as topics switch off randomly from some social education s— to some “labia on my trachea open like Pandora” (lyrics from “The Arrival”).

On “Too Easy,” you have a feature from a rapper—a fellow Filipino (Kool Guy w/Eaze)—who freely uses the “N-word” on the track. I can’t even front like I’ve never said it, but what’s your stance on the usage of that epithet?

The “N” word is so politically charged yet some people use it so loosely as it rolls off their tongue. I can’t front like I’ve never said it as well. Eaze tracked to “Too Eazy” separately when I wasn’t in the studio. When I got to the studio the next day, Arndroid was curious to hear my reaction. I heard it, realized it was going to be on my album, became anxious about it; then moved on. Eaze is a cool guy, literally. I know where he comes from. I’ll never use it in my music in such a way but I don’t judge Eaze one bit for using it.

Your song “Stolen Pages of Hemingway” is dedicated it to “All you white professors trying to teach us s—.” What was the motivation and inspiration for the track?

This semester in my grad program I was taking a class on creativity and spirituality where I felt the white professor was trying to Socratically instill his definitions of creativity and spirituality into my brain. When I didn’t understand at times, he would pull that “help me help you understand” bulls— on me. We got into it a lot—much tension—and he wasn’t capable of understanding where my diverse thinking was coming from. This song was my final project for the class. I spit it acapella in front of him and the whole classroom. It was a daring stunt to pull; it’s grad school after all and, at the end of the day, my educational career was on the line. After, he said I pushed his boundaries but the whole class dug it. Therefore, it’s dedicated to all those white professors who ain’t really teaching s— but their own narcissistic opinions.

Chinese Food and Donuts
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You work with youth at an organization in Visitacion Valley but you keep your work and artistic endeavors separate. Why?

I’d rather not have my students hear this song or any other works I create. I prefer a separation, which is hard at times but I try to keep work separate from my art nowadays. I don’t want my youth to become attached to my music because I am speaking on a lot of topics incorporating my personal values and beliefs. This includes my views on politics such as race, class, sex, elitism, privilege and so forth. I don’t want to influence their beliefs in any way. That’s not my job as an artist. It may be my job as a youth worker/teacher-coordinator, but I certainly censor myself in that role.

Viz (Visitation) Valley is kind of like San Francisco’s dirty little secret—full of housing projects, neglected and rarely discussed. What are some of the issues the community faces?

I work with youth here, high school students mostly. Under-represented, under-served youth. Yet they are extremely intelligent, bright, respectful, curious, mindful, progressively thinking and boisterous – as most youth appear to be. But these kids in particular are something special. I enjoy working with them tremendously despite the challenges and difficulties that I encounter with them.

How do you plan to make serious change and what changes need to be made in ‘09?

I think social change comes with social awareness and self-discovery. A change I would like to see in ‘09 is for folks to better know themselves, although what I’m working on right now is advocating for the LGBTQ population. Everyone knows that Emassin is such an advocate for the underprivileged, oppressed and underrepresented, so why not advocate for the LGBTQ population? I was pissed when Prop 8 passed and it affected many of my close friends.

I think this hip-hop thing can be a good outlet for social justice. With that in mind, I just have to tastefully do it where I’m not criticized or lose fans or even be made fun of. Us hip-hop heads pride ourselves in social consciousness but when it comes to LGBTQ issues, we’re all like, “Aww that’s hella gay,” as if it were something bad. But why? It’s still a work in progress and I have to work things out with my own views first before I touch the surface on things in my raps.

You’ve said that being a rap artist isn’t your end goal or career aspiration. Why?

I believe that I can make my art a career. I am actually doing that with my life and going to school for it. I just don’t rap as a career. Rap is art. Rap as a career is a difficult challenge. There is too much politics in the game, which I won’t get into, but those who are conscious know what’s up. I aspire to be the best in SF. As far as I know and hear from rappers in the city, I am the best. It’s a very narcissistic thing to say, but rap is exactly that. I don’t feel like I have much competition in SF as far as MC skills and practice. But I may be proven wrong some day, you never know.