Chinese American rapper, Jason Chu, is here to give us the rundown on his latest album, living.room, and how his East Coast upbringing ties into his music. With influences like Nas, Wu-Tang, Ai Wei Wei, and Frank Ocean, living.room tells us a lyrical story while also giving us beautiful melodic beats that you’ll be sure to relate to during this tumultuous time.
Lo: Tell us about your latest album, living.room. What inspired this melodic collection of songs?
JC: At the beginning of 2019 I was back in Delaware in the house I grew up in, helping my parents prepare to sell it and move out. It was wild because for 26+ years of my life, that was the place I called “home” (even though I’ve lived literally all around the world since then, my parents were there the whole time). It made me think a lot about what it was like growing up in that place and how much the man and artist I have grown into is shaped by the experiences and friendships I had when I was a kid. I started writing the first demos for living.room during my final week in my childhood bedroom, then took them back to LA and polished them up with some of my closest collaborators. The album started becoming about this question of human connection – how can we use music and entertainment to enhance human relationships rather than replace them? I wanted to make something that could put human connection as the goal post and not numbers or streams or any perceived need to “perform” or “blow up”.
Lo: Why did you choose to go heavy on the instruments and light on the lyrics for this album?
JC: I’m super proud of the lyrics on this record! But you’re right, it’s definitely a very melodic, vibe-driven record. I think so much of my music until this point has been very heady and conceptual – bar-heavy or at least concept-driven – that I wanted to make something that people could just put on and feel what I’m saying even when they’re not consciously listening. I’ve always thought of myself as a communicator, and with this one I wanted to communicate just as much with vibes, melody, and instrumentation (thanks to my REALLY dope friends Chase Flow, Elyonbeats, Neel Ghosh, Fictitious Professor, Jeremy Ting, and Joe Kye for playing on the record!) as I usually do with the lyrics.
Lo: What was your favorite song to conceive and record on the album?
JC: Honestly I loved all of the records as we were working with them, but the one that I’ve been enjoying the most is “Delaware”. First off, my boy Shane Palko straight up killed that hook. He and I grew up together in Delaware, I’ve known him since we were kids, and I loved finally working with him on a record. Plus he took a song literally filled with inside references to a tiny state no one knows about and made it this beautiful song about leaving home and still loving it. I’ve been playing that one nonstop.
Lo: The song ‘Influencers’ sticks out heavily, as we now live in a world where being an “influencer” is an actual job occupation. In addition to you saying “learn to lead by listening,” in the song, what else would you say influencers should be doing to make the world better?
JC: I think we’re so busy thinking about whether we have clout that we have no clue what to do when we get it. That’s how you get people making moves they think are “allyship” but come off as tone-deaf or performative and attention-seeking. The first verse in that record is all about what I see as “influencer culture” — “They let the bird sing inside the cage / but the clipped wing rings louder than the praise” — but the second verse starts “I’m less concerned about what they think of me now”. Feel free to censor this but: FUCK influencer culture. Let’s influence culture by making things that are beautiful and useful for people, not just attention-grabbing.
Lo: The world is currently in a state of utter craziness with the pandemic and racial tensions. As an Asian American, what is your hope for the future and how do you believe we can get there?
JC: I have thought about this a lot. I think the only hope for the future lies in understanding our past. We have to know each other and know ourselves: as an Asian American, what has been done to my people? Why are we where we are? Do I know about the Chinese massacres of the 1880s or the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment, American annexation of the Philippines or the illegal seizure and colonization of Hawaii? Do I know and care for the plight of the Mienh, Lao, Hmong, Khmer, and other Southeast Asians?
How about how America turned against South Asians after 9/11? Then once that whole history has sunk in and I get why and how my body and community is used the way it is in American society – can I bring empathy to others? To the Black history of lynching and chattel slavery, to the genocide and imprisonment of Native Americans on their own land? If we’re going to start charting a better way forward we need to start by learning how the hole was dug and how to get out of it.
Lo: The song “Honor” brings light to the Asian American experience. Accompanied by a very powerful video, what do you want fellow Asian Americans to take away from this track? What do you want other races to take away?
JC: The goal for this piece from me and my director Tinhua (@tinhua__) was always to create something that captures and centers the erased history of Asian Americans. You look back at period pieces and you NEVER get to see Asian bodies doing simple American shit: playing baseball, doing boy scouts, roller skating, driving cars. IF we’re ever in the past it’s always in stereotyped roles: laundromats, railroad workers, restaurants. The goal was to show the fullness of our presence throughout 150+ years of Asian American history in America: the good (media representation, activism), bad (Japanese incarceration, racist media), and ugly (Tou Thao, the Hmong cop complicit in the murder of George Floyd). So my people can own our history and begin to know ourselves.
Lo: Any closing remarks you would like to make? Where can we find you?
JC: Thank you for chopping it up with me and thank you for having such a dope, self-aware, forward-thinking community. I hope we can keep building bridges between communities of color, fandoms, and more so that together we can build the future our communities deserve.
living.room is out now on Bandcamp and on all streaming services. You can follow Jason at @jasonchumusic everywhere.
Keep ya head up in these difficult days, drink water, wash ya hands, and stay dangerous. – Jason Chu
This article was previously published for Quirktastic, inc., 2020