Since being catapulted into the spotlight by his 106 & Park Freestyle Friday appearances, battle rapper Jin has made it a point to represent for the Asian community. But from his first commercial single, the quirky “Learn Chinese,” to his diss tracks rebutting Miss Jones and Rosie O’Donnell for anti-Asian comments, all his efforts seem steeped in both nobility and gimmick. His latest offering, a mostly Cantonese-language rap album titled ABC (American Born Chinese), keeps the trend going.
Choosing to rhyme in a foreign language is a bold move, but the Miami native keys in on his core audience by touching on personal topics unique to the Chinese-American experience. Jin’s struggles to identify with two heritages are addressed on the melodic title track, while his memories of Hong Kong before it returned to communist rule are discussed on the booming “1997.” Although the subject matter is a refreshing change of pace, the sonic supplements are not always up to par. “It’s Hip-Hop,” Jin’s love letter to rap music, is powered by a dull 1980s-inspired track and rehashes his multiple BET wins.
For the wayward, non-Chinese-speaking listener, the beats play a large part of the ABC experience. Unfortunately, a majority of the production, which is scored by L.A. collective the Far*east Movement, is full of hollow handclap drums and soulless keyboard loops. Despite the language barrier, the annoyingly repetitive hook is clear on “Instant Noodle,” which translates to, “Let me make a noodle, let me make a noodle, let me make a noodle for you to eat.”
Thankfully, the somber “Wun Lern Chon,” with its emotional strings and everything’s-gonna-be-alright message, and the aforementioned “1997” make up for the musical missteps. While ABC displays Jin’s potential for greatness and deserves praise for its originality, most of the material gets lost in translation. —KEVIN YUEN