How “Entertained” addresses racism in the Prairies and across the music industry.
Throughout the pandemic, racial injustices have littered the media and our everyday lives, including the increase of anti-Asian racism. There has been a disturbing pattern of violence against Asians around the globe, and Canada is not omitted from that pattern. We’ve seen assaults, verbal threats, graffiti, and online hate.
In my series, Seriously Influential, I explore how artists and creatives across Canada use their platform as a stage to address social issues while supporting their communities. In this two-part series, I chat with Samurai Champs about their lived experiences and how they have overcome and are still overcoming racial barriers while paving the way for future Asian artists across the music industry.
Samurai Champs are a powerful and bold Canadian-Asian hip-hop/R&B duo from the Prairies. Combining Jeah’s rap delivery with Merv Gotti’s emotional R&B vocals, the duo creates a contemporary, genre-bending approach to hip-hop and R&B. The duo upholds their Southeast Asian heritage, while integrating their Canadian identity into their music and art. Their single “Entertained” is a rapid, boastful track with energetic tones and cheeky social commentary, combining literate and direct lyrics that respond to racism towards Southeast Asians.
On the track, the duo tunnels into xenophobic remarks that were voiced this past year by global leaders like Donald Trump, inciting violence throughout the U.S. and Canada. Merv Gotti shares that Asians are often used for entertainment; often fetishized or deemed the comedic character, a character that is framed to be made fun of, not celebrated.
The chorus is raw and straight up nasty as it showcases how disgusting these xenophobic actions are. “This is a mouth full of semen (ew) / I know that this shit is disgusting / you gotta see it to believe it.” Jeah explains, “You’re never going to understand it, unless you step into my shoes.”
After being stripped of their identities at a young age to conform to their white community, both Jeah and Merv have grown to discover how precious their own culture is. In the first verse of Entertained, Jeah raps, “I’m not afraid to fall” as he takes a stance against the rise of anti-Asian racism. Jeah explains “I’m not afraid anymore to speak up because I know who I am now.”
In the past, the hip-hop, rap, and R&B genres didn’t have many Asian artists taking up space, and although the duo agrees that in recent years there has been a positive change in the music industry, in their early career, they experienced a fair share of racial barriers and lack of acceptance. “Asians don’t rap” was a comment they heard one too many times. “I got immediately offended because it was something that I [actually] do,” Jeah shares.
From the duo’s perspective, the music industry is still in it’s building stages of organically incorporating Asians into the mix. The reality for many POC artists is that finding opportunities that invite them to perform for their talents, and not to fill a race checkmark is still sparse.
But Samurai Champs are literally paving the way for younger Asian artists who want to pursue their passions. “When we have to make a hard decision, at least 20 times a year, [Jeah] and I will ask ourselves ‘Will our highschool selves be proud…that we’re doing this?’ The answer is always yes,” says Merv Gotti about creating the model image they yearned for during their younger years.
Jeah and Merv leave me with their advice on fighting anti-Asian racism. “Stand up for what you believe in. If you feel like something’s wrong, you should face it, acknowledge it and point it out,” says Jeah. “There’s no better way of making a better future. Ignorance is bliss but ignorance doesn’t fuel progression.” Merv adds, “[Also] this goes out to anyone [who] may have a blind spot or an area of ignorance – don’t be scared to be called out, don’t be scared to be uncomfortable; because that’s how you’re going to learn.”
Written by Allisa Lim
Follow Allisa @allisa.lim