The artists behind the lyrics

A closer look at the performers from QNSA's Hip-Hop and Poetry Night

Credit: 
Supplied by Jeremy Marasigan

Barber and rapper, Steven Wu, ConEd ’18, otherwise known as WEN, brings enthusiasm and powerful lyricism to the Queen’s hip-hop scene, touching on personal and social issues. In the future, WEN hopes to become a teacher in Korea and fully immerse himself in underground trap culture. He also has a cat named Chance, whom he loves very much.

Q: Who or what inspires your art? 

A: The big three for me are Chance the Rapper, MF Doom and Earl Sweatshirt. 

Chance because I like him as a person, and the way he raps is how I want to rap. I really like how he uses a lot of poetic styling, such as metaphors, similes and alliteration, and really makes it an art, unlike Future or 21 Savage. 

MF Doom — sometimes he talks about nothing, but it’s so lyrical, and there are so many unique aspects of his work that I like. And Earl Sweatshirt, because he’s really dark, he accepts his feelings. I feel like a bunch of rappers put up a front, but Earl Sweatshirt really appeals to the ‘oh, this is me’ a down-to-earth person, as he’s really honest about his work. Sometimes it might be dark and other times it might be very honest, but that’s what I really appreciate about his style. So, this is where I kind of draw inspiration from. 

Q: Do you seek to inspire others through your art? 

A: I grew up with the mindset that being Asian is being inferior. Even if you don’t feel that big sometimes — it’s okay. I feel like this is something I want to translate through my work.

You should always feel that you’re worth something and not let anyone take that away from you. But, at the same time, it’s okay to be emotional, it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to be a lot of these different things. I feel like a lot of the time we’re forced to put up a front and pretend to be someone we’re not, and that’s exhausting. I tried it for a while, and it’s too much. 

I feel like a big part of it, especially if you’re at Queen’s, it’s not so much blatant racism, but the fact that it’s internalized, such as when people won’t look my way or talk to me. For a lot of people who I’ve met here and am very close to, such as OG BEA, we all kind of think the same way collectively. I think a big part of both our works is that we want to reclaim Asian identity. We want to speak for the people who aren’t really spoken about. 

Photo by Auston Chhor.

Powerhouse Beatrice Li, aka OG BEA, is a force to be reckoned within the Queen’s hip-hop community. While BEA raps for herself, her powerful lyrics and stage presence inspires young women to pursue what they love. For BEA, not only does there need to be more female rappers in the game, but there needs to be more Asian female rappers. In her spare time, BEA enjoys binging on TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race — it’s a guilty pleasure. 

Q: Do you seek to inspire others through your art?

A: I don’t really rap for people, I rap for myself. Poetically, it’s an outlet for me. A lot of my raps are from personal experiences, like I have an entire rap that I presented at the Anti-Oppression Open Mic Night and it’s about my Asian experience in a Eurocentric institution, such as Queen’s. Queen’s is very white-dominated, so I wanted to express how I kind of cope with that, and at the same time display these issues that a lot of Asian-Canadians deal with. 

Q: Is there an clear theme throughout your work? 

A: Man, it really varies! Every rap is from a different experience, you know what I’m saying? I wrote a lot when I was in Hong Kong on my exchange, so a lot about Asian culture and being immersed in that. 

Q: Where do you see yourself in five to 20 years from now? 

A: I grew up in Hong Kong and went back for exchange … going to Hong Kong without my family was life-changing. It’s Asia’s world city, so everyone is really cultured there, and there are a lot of opportunities for people who speak English as a first language, and people who are very outgoing. 

The culture there is very demur and very passive. What I’m trying to do after graduation is — I already have my teaching foreign language certificate — so I’m planning to go back to Hong Kong and teach English. They pay well, help you with your flights and accommodations and really get you started. From there, I want to apply to jobs in public relations. 

Rapping is definitely a hobby. It’s a really fun hobby! People like making candles and stuff, so this is my thing. 

 height=Supplied by Chris Reid.

When he’s not studying engineering, hip-hopper Chris Reid aka Falconer is producing beats in his student bedroom. With a recently-released EP, Falconer’s poetic lyrics and  smooth backtracks make for an easy listening experience.  While Falconer is currently in chemical engineering, he dreams of making music a career, continuing his writing and performing. 

Q: Who or what inspires your art?

A: The reason I started writing and performing was because hip-hop and art in general is an amazing outlet for much of life. No matter what happens, how good or bad it is, writing about it just makes it more real. And, it’s a great way to make it kind of concrete. 

It’s like self-reflection— a lot of the time we don’t have the opportunity to go back and think, so writing is a good opportunity to do that, like self-reflection. 

That’s 100 per cent what I’m inspired by. I also love the act of writing and rhyming, and good hip-hop. A lot of great influences like Nas, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar inspire my art. 

Q: Do you seek to inspire others through your art? 

A: The biggest part of performing art, and in hip-hop, is authenticity. What I really try to express through my work is just relating to people and sharing my story, like any struggles I’ve overcome or any positive experiences I’ve ever had. It’s basically relating this to people in a very entertaining way. 

Q: Why do you think self-expression is so important? 

A: Self-expression basically helps you validate yourself, it makes you feel more real. It’s really important, in any way, shape or form. You know a lot of people take selfies of themselves and I think it’s fantastic — it’s a good form of self-expression. Some people, like me, make music, some people make art, and others do math. It’s an excellent way of validating yourself and feeling real. 

*Responses have been edited for clarity

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