Director Salima Koroma’s documentary Bad Rap follows four Asian-American rappers as they try to make a name for themselves in the hip-hop world. The film focuses on these rappers overcoming the many obstacles of the rap game, which is dominated primarily by African-Americans, and their stretch to break into mainstream hip-hop.
Where did the idea for this documentary come from? I’m sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times by now since you’ve been working on this project for a few years now.
No, it’s all good. Bad Rap started off as my grad school thesis. I knew I wanted to do a music documentary, specifically about the Asian diaspora because I was a writer for a K-pop site and a hip-hop site at the time. I reached out to another writer at the hip-hop magazine XXL, Jaeki Cho, who would end up being my co-producer. He’d just interviewed a K-pop singer/rapper named G-Dragon, who appeared in XXL. We got on the phone and started talking about how the entertainment industry sees Asians. How there are so many Asians in the hip-hop game flying under the radar. He started throwing names at me: Geologic of Blue Scholars, Chops of the Mountain Brothers, the legendary DJ Babu. I remember learning so much from him and then going, “Dude, has anyone done a movie about this?” Jaeki was like, “Nah, I don’t think so…” And we sat with it for a moment, wondering how there were so many great hip-hop films and none focused on the rich history of Asian Americans actually emceeing. It was something that was very important to Jaeki, being a Korean immigrant and Asian American. For me, it was an opportunity to explore this world and help tell a story rooted in hip-hop, and emblematic of the American dream.
Actually, how long exactly have you been working on this project? From the inception of the idea all the way to the film’s release. Aside from raising money, what was most difficult about the project?
The most difficult part about this project is that I didn’t know how to do anything. I could shoot my ass off and edit, and tell a story. My producing partner, Jaeki Cho could reach out and get people on board. But we didn’t know how the industry worked. How do we apply for all these festivals? Where do we get the money? Wait, we can’t do both SXSW and Tribeca? We have to choose just one? We have to get a DCP file and it costs thousands of dollars? We need a sales agent? And a clearance lawyer? And a contract lawyer? And a CPA? A distributor takes how much? Subtitles cost what? I mean, I could go on and on. Easily the hardest part about this is that you have to learn on the job, which means you’re never prepared, there’s always a crisis, you’re constantly making mistakes and trusting people to do the job right, and there’s only two of us. But every crisis, we came out on top. I’ve learned that making a movie, especially your first one, you’ll always make mistakes but you’ll never fail.
The rappers in this film are incredibly talented, so what’s up with the title ‘Bad Rap’?
Ha! I can’t remember which rapper it was recently who was asked to explain the lyrics to his song. It might have been Kendrick Lamar. He responded something like, “If I told you what everything means, it would be too easy.” And then if your lyrics are particularly clever, you sound like an asshole explaining how clever you are for coming up with them. So, think of ‘Bad Rap’ as a play on having a “bad rap” which is slang for having a “bad reputation.”
It’s understandable that appropriation is talked about in this film since hip-hop and rap are genres primarily associated with the African-American community, but as a WOC, do you feel as though this genre is being appropriated by Asian-American artists or any artists other than African-Americans?
These days, whenever I have a discussion about racism, discrimination, or appropriation, I always stop and make sure we’re all using the same definitions. We’re in an age where everyone thinks they know what something means because they saw it once on Tumblr. Appropriation means to profit off of a culture in a way that the creators of that culture can not profit, AND more importantly, to criticize the originators for the culture while simultaneously benefiting from it. So, like, when black people created Rock ’n’ Roll (and Jazz and Blues, and etc. and etc.) and were told it was vulgar music. It couldn’t be played on the radio. It couldn’t be shown on television. That is, until white people started doing it. Then it became innovative. Then it stopped being “trash” and became “art.” Or more recently, when Miley Cyrus used hip-hop and black people to gain street cred and huge success, only to claim later the violence and misogyny is so “not me.”
Bad Rap will be released to major VOD platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu) this May 23rd.
Watch Bad Rap on iTunes.