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Dumbfoundead’s Brilliant Take on Asian Perception in Cinema with “Safe” Music Video

On May 25th, Underground rap luminary Dumbfoundead posted an iconic image of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy in mid-flight, springing into action, on his Facebook page and hinted that something big was on the horizon.

At midnight the next day, he released his first single in five months on Spotify, with an image that evoked the Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The song appeared to be a reaction or sounding alarm to indictments over Hollywood’s legacy in the promotion of “whitewashing” and history of Columbus-ing culture through visibility. There was a torrent of praise from his immediate niche fan base. Nearly 12 hours later, he released a music video to promote the film and suddenly the Los Angeles-based rapper became a trending topic across multiple platforms on social media.

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Titled “Safe,” in the music video, which superimposes Dumbfoundead as the protagonist in world-renowned motion pictures and TV sitcoms, evaluates the lack of diversity and critiques the representation of Asian-American in Hollywood and specifically references the Academy Awards ceremony. Just as emblematic as such music videos like Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” or Tupac’s “California Love,” this offering by Dumbfoundead belongs in a league of its own as it staunchly parodies some of the greatest films and TV shows of the last 45 years.

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Playing the role of the all-American patriarch, Dumbfoundead and his family sit down to watch television and as they channel surf, various major motion pictures like The Shining, Ghost, Furious 7, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Titanic, The Matrix, Napoleon Dynamite, Pirates of the Caribbean, Braveheart, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pulp Fiction and Iron Man are shown. Not only are there nods to “The Brady Bunch,” there are also references to hit TV shows “Friends,” “Full House,” and the fifth season finale of “Game of Thrones.” The rapper also made an allusion to the controversial joke that Chris Rock made at the 2016 Oscar ceremony, when he used Asian children as a punch line that outraged the Asian American community. In the opening lines of his rap, Dumbfoundead notes the irony by correlating the complexion of East Asian people with the gold statues.

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At the climax, the director of the music video interjects just before the outro, breaking the fourth wall, noting that something was “off” about this ideal all-Asian family: “There’s something about your face. It just doesn’t have that Hollywood star quality,” he says. Before the rapper can protest, security is called and he’s escorted off of the set and has been superseded by a commercial-ready white male who was on reserve and already in hair and makeup.

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What makes the finished product so interesting is not the impressive industry of this relatively low-budget music video, but that the rapper reimagines an American landscape where Asian men and other actors of color could all have the opportunity and visibility to be like the cinematic titans that Dumbfoundead overlays. These are the most distinguishable male characters in contemporary cinema; played by the most famous actors in tinsel town and all of them are white. The music video is also timely because of the various think pieces surrounding the emasculation and desexualization of Asian men in particular. Not only is fast-talking cipher tapping into the zeitgeist about the dearth of Asian American representation in Hollywood, he is stirring a cauldron of emotions that began to bubble over with campaigns like  #WhiteWashedOUT#StarringJohnCho and of course, #OscarSoWhite.

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In more disturbing news: According to the New York Times, “Only 1.4 percent of lead characters in a sample of studio films released in 2014 were Asian.”

“The title ‘Safe’ is a reference to how I felt Asians and Asian Americans were being perceived: the model minority that’ll take it and smile, the punching bag of America,” Dumbfoundead told NBC News. “I wanted to flip the script on the conversation everybody was having about the whitewashing of Hollywood and ‘yellow-wash’ some of the most iconic films starring white male leads.”

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He continued in that interview: “I have been to many auditions where they wanted me to speak in an ‘Asian accent’ and I understand when the role requires that, but there were so many roles where the accent wasn’t necessary,” he said. “It only showed me the perception of what Hollywood thinks of us.”

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Much like the iconic Japanese robot superhero he admires, the origins of this polysyllabic wordsmith are just as worthy of a made-for-TV movie adaptation as any number of unwarranted biopics in recent memory (only we’d actually tune in to see it): Born Park Sung Man (Jonathan Park is his Americanized name) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to South Korean immigrants, long before he adapted his stage name, Park’s parents smuggled him into the U.S. when he was only three years old and settled down in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles.

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According to an interview with Noisey, the mother of the 30-year-old rapper had to sojourn into Mexico and through a herd of wild coyotes to sneak through the border with the rapper, then three years old, and his four-year-old sister. Growing up in Koreatown, surrounded by Latino youth, cholo culture and punk rock, he would eventually make his foray into freestyle and rap, with the heavy influence of hip-hop group, Project Blowed. Yet, with the release of “Safe,” the rapper’s authenticity and his supposed responsibility to his people has been called into question. Some critics believe that the message should have been filtered through more “traditional” means as many believe hip-hop to be a music form for and by the black community.

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Nevertheless, as globalization continues, hip-hop continues to expand and Dumbfoundead’s genius continues to proliferate. Five months before dropping “Safe,” the young artist released the music video for his single “Mijangwon” on Youtube. Meaning ‘beauty salon’ in Korean, the music and the message mirrors and juxtaposes the narrative of African American rappers and the prominence of the barbershop culture with that of Korean hair salons and Korean youth. In the lyrics, the rapper even replaces the now obligatory Scarface reference with an allusion to Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir mystery thriller Oldboy, perhaps the most influential and visually arresting revenge film in Korea’s prominent hyper-violent cinema genre.

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Keep your eyes peeled. If Psy helped kick down the doors for K-pop in the mainstream, Dumbfoundead may just be the most important voice for Korean rap. Moreoever, he may be the most essential rapper needed to make an impression on contemporary urban and hip-hop charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here is the video with the lyrics below it.

Dumbfoundead – “Safe” Lyrics
(intro)

You took me as safe

That was your first mistake

Who said I was safe

(verse 1)

The other night I watched the Oscars

And the roster of the only yellow men were all statues

We a quarter of the population

There’s a room of fuckin’ 1 percenters laughing at you

Fuck a bamboo ceiling, guess I gotta play the villain

ODB up at the Grammys on the mic

Like “Wu-Tang is for the children!”

Bruce Jenner is woman

OJ was acquitted

Kim K is a hero

The sky is the limit, any minute now

They gonna let an Asian brotha’ get a lead role

Shots fired I’m a reload, never saw this side of Chino

He was always quiet keeping to himself

Never messed with anybody else

That’s the Jonathan that we know

(hook)

Seems so safe, till one day things go cray

I swear if things don’t change

My actions can’t be blamed, (STAND UP!)

 

And now you gotta duck!

You know you never gave a fuck!

I came to get my cut! (fuck you, pay me)

You know I never gave a fuck!

 

(verse 2)

I ain’t never heard of none y’all fools

I can do whatever every one of y’all do

If I never get a chance

You might see the homie show up on the 5 o’ clock news

You ain’t never seen a yellow boy wild’n yellow boy shinin’ , Sound the alarm I got news

Go ahead and pro-file em’ I ain’t pro-violence

Shhhhh, silence is how yellow boys move

 

It’s been the same ol’ thang, I swear the game don’t change

What you talking bout there ain’t no space

Guess i gotta go and make more space

You know I’m cool as a motherfucker

Chillin’ in the cut hella quiet with the loud pack

Since I’m a cool motherfucker

You think everything is safe till I ask you where the safe at!

(hook)

Seems so safe, till one day things go cray

I swear if things don’t change

My actions can’t be blamed, (STAND UP!)

 

And now you gotta duck!

You know you never gave a fuck!

I came to get my cut! (fuck you, pay me)

You know I never gave a fuck!

(outro)

You took me as safe

That was your first mistake

Who said I was safe?

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About

MARCUS SCOTT is a playwright, songwriter, dramaturge, sketch comic and journalist. His work has appeared in Elle, Out, Passport, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Backstage, Giant, Hello Beautiful, NewsOne, The Urban Daily, Madame Noire, Styleblazer, Clutch, Artvoice, Bleu and Krave, among others. He has interviewed Fefe Dobson, VV Brown, Elle Varner, SWV, Danity Kane, Ryan Leslie, Rose Byrne, James Earl Jones, Annaleigh Ashford, LaMarr Woodley, Mehcad Brooks, Lisa Raye, Shaun Ross, Columbus Short and Boris Kodjoe, among others.


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