Jin Au-Yeung aka Jin tha Mc was born in Miami, Florida, to Hong Kong Chinese immigrants.
By the time he graduated high school, Jin moved his family to Queens, New York City in 2001. He began performing freestyles and selling his own mix tapes on the streets, in hip-hop clubs and wherever else possible. While battling on the streets he was spotted by Kamel Pratt who then became his manager and they formed Crafty Plugz Entertainment. His big break came when the BET program 106 & Park began inviting local rappers to hold battles in a segment known as Freestyle Friday. He won all seven battles in a row, enabling him to be inducted in the Freestyle Friday Hall of Fame.
That same night of his Hall of Fame induction, he announced that he had signed a deal with the Ruff Ryders. His first single under Ruff Ryders was titled “Learn Chinese”. In 2003, Jin made an appearance in the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious as a mechanic named ‘Jimmy’. His song “Peel Off” was featured on the 2 Fast 2 Furious soundtrack.
Jin premiered a song called “Open Letter to Obama” on April 24, 2007, which made him become 1st on Barack Obama’s Top 8 list on MySpace. Obama loves the Asians!
He was both the first East Asian and Chinese solo rapper to be signed to a major record label.
More recently Jin has moved to Hong Kong, hired manager Carl Choi, recorded a Cantonese rap album and got married. We’re just looking forward to his English album set for 2012.
ASIANCE: It’s nice to meet you Jin. I want to start by going back to the beginning of your career where many people say that you were the start of the Asian American rappers out there today. How do you feel about that and what’s your take on it?
Jin: Naturally, when I first kinda came on the scene, which was about 10 years ago, it didn’t strike me that that was such a big deal. Meaning, I didn’t really put so much emphasis myself until maybe, a couple of years into my career where I realize, people put a lot emphasis the fact that I was Asian and breaking into the hip hop scene. So by nature, I think I don’t know. It was almost 10 years ago. I would like to think that; I never used it as a crutch, but maybe at one point I would have fed into it by nature. I mean, I think the thing is it’s always been a delicate matter. As blatant as it was, I think the way I handled it could have swayed either way. I think that it was more so that I never shy away from fact that I was Asian, but at the same time never that I felt like I exploited it. It could have come across like that at some point.
Jin really is just amazing!
Hypothetically, something that’s related to this topic. Let’s say my first single, Learn Chinese. It’s me rapping me about being Chinese. So to answer your question, 10 years ago, it may have been an issue. But right now, if you’re asking me personally, I think I look at it from a perspective of; it’s worked for me more than it’s worked against me. Meaning, that it set me apart from everyone, but there were a lot pre-conceived notions that came along with it. If you’re asking me in 2012 removing me from the story, looking at it from a bigger scale, I would like to think that there’s still a long way to go and there’s still a lot of progress. I don’t even want to think its hip-hop, but in the world across all platforms. I would like to think that my ethnicity if anything, be more than just a big deal. However, I don’t think it’s something that people can’t escape its identity. It can be a very complex thing or also be a very simple thing. It’s just a matter of each individual’s take on it. Sometimes people look at stuff and like, some people don’t mind what they are. But at the same time you have people who gravitate towards certain things because they feel they’re Asian because it’s a representation of themselves. It’s a never ending debate on this topic for anyone.
ASIANCE: It’s been ten years since your 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Rest is History days. A lot has changed since then, what is the one thing you say that has changed since then? How has it molded you into the person that you are today?
Jin: When you mean a lot has change, do you mean the movie and music industry itself or are you talking about me personally? As in me as a person?
I don’t think I ever felt the need to represent the Asian race. I think where all my motivation began was to try to take my own thoughts and put it in a song.
ASIANCE: You as a person.
Jin: Oh, oh my gosh. I mean to answer your question, has anything changed? The most direct way I can answer it is probably in a 180 degree manner and what I mean by that is the total opposite impression. I think a big part of that comes with; it has nothing to do with rap music. It has nothing to do with hip-hop. It has nothing to do with being an entertainer. It’s just part of life and what I’m talking about is just, growth, maturity, evolution. I would like to think that my way of thinking, my way of handling everything. You know my career, life, and my relationships with individuals. I would like to think that it’s looked at in a different perspective now. I think it’s those and evolution is a very natural thing. But beyond that without an absolute doubt, for me personally, I think my faith, experience and walk in terms of a spiritual level has a great influence on it.
If you talk about my story in terms of my career, it’s a ten year thing so far. I “popped” on the scene in 2001-2002, and even in that 10 year span, so much has happened. If I pin point it more specifically, in the last three years, it’s been crazy. And when I say crazy, I don’t even mean like, the career up and down. I’m talking about the life, as a man and as an individual. That type of transformation and the experience in the past 2-3 years has been intense. Like I was saying earlier though, on a spiritual level and pertaining to my faith.
Overall to answer your question, if anything changed all I can say is that it’s a complete 180. And what I mean by that 180, if someone asked me who I was, what I did or to describe myself, I would have said that I rhymed, I’m the man, I battle and I love hip-hop. That would pretty much define me.
Whereas now, it’s a 180 change and you ask me those same questions. I would be very honest and say, nothing really. I’m just a regular guy; I love hip-hop and my craft. I found out that I like to entertain people and uplift them. I don’t find myself particularly talented or gifted in any way. What I do feel now more than I ever felt before, I’m just a very bless person, very lucky and grateful to have experience that I have in these past 30 years. And when I’m talking about what I experienced, I’m talking about both the positive. I feel like the people who look at my career look at the battling, Ruff Ryders and The Fast and the Furious. But those things weren’t even the most rewarding things.
The most rewarding things were probably the negative things. Not the negative this per se, but I can look back now and say that I made it through those negative things. Is my career what I envisioned it to be? No. Have things turn out the way I thought they would? Absolutely not. But, I’m more thankful than I have ever been, and that’s what defines me now. If I was doing this interview and I just got signed, I probably wouldn’t be saying any of the things I would say to you now. But the past 10 years have been quite an eye opener.
Here is a recent performance by Jin! Would be good to see more of him!
ASIANCE: Music and acting are very different in the arts. How was acting in 2 Fast 2 Furious different than rapping? How were they similar?
Jin: That whole experience was just very unique. It was a very surreal experience. It was totally by luck and chance that I got to be part of that. It was a rare opportunity and I was super excited to be part of it. But it kind of goes hand in hand with what I was talking about a minute ago. People were really excited about it and I think that was very humbling and awesome. Still, I look at it and at the time I had this opportunity. I made the most of it. I can’t grasp the people’s excitement about it. It’s not that I’m not thankful or grateful about it, but it seems like such a long time ago that it’s interesting that it’s brought up. Like how you brought it up, like tell me about that experience. All I can say is that it’s surreal and how it differs from the music thing. Acting is a whole new territory for me. I got into hip-hop when I was 11, 12 years old, so that means it’s a good two-thirds of my life has been submerge into rap and hip-hop. As far as acting, 2 Fast 2 Furious was my one and only experience on that level and that was my first time. It wasn’t until when I moved to Hong Kong in the past two to three years that those opportunities came up again. And very naturally they ask me that if I want to do more acting and do more films. Yeah I want to do more acting. But people don’t realize that the timing and opportunity goes beyond what I want to do. That’s just my experiences in the film. The producer reached out and wanted me to audition for a role. It made me realize how much I like acting. But I feel like there’s so much to learn as a performer or as an actor. That’s the different between rapping and acting. I don’t want to say that I’m at a state where I’m super comfortable or know exactly what I’m doing. But I like to think that I have better grip on rapping than acting. I do believe there’s more room for improvement. The creative arts is a never ending expiration and that the beauty of it. There’s no one particular end goal and I find that inspirational and motivational. But I guess the best way to put it is there is no real final destination.
ASIANCE: I wanted to touch base on 100 Grand Jin because songs such as The Ambassador and Long Winding Road seem to hit really raw emotions at the time. Do you still feel the need and feel the pressure to represent the Asian race?
Jin: I don’t think I ever felt the need to represent the Asian race. I think where all my motivation began was to try to take my own thoughts and put it in a song. Never did I ever really come out on a record saying that what I’m saying reflects all Asian or Asian Americans across the globe or galaxy. For one, that’s not practical and realistic and that’s pretty arrogant to say. I can take my experience and say, “Do you know that as an Asian American, this is the stuff I have to deal with? This is the stuff I have to say or even this is my experience. ”
If other Asian Americans can listen to it and find some sort of common ground, that’s great. I think one of the core things is that, I’m really proud that you can listen to my songs and get a grasp of where I’m at life at that certain point. Like with The Rest is History, I don’t feel like I’m defined in any way. Even in 100 Grand Jin, there are songs about being a great rapper, songs talking about taking care of family or songs that are more emotional. The Jin that you’re talking to right now, I got married last year and I’m finding a relationship with God that I never knew. With that, I don’t I have everything in life figured out, but what it does indicate that I’m going in a direction that’s new to me.
Jin’s “Changed Man”
How that in turn relates to my music in the creative process, in Sincerely Yours is a musical project. The ultimate point I’m trying to make is that if you compare it to 100 Grand Jin or The Rest is History, you get the vibe that it’s a whole different person. And people have the tendency to say that I use to be real hungry. I understand what they’re saying though. It’s not that I’m any less hungry now; it’s just that my hunger is for something different. I’m not hungry to be the best battle rapper alive or the greatest rapper on earth. What am I hungry for? I want to be a better man. I want to be a good husband. I want to impact society in a good way. All that I’m saying is that it strays away from music, but it all goes back to it.
ASIANCE: You have released albums in both Cantonese and English. Your first all Cantonese album was ABC and you worked on that with Far*East Movement. How is rapping in Cantonese different from rapping in English? And how was it to work with Far*East Movement?
Jin: Question number one is very different, but very much the same. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s very different, but very much the same. How is it very much the same? It’s the same thought and creative process. Regardless, if it’s Cantonese or English, I think of what I rhyme about and I put together the rhyme in my head. That applies to both Cantonese and English. How it’s different is that, in reality when I started the ABC project. My English was much better than my Cantonese and what I mean by that is that I’ve been living in the U.S. from the moment I was born till I was 26. The ratio of me speaking Cantonese and English was: 30% Cantonese and 70% English. By nature, my English was more efficient than my Cantonese. On the Cantonese album, there was a certain limit command of the language; whereas in English, I can push myself a bit more and beyond the boundaries, in terms of the writing and creative aspect of it. But in Cantonese, there’s a limit and I can only use what I’m capable of using to create.
Working with Far*East Movement, how do I describe it? I think when people ask that question, people think of Like a G6. I remember Far*East Movement as three fun loving regular guys and not to say they’re not regular. They’re probably the same exact guys that they were once before. But I haven’t seen or interacted with them in awhile, but obviously they’ve come a long way and they work really hard. They’re awesome at what they do. To answer the question of how it was working with them, I think they were great to work with. They were just as hard working as they are now. It was just spectacular. For me, it wasn’t the Like a G6 part. To me it was three hungry, young individuals. You can see where they’ve gone and where it’s taken them. The impression that they always left me is that they are humble, hardworking and very passionate about their craft.
ASIANCE: You have decided to sign on with Carl Choi around this time too. How is it working with him?
Jin: Carl Choi is the man. He was the best man at my wedding. So that right there is my perspective and my stand point of Carl. But you ask what is like working with him; it’s amazing to see his evolution as a businessman and as an individual. When I first met him, he was just promoting parties. You see what he did, built that party promotion company, the networking he did over the years and the role he played in FM (Far*East Movement). I’m sure if you ask FM, they’ll be able to share more with you. The role he played in my career was unique too. Initially he wasn’t even managing me, initially he was just getting me a lot of gigs and I think that means a lot too because of the fact he wasn’t managing but he was still out there getting me these gigs. That says a lot and that happened around 2005 or 2006, just after I parted from Ruff Ryders. That’s when Carl and I took our working relationship to a new level. I approached him to manage me and the past 6 years has been interesting and exciting. That’s on a career level, but on a personal level to see where he’s going with his life, what God is doing in our lives and collectively. We’re walking together as brothers and it’s amazing. Seven years ago, Carl was the last person I would have worked with because how we met we were walking different paths. Even though now he’s my manager and we have these career plans individually and collectively. As much as it’s there, what’s make our bond stronger is seeing how amazing God is in our life and continues to do so.
It was great working with Asian Americans and I’m down working with anyone, Asian American or not, as long as there is a spark, that we click and the end product is dope.
ASIANCE: You have also collaborated with Dumbfoundead. Do you plan to work with more Asian American rappers?
Jin: I think it’s cool; in fact I’m down to work with anyone. As much as I understand the question, I almost feel like us as Asian Americans and young Asian Americans, part of what we need to do to break from this so called thing we feel that we’re boxed in from is created by ourselves. I would love to get your thoughts on it too, I don’t know of what I’m saying makes sense. It’s almost like we have this need to create this energy field. I worked with him because he was dope; it wasn’t necessarily because he was Asian American. But he’s dope and he’s a talented individual.
The unity is a great thing; the being in touch with our identity, not shying away our own culture. But it’s almost that we set up this wall on our own. My take on it personally is why the need in empathizing whether the Asian American or not. As long as creativity is there, that we click and as long the collaboration makes sense. There shouldn’t be an emphasis if they’re Asian American or not. It’s kind of in the same essence of Asiance, if you ask me; I’m doing this interview with you knowing that Asiance is an Asian American based platform. I’ve come across many of the material that you guys do online, it’s awesome and I thank you for reaching out and the opportunity. But it’s like me saying that I’m only doing this interview as a well read Asian American platform. I feel like that would be an injustice to you guys if I said that. But I would like to think that Asiance writes great articles and do great coverage; you’re just geared towards Asian Americans and you would like non-Asians to know what’s going on.
It was great working with Asian Americans and I’m down working with anyone, Asian American or not, as long as there is a spark, that we click and the end product is dope. The Asian American factor doesn’t play a crucial part, but I’m all for Asian Americans doing their part. I’m very much encouraging of it. It’s great to see in the past 5-10 years that more and more young Asian Americans are proactively pursing their passion: rappers, actors, comedians, filmmakers, bloggers. Whatever it maybe, because it makes me think one day when I have a child, he or she may want to pursue their dream and it would give them hope.
ASIANCE: I noticed that you always tweet your followers on twitter. We even tweeted back a few times. You have some interesting tweets. Is it humbling to know that your followers are such loyal fans?
Jin: Yeah, I mean. It just so happens that you used that word fan. If you have a chance, check out the MYX interview with me in it. It might give you insight about the world fans and things of that nature, but to answer your question, yeah it’s very humbling. Loyal fans, support, or whatever term you want to use. It’s very humbling, inspiring and encouraging. It’s great anytime that you’re appreciated for what you do. I very much like the interaction; I like that people know that a connection can be made and at the end of the day, that’s what you want. You want to connect with people. You want to make an impact. These are real people, but I look at my 17,000 followers and it’s not realistic to be able build a relationship with each one of them. However, I like to at least think and know that they’re not just twitter names; there’s an actual person behind it. People go crazy when I reply or retweet what they wrote, and I don’t see it. I don’t really think I’m that special. I don’t view myself as highly as other people do.
ASIANCE: You now live in Hong Kong. How is living in Hong Kong different from living in the U.S.? Was it a culture shock for you when you first moved there?
Jin: It’s the same exact thing. There are no differences. Everyone trying to make money, everyone is trying to live their life. Different people have different agendas. Some just want to get by and some want to become millionaires. Some people are really nice; some people are really mean. Some people are really generous and some people are really greedy. The world is one big circle and what I mean is that the more somewhere is different, the more it’s the same. The only difference is language and cultural aspects. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the same thing. Pertaining to the question whether if it was a culture shock or not, it wasn’t too bad. My family is from Hong Kong. Even though it’s the first time living there, I have been to Hong Kong before. I just never stayed there for such a long period time.
ASIANCE: I hear that you’re releasing an English album in 2012. What kind of songs can the fans expect for the upcoming album? Who’s going to be featured on it?
Jin: I want to release an album in 2012, if it’ll actually happen? We’ll have to see, but I wholeheartedly want too. What kinds of songs can you expect on it? I don’t know. I have an album that’s pretty much done already, but I’m still thinking if I want to release it or not. Because I feel like if that’s what I want to say or is it what I want to represent. Now in terms of features, I don’t know. I don’t have any features in mind right now. I think because even before I had so many unanswered questions of my own. For instances, what direction I want to take this album and what kind of music I want to make. It’ll probably be very hip-hop driven, but in terms of what I want to say in my music and that’s what I’m very conscious of, I’ll figure it out eventually. It’s just that right now in this moment, I’m still kind of scratching head about it. But the features thing and who I want to feature on it, I don’t know. That’s another thing that changed in my perspective, before I would have wanted the biggest features. Now, I haven’t figured out what I wanted to say, which is why the whole concept of getting on a track to say something with me. I feel like I’m not at that point yet. But if anything, what fans can expect is reflective more than anything.
ASIANCE: In the near future, are there any other projects that you’re looking forward to? Are you looking forward to working with any artists again?
Jin: Projects that I’m looking forward to; one is definitely an English album this year. I just don’t know where and what it’s going to be. Even if it’s not this year, I’m still looking forward to it at some point. In terms of any artists I want to work with again? None in particular, but I would like to do a song with Maroon 5. I do like working with Joseph Vincent though.