So I try to stay away from talking about Cultural Appropriation versus Cultural Appreciation when I think about different topics to write about. Cultural Appropriation a very sensitive topic with a lot of various views. I try my best to keep topics light or at least thought provoking. Provide some knowledge and to educate in the process. As a big Jay Park fan and fan of H1ghr Music/AOMG artist it pains me to even have to talk about this controversy. However, the latest MV from H1ghr Music, ‘DNA Remix’, in my opinion, is just a cluster fuck of appropriation masked as appreciation.
Appropriation vs. Appreciation
This debate about what is appropriation and what is appreciation has been going on for decades. Although most of the time it is within discussions of Black American culture, appropriation can be from any race, religion or culture. This would include wearing Native American headdress, getting Polynesian or Pacific Islander tattoos, or wearing an Indian Bindi. All of these things have cultural, historical or religious significates, hence why some would find using or wearing these things inappropriate. Much the same goes for the imitation of certain aspects of Black American culture.
Let’s start with breaking down some terms:
Appropriation: refers to taking something that doesn’t belong to you and most often refers to an exchange that happens when a dominant group takes or borrows something from a minority group that has historically been exploited or oppressed.
Appreciation: a feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude; an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something : an ability to appreciate something.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from minority cultures,.
Examples of Cultural Appropriation (From Very Well Mind: What is Cultural Appropriation; August 29, 2020) https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cultural-appropriation-5070458
- Intellectual property.
- Clothing and fashion.
- Religious symbols.
The Label: H1ghr Music
H1ghr Music was established in 2017 by Jay Park and music producer Cha Cha Malone, as an international Hip Hop label, the sister label of the already established AOMG Hip Hop label. During an interview with “The Cut” YouTube channel Jay states “ Park created the label to show support for up and coming artists from his hometown of Seattle, Washington and South Korea through collaborations and bridge the gap between Korean and American Hip Hop artists. The name symbolizes the artists’ goal to keep growing and to get to the next level”. https://youtu.be/Fkr-jW0gq70
H1ghr Music Artist on the label include Korean artist such as Sik-K, pH-1, Woodie Gochild, and the recently added R&B singer Jay B (formerly J.B. of Got7). There are a few U.S. artist such as 28AV (Avatar Darko) and Souf Souf, both from Jay Park’s Seattle hometown. Some would consider artist on H1ghr Music to be a bit more underground, less mainstream. These are artist that you would least likely find played on radio in Korea or on any of the various variety shows and music programs. I find the artist on H1ghr to be a bit more raw than main stream artist in Korean Hip Hop. In addition and Jay and Cha Cha have cultivated a platform of young, up and coming artist, such as Big Naughty and HAON to grow into their craft.
‘DNA Remix” is a collaborative remix of Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 DNA. It features various H1ghr Music artist such as YLN Foreign, D.Ark, pH-1 and Jay Park. Overall the song is intended to represent their Korean heritage in the form of Hip Hop. However, the images in the the now private video, (as of June 17th the MV has been made private and no longer for public viewing) shows these Korean rappers in what is considered Black American hair styles (braids, afros, dreadlocks). In addition to the hairstyles many have pointed out that throughout the video it appears that some are making hand gestures similar to those you would see among predominantly Black American gangs know as the Bloods and Crips. Because it is unclear as to the intention with portraying these images, many felt that the DNA Remix was another case of inappropriate Cultural Appropriation. It is not the first time H1ghr Music and Jay Park have been called out on this topic. The response was so severe that Jay went straight You Tube and posted a very long, chaotic and unapologetic response to what he felt were people over reacting. Excerpts of his response can be read in this NME article. https://www.nme.com/news/music/jay-park-remove-dna-remix-video-accusations-cultural-appropriation-2971838
The Reaction and Response
I love watching music video reactions on YouTube. It’s a way for me to fan-out about my favorite artist and MV’s and see if others may have the same opinions. One of my all-time favorite reactors is Dezzy March. If you’re not familiar with who he is or his reactions, just know that he is typically very laid back and relaxed type of reactor. He gives you his thoughts and commentary, plus a few laughs along the way usually under 15 minutes. He is always respectful of artist being artist whether he likes the song/MV. So when I saw that he had an almost 30 minute reaction that he even titled a “rant” I knew everything I heard about this MV was correct.
There are subjects and topics that Dezzy, a Black American male in his 20’s, touched on that were 100 percent from the heart and from a certain perceptive. He spoke about the reality of possibly imitating certain characteristics of Black American culture that is derived from gang culture. He spoke about not only how that culture was something he grew up around in his community, but how it has affected his family directly in a negative manner.
Overall, Dezzy’s comments are ones that I wish Jay Park, H1ghr Music and those outside of the Black American diaspora would listen to and take heed. There are many aspects of Black American culture that should not be admired nor replicated. Although gangs and gang culture are an aspect of all cultures, how they are perceived and represented varies based on the culture and country. It for sure is not something to play around with. It also perpetuates the stereotype that some still associate with American and more importantly Black Americans.
Stop, Drop and Roll…. out of this controversy
One of the biggest issues with the way the controversy was handled has a lot to do with Jay’s response to the the criticism of the images in the MV. At this level in the entertainment/music industry game you would have a team that would put out a response, have an explanation, stand behind their artist and, at times, apologize for this misconception or the unintentional harm that the MV caused. However, it is clear that the response under the MV itself was directly from Jay, and let’s just say it caused more damage than ever. Instead of putting out the massive firestorm DNA: Remix MV created he just fueled the fire. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a Jay Park and his labels AOMG and H1ghr Music has found themselves in Cultural Appropriation controversy. Which is very unfortunate, considering Jay and a few of the artist on the label are from the United States.
Often times people don’t know how to recognize cultural appropriation. Many are not even sure how to explain how they feel when they see images that, to them, feel more like appropriation rather than appreciation. This article in the April 2021 Healthline written by Crystal Raypole I think is a great tool to understanding the differences and learning to have healthy dialog about the topic.
Disappointment: sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations; someone or something that fails to satisfy hopes or expectations
Cancel Culture: the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.
An easier way to understand Cancel Culture as described in Merriam-Webster: For those of you who aren’t aware, cancel culture refers to the mass withdrawal of support from public figures or celebrities who have done things that aren’t socially accepted today. This practice of “canceling” or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.— Demetria Slyt
Speaking from myself, I think a number of AOMG/H1ghr Music fans are more so disappointed in not only the music video but also Jay Park’s response to the criticism. It showed on a few levels how disconnected he is with a portion of his fan base and what they perceive to be inappropriate. He didn’t take the time to really listen to what some were saying. And I get it, a lot of the comments were angry, malicious and not conducive to open dialog. Although music is ultimately a form of individual expression, why the artist or production team choose to represent how important and influential Hip-Hop music is to them, literally expressed as being in their DNA, did not stop to realize what that meant to an entire community of people.
The phase “cancel culture” or “cancel Jay Park” has been thrown around a lot since the MV’s release and Jay’s subsequent “explanation”/comment. I personally do not subscribe to the “canceling” of an artist or person for an incident. Maybe it’s because, as a fan, I’m hoping that the label and Jay will take this as an opportunity for education and growth. Not only for the artist and label, but for those that are fans and have been big supporters of the music
We take for granted that because of their exposure to various cultures and races, that they would recognize the differences in what is appropriate. I mean AOMG and H1ghr Music came together in 2020 during the Global Black Lives Matter movement and collectively donated to the cause, in which $10,000 was from Jay alone. I don’t think that an label and a CEO that would go out of their way to make a statement and donate to a movement would have also have malicious intent.
What Have I Learned
I’m not sure what I have learned from this entire incident. I know that I am truly disappointed in not only the video but more importantly how it was handled. I’m disappointed from the perspective as a music lover, as a fan Jay Park’s music and the empire he has built, as a fan of other artist on the labels. But also, as a Black American woman who loves and respects Korean culture. In the past 4 years that I have dived deep into various forms of Korean Music, dramas movies and literature, I have taken just as much time to educate myself and learn. I have put the work in to try my best to understand the history and roots of Korean Culture to better understand where the art, entertainment and artistic expression was representing. With all of my research and studying I will never fully understand, but ultimately my goal is to always be respectful. I may at times miss the mark, put at least I do my best to listen and grow.
Until next time…….