Roderick Labrador & Brian Su-Jen Chung

Department of Ethnic Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Guest Editors

In this cluster issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly we are interested in critical, interdisciplinary contributions that extend our understanding of how Hip Hop, and more specifically rap, in Asian America is a form of auto/biography and life writing. Following Stein and Butler’s (2015) work on “musical autobiographies,” we hope to facilitate discussions on the self-referential life writings of rap artists and the intermediality and relationality of Asian American life narratives. Stein and Butler suggest that “musical autobiographies cross medial and generic boundaries. They conjure up and intervene in a network of sounds, images, and verbal narratives already circulating around the figure of the popular musician” (118).
We understand rap to be a varied musical genre that includes many different styles (depending on time, place, technique, and aesthetics) and as such, we welcome contributions from a wide array of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary approaches. We are seeking papers that engage the multiple ways that rap music and rappers may produce, create, innovate, sample, imagine, and articulate Asian American selves at the individual and collective levels.
There has been a long tradition of Asian American autobiography and life writing (for example, see literature reviews in Yamamoto 2014 and Davis 2007) that have raised questions about culture, nation, memory, and representation. There is also a swiftly developing body of academic work on Hip Hop and Asian Americans, who have been actively involved in all the elements of the cultural art form since the 1970s. In this volume we pair these two scholarly threads in exploring Asian American Hip Hop musical auto/biographies.
We invite submissions that engage Asian American rap within the framework of life writing studies. What might Asian American studies offer life writing studies and vice versa? How and what might Asian American Hip Hop musical auto/biographies contribute to life writing studies?
Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • What can critical treatments of auto/biographies of individual artists like Das Racist, Bambu, and Awkwafina disclose about the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, culture, gender, sexuality, politics, and religion?
  • How and why do Asian American recording artists, like Dumbfoundead, represent their lives across multiple digital platforms (blogs, vlogs, music videos, personal websites, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.)? How do these platforms enable them to engage with issues of Asian American visibility and marketing in the recording industry? How do they reshape our conception of life writing?
  • How are artists exploring and advancing Asian American aesthetics and performance styles through musical auto/biographical representation?
  • What can representations of Asian American lives via rap tell us about cultural (and artistic) expression, authenticity, and appropriation?
  • How does a musical auto/biographical framework expand how we understand Asian American interracial engagements in rap and Hip Hop (e.g. antiblackness, #blacklivesmatter, black Pacific)?
  • What can Asian American musical auto/biographies tell us about contemporary geographies of Asian America? How do these musical auto/biographies help us to explore specific Hip Hop scenes, spaces, and places (in locations like Miami, Chicago, Virginia Beach, and Minneapolis) and the regional re/mapping of identities?
  • What roles do language, language use, and language ideologies play in Asian American rappers’ auto/biographical performances and narratives?

Works Cited

Davis, Rocío G. Begin Here: Reading Asian North American Autobiographies of Childhood. U of Hawaiʻi, 2007. 

Stein, Daniel, and Martin Butler. “Musical Autobiographies: An Introduction.” Popular Music and Society vol. 38, no. 2, 2015, pp. 115–21.

Yamamoto, Traise. “Asian American Autobiography/Memoir.” The Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature, edited by Rachel C. Lee, Routledge, 2014, pp. 379–91.

Please submit abstracts of 250–500 words to R. Labrador ( and/or B. Chung ( by November 30, 2016. We will contact those authors we wish to see full manuscripts from by January 15, 2017, and will expect to see those full manuscripts by April 15, 2017.