Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mike Shinoda

Mike Shinoda is a rapper who is involved in both rock group Linkin Park and hip hop group Fort Minor (of which he is the founder). He is half Japanese American and half Russian. I think he’s a great example of an Asian American musician who is doing a decent thing with his music – unlike other mainstream rappers, who often rap about being "all up in the club," Mike Shinoda manages to still be well-known while rapping about things with substance. One song that I think is especially relevant to his being a musician and an Asian American is the song “Kenji,” which was from his group Fort Minor. “Kenji” is about his father’s side of the family being put in Japanese American internment camps during World War II. This song mixes clips of interviews with Mike Shinoda’s father and aunt about their family’s experience in an internment camp. According to an interview (http://www.antimusic.com/morley/05/FortMinor.shtml), Mike Shinoda explains the background of the song:

“I'm half Japanese, and the song "Kenji" is based on my family's story during WWII in an internment camp. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began a period of racial profiling. They put all the Japanese-Americans (and some other Asian-Americans) in secluded camps for the duration of the war. My dad was three years old, and had twelve brothers and sisters. My oldest aunt was in her twenties, and had four kids. Her youngest was born in Camp. Her husband died in Camp. They stayed there for the duration of the war, captive. Once they were released, they returned to vandalized homes and racial tension.”

If you take a look at some of the lyrics, his word choice clearly shows his anger over the biases his father’s family had to face during the time:

So now they're in a town with soldiers surroundin' them,
Every day, every night look down at them,
From watch towers up on the wall,
Ken couldn't really hate them at all;
They were just doin' their job and,
He wasn't gonna make any problems,
He had a little garden with vegetables and fruits that,
He gave to the troops in a basket his wife made,
But in the back of his mind, he wanted his families life saved,
Prisoners of war in their own damn country,
What for?

I think including this song on Fort Minor’s album shows this event meant a lot to him, and it was a conscious decision to inform listeners that may not be as knowledgeable about the internment camps, since he defines words such as “Issei” and explains what happens in the internment camps throughout the song. I think it’s interesting that he “exposes” his Japanese American side of his heritage through his music, and I think it’s a great song.

There isn't a music video available for this song, but if you'd like to listen to it, I found one on youtube that's basically a video of the lyrics as the music plays:

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