It’s been nearly 15 years since MC Jin burst onto the rap scene. In 2000, the fresh-faced recent high school grad from Queens broke out on BET’s "106 & Park." But Jin’s was an uneasy type of fame. He proudly called himself "the original chink-eyed MC," playing up stereotypes of Asian-Americans that were pervasive in American pop culture. He wound up getting signed to Ruff Ryders, where he released the deeply problematic song "Learn Chinese."
"I’m at a point now where I don’t cringe if I hear ‘Learn Chinese,’" he told Jeanho at BuzzFeed. "But I don’t think there was ever one point when I was genuinely, genuinely proud of that song." He adds, "I definitely still cringe at that video."
As Jeanho writes:
The video for "Learn Chinese" is a study in the hackneyed stereotypes of Orientalist fantasy. Jin plays two characters in it: the villain in an eye patch and thin mustache who leads a gang of karate-chopping henchmen, and the hero who rescues the sexy Asian girls from some den of iniquity deep in the bowels of a glamorized Chinatown ghetto. The concept is intercut with shots of Jin in a maroon jogging suit rapping underneath an arched, neon-lit Chinese gate, a diamond-encrusted "R" chain swinging from his neck, the famous logo of the Ruff Ryders.
His music has predictably evolved since then, and so has his political consciousness around what his work means:
The first single is "Chinese New Year," a revelatory celebration of Jin’s Chinese-American identity, the story of his family’s immigrant, working-class roots, and a candid acknowledgment of the failures in his rap career thus far — including regret over "Learn Chinese," the first single off The Rest Is History, and probably still the most recognizable song in Jin’s oeuvre.
Jin blames his youth and industry naiveté for the misguided execution. "I look back, and I had this opportunity to make a statement. That was my first single to the world that the label was going to get behind. My criticism of it now is: You had this opportunity, Jin, and that was the statement you made?"