Interview with GorDoN國蛋 a.k.a Dr. Paper: From Taipei to NYC-Documenting His Cross-Cultural Experiences Through Rap
Compared with prolific Taiwanese rappers, GorDoN aka Dr. Paper’s laidback fare of hip hop music is often rather more suitable for bedtime tunes than the usual pumped up hip hop we’re used to. However, listen closely to his words and you will find his lyrics crammed with well-crafted anecdotes that often refer to his experiences living and breathing within a cross cultural context. Entering the scene in 2006 as part of the Bamboo Gang, he signed with KAO!INC. in 2007, establishing his career as a rapper and hip hop artist in Taiwan before moving to New York to pursue further study in 2013, before returning to Taiwan in 2015. This international move has since proved momentous towards GorDoN’s musical works, inspiring the release of three mixtapes in which he compares everything from daily life to the government’s policies in his various tracks. Interested to know more, we went deep in asking GorDoN about his motivations and goals in taking on such an angle within his music.
1. If you were to sum up your music for international audiences, how would you introduce yourself and your music?
I am GorDoN aka Dr. Paper, my music is mostly hip hop inspired by my life, as well as big and little things that happen in the place I live. I like using music to start conversations, to talk to myself, and to converse with other people's ideas.
2. For beginners, what do you think is the key to appreciation of good rap music?
I think being in the moment is the most important, no matter whether we're talking about the person making the music or listening, if you listened to rap or hip hop music but were unable to indulge in the moment, that takes away a very big part of the fun.
3. I heard that your latest mixtape ‘Dr. Paper Vol.3 Sunday Night Slow Jams’ was very much influenced by your time living in New York. Can you tell us a little about it?
Actually from Vol.2 -Blue Dream until GDNE, and now until Sunday Night Slow Jam, during this time I was living in New York, so a lot of these works were full of the colour of New York living. Sunday Night Slow Jam just so happened to begin production in the three months leading up to my decision to leave New York and return to Taiwan. Half of it was finished in New York and the other half in Taipei, during that time it just so happened to be a turning point in my life, and when I was producing this I did it with the motivation of creating a piece of work that commemorated the end of my time in New York.
Interview with DJ Didilong aka Yinghung李英宏: The Enigma Pioneering New-Gen Taiwanese Language Hip Hop
In recent years I've begun to realise that there is more to the Taiwanese music scene that just Mandarin Chinese music. A culturally diverse island, the native language of most of Taiwan's inhabitants is actually Hokkien or Minnanyu, otherwise known to most Taiwanese as taiyu(Taiwanese). However, much of the language was lost over generations of colonisation and martial law, which severely restricted the use of the Taiwanese dialect. Nowadays, use of the language is mostly lost on city slickers, with most artists performing exclusively in the dialect targeted at older generations. Despite this, mainstream artists have nevertheless continued to perform selected songs in these dialects, some to great popularity. From David Tao's remake of '望春風 Spring Wind' to A-mei Zhang's '夢中做憨人Sorrowful Regret', and even Lala Hsu (身騎白馬Riding On White Horse) & Crowd Lu (魚仔He-R), the popularity of these songs on the charts show that audiences are not opposed to the notion of incorporating these languages back into popular social conscience. Yet given the general lack of popularity of exclusively Taiwanese language music, younger generations of artists have long steered clear of putting all their eggs in one basket-except for one.
DJ Didilong aka Yinghung, a cult favourite of the Taiwanese hipster youths raps, sings and writes his music entirely in the Taiwanese dialect, putting out a fresh mix of Hip Hop, Rap, Funk, and Disco that is cutting edge and comparative to the standard of any Mandarin-speaking Hip Hop artist. A bit of an enigma, the suave artist won himself critical acclaim at this years' Golden Melody Awards with his debut album 'Taipei Didilong' as he was nominated for Best Taiwanese Album and Best Taiwanese Male Singer, using his mesmerising vocals and indomitable charisma to bring the Taiwanese dialect back into popular social conscience. We spoke briefly to him about his music as he and his record company KAO!INC. ready themselves to take on North America in their 'Coast To Coast' tour end November:
1. It is not often one finds a young hip hop artist who chooses to perform almost exclusively in the Taiwanese dialect. What was it that made you decide to write your songs for your debut album completely in Taiwanese?
Using ones’ own language to tell the stories of my home, that is what is most natural.
2. Your work has been inspirational for the youth in bringing awareness to the Taiwanese dialect. Do you intend to continue writing and performing your music solely in Taiwanese?
Of course I will, just like how in America, there are many different ethnicities, languages and cultures, I especially like to be part of a different mode of expression, that represents every ethnic group’s cultural background, way of life and inner thoughts.
3. If you were to pick one song from your discography that you would recommend to others when introducing your music, what would you choose and why?
‘Taipei Didilong’’s lyrics and musical recording all fully represent the place where I grew up.
4. Do you have any new works in the pipeline? Can you share with us a little about what’s up next for you?
I am currently working on musical arrangements for a movie, within it I also wrote some of the movie’s theme songs, they are quite different to my compositions in general, I am very excited to let everyone experience a different me.
To DJ Didilong, it seems that all these other considerations that other artists might account for when deciding what language to perform in are irrelevant. He does what comes most naturally; using his mother tongue and combining it with musical elements that he enjoys to create a unique style that is not easily replaceable. Making music from a place so pure and innovative, Didilong's sound leaves me optimistic for what future generations of Taiwanese young talent may come up with.
Hip Hop company KAO!INC. which consists of Soft Lipa, GorDoN, DJ Didilong, Deejay Gin and Leo Wang are touring LA and NYC, holding shows on the 19th (LA) at the Echoplex and on the 22nd (NYC) at the Highline Ballroom. See below for more information.
KAO!INC. World Tour - Los Angeles
Ticketing: https://goo.gl/WGHjgr (Priced at $30 advance, $35 on the day)
KAO!INC. World Tour - New York
Venue: Highline Ballroom
Ticketing: https://goo.gl/8UgqCH (Priced between 30-49.99)
Almost every Asian kid who’s grown up in a Western country has some semblance of experience with ‘Chinese School’; an unappealing waste of any adolescent child’s weekend that could be better spent anywhere but in a classroom for six hours. In the two or three months I spent at Chinese school, the only word I remember learning was 不倒翁bu dao weng (a roly poly toy), a phrase which until today I have yet to put to good use. Other friends have endured years of Chinese school, coming out the other end to only remember how to say 你好ni hao (Hello). This collective experience, along with many other factors have cumulated in a collective understanding of learning Chinese as 'uncool', sparking a trend of media representations that normalize and render it widely acceptable for Asian diasporic youths to overlook their cultural heritage.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Asian diasporic youths not being able to speak Chinese per se, as individuals are diverse and unique. But conversely, the lack thereof of representations which encourage a return to ones' roots may be harmful to those who find an understanding of their native languages and traditions helpful in their search for identity and meaning. In a previous interview with Korean-American singer-songwriter Big Phony, he put it most aptly when he spoke of how learning Korean helped him to work through many of his own personal issues:
"For me, learning Korean helped me sort out some issues in my life I didn’t even know I really had. Although, I have Asian American friends that don’t speak their native languages and they seem to be doing just fine. I had all sorts of personal problems before moving to Seoul. Learning Korean was positive for me but I can't really say for others. If you feel it might help you in some way, I say explore it."
But getting back to the topic at hand, it’s about time someone championed a new breed of content that encourages language and cultural exchange in an easily accessible manner for Asian Americans, Canadians, Australians and more. Despite YouTube and new media being widely hailed as safe spaces for Asian diasporic communities to come together and thrive, the content of Wongfu, Ryan Higa, David Choi and more often fail to touch on the importance of native languages and the influence of Eastern tradition on their lives and their content. But it seems that the task has fallen to a group of guys from Toronto going by the name of CantoMando who are passionate about sharing their Asian diasporic experiences and native language skills with the rest of the internet.
A YouTube and new media platform that was created in 2016, CantoMando was founded by Toronto-based university student Sheldon Ho for teaching Asian Canadian/American/Australian youth Mandarin or Cantonese in a relatable manner. Today, joined by close friends Mike Wu and Edward Leung, CantoMando’s content has evolved into relatable skits featuring everyday situations (my favourite being Shit That Happens At Chinese School) and long-form content that creatively tests the three amiable guys’ somewhat limited Mandarin and Cantonese skills (see their 2x Korean Nuclear Spicy Noodle Translation Challenge). Although onscreen it seems like it’s all fun and games, Ho reveals that there has always been a game plan involved - to make learning Chinese and Eastern culture cool for other Asian youth like themselves.
“Our goal was to teach Mandarin initially... so when we went to skits and comedy, we wanted to bring that whole theme of Chinese language, Cantonese/Mandarin into our videos and skits, and kind of show Asian Americans, Asian Canadians the Chinese language. Because over here a lot of people think it’s not cool and I used to think that Mandarin was so stupid sounding, same with Cantonese, I used to hate hearing it all the time. So it was kind of just to show that (our language is) something to be proud of and something you should embrace.”
It was also interesting to see how the three guys came to discover their passion for understanding Eastern culture and language in various different ways (hint: NOT through Chinese school). Sheldon rekindled his passion for the language due to a culture shock (when he was young he thought Cantonese was a majority language in the world, before realizing a large majority of Asians speak Chinese while in University), while it took Mike a trip back to China to gain a sense of home and belonging. Edward found his passion through a genuine interest in different cultures and languages.