Daniel Shi aka "Wintendo"
Troy High School

Confessions of a ‘culture vulture’ — My music production hindered by culture appropriation

It’s a Wednesday night, and I am back in front of my laptop, with FL Studio open, preparing to compose my next musical piece. I’m really feeling that rockstar vibe on this particular night. You know, ear-piercing guitars, hard-bashing drums, that sort of style.

I had just watched a live “cookup” of Leland Tyler Wayne aka Metro Boomin producing a beat for fellow rapper 21 Savage’s album.

The electric guitars that were used in the piece had a musical aura that opened my ears to an audio haven, an aura so serenading that I could not stop replaying the beat. Those electric guitars were what really set the tone for tonight’s “cookup” of my own.

While we are on the topic of Metro Boomin, I have to make one thing clear: I simply cannot elaborate on my musical drive and motivation without mentioning this man. He is the entire reason why I started producing music, and he remains my number one idol in music even to this day.

Although I didn’t see music production as a serious career choice, one of my biggest dreams was to become the next Metro, to dominate the charts like he did with his dark melodies and his hard-hitting percussion.

Below Metro himself, there are a variety of other factors that motivate me to produce music — one is purely entertainment. To me, the whole production experience is a lot like a video game in which you have to formulate various combinations of drums and melodies to produce a musical masterpiece.

I find the process very enjoyable, and it is a great way to relieve me of my boredom. Music production also forces me to expand my creative boundaries.

For example, I always try to use unorthodox instruments and sounds and let my own imagination decide where they should fit in the beat. This process of testing out new sounds doesn’t always work out in my favor, but when it does, it is a truly rewarding experience, as it validates my growth as an artist. 

However, for every ounce of pride I’ve garnered as a hip-hop producer, there lies countless, frustrating dead-ends and do-overs.

Sometimes, it’s watching a random Dave Chapelle Clip (It’s the sample from the intro) and being entranced by an obscure bass sample I’ll never find on the internet, no matter how many producers I beg on Reddit and Soundcloud.

Other times, it’s investing my Saturday afternoons learning unintelligible music theory and each notation’s abstract mathematical relationship, unsure of whether it’ll ever pay off in my production journey.

Of course, the largest issue — the one that still harrows me to no end — is cultural appropriation. When looking at hip-hop as a whole, it is evident that the pioneers of this genre are mostly black, including my role models.

Indeed, when artists like Iggy Azalea who join the scene as a pop-packaged radio rap star and contribute nothing artistically new to the scene — while plagiarizing Kendrick Lamar no less — it triggers me just as much as it does the next hip-hop head.

However, it’s not a race issue for me, it’s simply an issue of respect and musicianship integrity. Yet, as an Asian American who makes hip-hop beats for fun, I, to a certain extent, fear the backlash that I may get from the rap community for “trying to be black” or “trying to be hood.” 

Although cultural appropriation is a large issue in music, it doesn’t have to be. The idea of cultural appropriation drives musicians and people of different cultures apart from each other, which just isn’t right. Music is supposed to bring everyone together, regardless of race, culture or ethnicity.

Accusing musicians of appropriating a certain culture through the music that they make is simply divisive; shouldn’t we have the freedom to create and listen to whatever genre of music we like, regardless of where we came from, or what holidays we celebrate.

By extension, shouldn’t we be allowed to create and perform the same said music? After all, music is designed to aggregate, not divide.

With regards to my future in music production, I do believe I have a long journey ahead of me. As of now, I consider myself to be very limited in terms of my musical capabilities.

As mentioned before, I lack advanced knowledge in music theory, and I’m not adept at a certain instrument. I play the piano, but not well enough to where I can quickly play out my own chords and such.

In addition, my productions only revolve around hip-hop, and nothing else. I am still struggling to define an original artistic identity. I want to be able to expand my skills into other genres of music, such as EDM, pop and R&B.

Producing music for these three genres is significantly harder than producing hip-hop beats, but it is a challenge I am willing to take to add to my arsenal. A long road lies ahead of me, but I am ready to traverse it.