Rapper slammed for appropriating Asian culture: ‘[This] is not your aesthetic’

Justin Chan

An unsigned rapper was heavily criticized for appropriating Asian culture after releasing a music video that featured a non-Asian cast wearing traditional Asian dresses and dancing in front of a Laotian Buddhist temple.

On July 25, Julia Kong, a Los Angeles-based actress and model, took to Twitter to call out Elijah Castillo, who goes by the artist name “Conscience.” Along with her post, she included screenshots from Castillo’s music video “Rush Hour.”

“For the billionth time: ASIAN CULTURE IS NOT YOUR AESTHETIC,” Kong wrote.

Amid growing criticism, Castillo allegedly responded in an Instagram story by claiming the head of the temple had given him permission to shoot on the premises. The rapper also said he would take the video down to avoid further offending the Asian community.

Kong, however, wasn’t satisfied, arguing that the song itself was still problematic. At one point in the track, Castillo raps, “She said, ‘Konnichiwa‘ / She want me speakin’ Chinese.” Konnichiwa means “hello” in Japanese.

“That’s not an apology,’ Kong wrote. “It doesn’t reverse anything. the song is still called ‘rush hour’ using an east asian instrumental in the bg.”

After Castillo ultimately removed the song, the actress said she was glad that he could no longer “profit off of Asian culture, religion and racist lyrics anymore.”

“Cultural appropriation happens / has happened to all minorities & none of it is okay,” Kong tweeted. “It’s not okay when asian people appropriate black/chicano culture or vice versa. when i call out one instance of appropriation, it doesn’t invalidate another. we’re just tryna educate, that’s all.”

Another Twitter user who claimed to be the daughter of the temple’s president chimed in, confirming that Castillo had actually received permission to shoot in front of the temple but failed to get approval on the final footage.

“My dad is the president of this temple,” the user, who goes by the handle alisaaalilyx, wrote. “I just asked him about the video and he said he gave the OK for a video shoot but told them he needed final footage for approval. My dad never saw the video before it was posted, so it was never approved.”

Four days later following the initial controversy, Castillo, who asserted on Twitter that he had received death threats, took to Instagram again to address the backlash.

“Now, honestly, this is really getting out of hand,” Castillo said in an Instagram video directed at Kong. “I apologize, I understood, I put myself in the other shoe, and it’s really getting out of hand. I asked you politely to [take the original tweet down]. Me deleting the [song] and accepting what I did was [wrong] — now it’s going overboard, you know. You see the racist comments against me. You know that there has been death threats upon me. And leaving [the tweet] up isn’t definitely going to help.”

As of July 30, Kong’s series of tweets against Castillo could still be found on Twitter.

If you’re interested in learning about what it means to be Asian American during this precarious time, consider reading this personal essay.

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