The main artery of New York City's Chinatown neighborhood is Canal Street, and on a sweltering summer day like this, it's easy to lose yourself in the constant traffic of bodies pushing their way along the sidewalk. There are longtime Chinatown merchants alongside newly immigrated ones, each looking for their piece of the American Dream. There are wide-eyed tourists craning their necks to see the tips of the city's skyscrapers, thinking privately of their own high hopes. There are also tough young New Yorkers from every borough who have come for cheap eats and electronics. And, somewhere in the mix, bubbling up from the underground, there is a 21-year-old Ruff Ryder named Jin. In a sense, he is all of these people, but clearly stands out among them.See Also:
By now, the details of Jin's rise in music circles are part of hip-hop lore: an unknown Chinese-American kid with a cocky smirk and nasty rhyme skills blazes through the competition on a series of weekly battles on cable channel BET, earning himself a record deal and a spot on the Ruff Ryders squad. But what distinguishes Jin (born Jin Au-Yeung) as an MC isn't his fast ascent to the top. It isn't the fact he was the only Asian-American out of hundreds of would-be MCs vying for a spot on the show. Rather, it's Jin's spirited creativity and unique experiences he brings to the mic. Simply put, Jin's got skills. If you don't believe it, just witness his Ruff Ryders/Virgin debut album, LEARN CHINESE. But more about that later…
The son of Chinese immigrants, Jin was born and raised in Miami, Florida. "(My parents) did the restaurant thing, but unfortunately if didn't really take off (like) how they show it on TV. The American Dream - it's not even about hard work, cause nobody worked harder than my father. Sometimes it's just the life you're dealt." Jin, however, was determined to take control of his own destiny and make a major impact in another, more creative way.
In the 8th grade, Jin started freestyling with friends in the school cafeteria. Quickly catching the hip-hop bug, he started battling and performing. "I battled any and everywhere possible. One time I was at a movie theatre and I battled an employee in the bathroom." Developing a reputation as one of Miami's most clever lyricists, Jin's dreams of making hip-hop a career still seemed distant. He was growing up alongside New York's early-1990s hip-hop renaissance - Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Jay-Z and Onyx were his favorites - but his day-to-day existence in a city better known for Luke & 2 Live Crew seemed radically different from the urban cityscapes captured by his favorites. When he had the opportunity to move to New York City in October, 2001, he knew it was do-or-die: "I came up for family reasons, but I figured that if I was gonna do the music thing, New York was the place."
Again, Jin dove headfirst into the city's various scenes. "I was everywhere… I hit the back-packer circuit, I hit the Times Square/42nd Street circuit, which is all those
Jay-Z mini-me's and Fabolous mini-me's. I think you need that, you need to be diverse like that." Not limiting himself, Jin even battled over the Internet to keep his skills fresh, and he cultivated a devoted following on the Web that has today logged nearly seven million hits (check him out at www.holla-front.com).
By early 2002, Jin was making noise, but he was still searching for his big break. The weekly "Freestyle Fridays" battle on BET's popular "106 & Park" program had already turned him down once, but his manager, Kamel Pratt, encouraged him to try again. He made the show in February, and he was ready. "In a battle environment, the only thing that can intimidate me is myself," he explains. Unfazed by the in-studio audience (and millions more watching at home), Jin treated "106 & Park" like any other battle. Knowing his opponents would invariably focus on his identity as a Chinese-American in a predominately African-American art form, he pre-empted them and came up with some of the most creative retorts ever heard on the show, like "Yeah I'm Chinese/Now you'll understand it/I'm the reason your little sis's eyes are slanted/If you make one more joke about Chinese food or karate/The NYPD will be searching Chinatown for your body." He consistently ripped through the competition and by March he had developed a cult following. Through it all, he could still be found selling his own CDs on the streets of the West Village or hanging out in Chinatown, which he still does everyday.
Upon winning his seventh and final battle, he ceremoniously reached under his sweatshirt and unveiled his new diamond-encrusted Ruff Ryders medallion. "When I saw Jin on '106 & Park' I was blown away by his performances," says Joaquin "Waah" Dean, co-CEO of Ruff Ryders. "There is no one in the game right now like Jin; he is a very unique artist. After I met him, I knew that he and Ruff Ryders was a good match."
Jin has been greeted with a great level of interest and warm curiosity by the press and anticipation for his debut album is high. He has already been featured in Vibe, Elle Girl, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, among other outlets.
For the past year, Jin has been hard at work. He has done nearly 100 shows since "106 & Park" and he auditioned for and landed a high-profile role in the hit John Singleton film 2 Fast 2 Furious as the street-savvy mechanic Jimmy (starring alongside Ludacris, Tyrese and Paul Walker); he also has a song on the soundtrack. The creative rhymer has also been busy putting in work on his debut, LEARN CHINESE. Album producers include Swizz Beats, Havoc from Mobb Deep, Mark the 45 King, Mahogany and Wyclef Jean, who produced the bangin' lead single "Learn Chinese." Jin stresses that it won't be your typical, tired money-sex-drugs screed: "The album is real conceptual, it might surprise a lot of people. There are stories, experiences I had growing up… I got some imagination-station shit, where I'm just losing my mind… there are also some party joints. But the beauty is, even the club stuff is real conceptual, it's not just your standard shit."
In his short time in New York, Jin has already signed onto one of hip-hop's most fabled crews and become a role model in the Asian-American community. The hard work and dreams of his childhood put to good use, Jin hopes that the writing and music on LEARN CHINESE will confirm that he truly does belong with the greats. "This album is all Jin," the artist concludes. "He loves hip-hop, he's a real person and he loves what he does."
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