A Madison thing we’re listening to: Jonnychang’s “Give”

The hip-hop artist explores the erasure of Asian-Americans in popular culture.

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Chamber Music Festival: Riches to Rags. June 10-26, 2022. Madison and Stoughton. bachdancing.org or 608-255-9866. The image links to the ticket sales page on the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society's website. The image also shows an illustration of a house, with various musicians and their instruments visible through its windows.

Photo by Soli Chang.

Photo by Soli Chang.

Jonny Chang creates a balance of brightness and vulnerability on his new EP under his space-less MC moniker, Where The Home Is?. Chang, who hails from Berkeley, California and is enrolled in UW-Madison’s First Wave program, has a restrained, often lilting delivery that blends well with Berkeley producer Hunter Beatz’s gently pulsating synth figures.

The EP’s second track, “Give,” certainly has some anger under the surface, as Chang picks apart the ways in which popular culture denigrates and erases Asian-American. Yet Chang tackles the subject with almost calm analysis, calling out egregious moments like Mickey Rooney’s horrifying Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Jennifer Lawrence rubbing her butt on sacred rocks in Hawaii. Ultimately the song isn’t about the wounds such events leave on Asian Americans, or even the disturbing things they reveal about white Americans. Instead, Chang confronts the problem—”white textbook education / you made erasure cool”—but also raps about using his own art to confront people with the fullness of his humanity. “So beige boy pick a pencil / let color ooze from pens / it’s time to starve the evil / make up our own trends.”

“I had a lot on my mind thinking about how often times brown and black people are erased in the media and how because we are so underrepresented in the media—even in our history classes and books—our stories are thus erased, silenced, unheard, whitewashed,” Chang says. He also drew some inspiration from Aziz Ansari’s deconstruction of Indian stereotypes on Master Of None.  

The reference to Lawrence may be brief—”so fuck a J. Lawr / she make my gods angry”—but there’s a real sense of pain behind it. “That trivialization of one of my backgrounds is a microcosm of the colonization that’s been occurring in Hawaii—it’s that mindset that makes us feel so small,” says Chang, who is of Chinese, Filipino, and Hawaiian ancestry.

Chang, who also produces (though not on this EP), is currently working on new material for his group Provo and collaborating with fellow Madison-based producer Since’93. He doesn’t have any live performances scheduled currently, but we’ll keep an eye out in our calendar section.

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