G. Yamazawa has traveled and performed all over America and beyond, trying to break through as both rapper and performance poet. But Yamazawa has had his biggest success to date with a track invoking his Southern roots back home: “North Cack,” an ode to the 26-year-old Durham native’s birthplace, in which he sings the praises of “Carolina barbecue sauce with the slaw” in his understated drawl.
After debuting last month as part of Yamazawa’s “Shouts to Durham” album, “North Cack” peaked at No. 3 on Spotify’s “Viral 50” chart. “Shouts to Durham” also did well on iTunes, making it as high as No. 37 on its top-100 rap albums.
“I’ve never been on any kind of chart ever, man,” Yamazawa said by phone from his current hometown of Los Angeles. “So I did not expect that. It’s definitely fun and exciting to get recognition like that.”
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Helping “North Cack” is a very fine video, which has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Filmed by Saleem Reshamwala, the “North Cack” video shows Yamazawa and friends traversing a rural landscape while trading verses. The video was made in February, when Yamazawa was here for a visit.
“That was shot close to the Chatham and Pittsboro end of Highway 64, our old stomping grounds,” Yamazawa said. “It was where we’d ride bikes, play basketball in the dirt. A big part of my heart is in the Pittsboro area, so it was cool to pay tribute. ‘North Cack’ just came out of what’s truest to my heart, which is like a weird combination of the legality of karma and pulled-pork sandwiches.”
Yamazawa comes by his food references honestly, having grown up working in his parents’ restaurant Yamazushi in Durham. Growing up Asian in the South provided some grist for Yamazawa’s poetry. But he hasn’t gone out of his way to play that up in music, declaring in the “Shouts to Durham” track “Whas Good”: “Never had to use my race for a crutch.”
“Because much of my poetry is based on cultural identity, I felt like it would be easy for the general public to label me an Asian artist who only talks about his Asian identity,” Yamazawa said. “Although I do feel a responsibility to advocate for those with similar life experiences, I wanted to stress that it’s not something I feel obligated to do to be taken seriously as an artist.”
What: G. Yamazawa performing poetry as part of “Rhythm of Race: A Celebration of Music, Dance and Spoken Word,” along with The Beast, Dasan Ahanu, DJ Damu, Shana Tucker
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: SECU Daily Planet Theater at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh