Music Video from Chuckie Akenz
By Annie Han Nguyen
Viet Weekly Staff
March 31, 2005 Click here to see a scan of the original Viet Weekly newspaper article
'You Got Beef?'
A controversial rap music video about racism is selected for screening at the Vietnamese International Film Festival, held April 7-10 and April 14-17 in Orange County and Los Angeles.
Vietnamese rapper Chuckie Akenz's controversial music video, "You Got Beef," goes something like this: Akenz and his V-Unit crew, responding to a desperate boy's call for help, outnumber and beat up two street bullies for picking on the little Vietnamese boy and taking his basketball.
The two street bullies also happen to be African-Americans. The rap music video, which is about racism, has been officially selected to broadcast at the Vietnamese International Film Festival held April 7-10 and April 14-17 in Orange County and Los Angeles.
Created by two Vietnamese Canadians, the "You Got Beef" video contains lyrical assaults and plenty of expletives written and performed by Akenz. His chorus delivers an ominous warning to those who dare mess with any Vietnamese: “U want beef? We right here/ There won’t be, no more peace/ It’s all about Vietnamese.”
The video has gained international media attention in Canada and the United States.
“The video was targeted primarily at the local Vietnamese youth in our area,” said music video director Paul Nguyen. “I thought they would embrace this kind of sensationalized pop-culture, but I didn’t realize that it would irk some other viewers. My goal was to make a loud noise so that other people would hear it. You can’t get attention by painting flowery images. I knew that I needed to popularize my work in order to effectively gain notice and to finally affect change afterwards.”
The music video director and rapper made such a loud noise that it grabbed the attention of members of the 2005 ViFF screening committee.
“Although this is a Canadian production, I think it reflects the experiences of Vietnamese-American youth and other Southeast Asian-American youths who are trying to deal with the racial hostility and violence they face in crowded urban neighborhoods,” said screening committee member Linda Vo. Vo is an Asian-American Studies professor at UC Irvine.
“This video raises important issues that we, as a community, shouldn't be afraid to discuss," Vo said. "It reminds us we need to do much more to ease the racial tensions in our schools and our neighborhoods and we have to work harder to overcome the destructive racial stereotypes we have about one another.”
The rap music video was filmed in one of Canada's toughest neighborhoods known as "Jane-Finch" in Toronto. The major intersection of Jane Street and Finch Avenue is known for its high crime and poverty. The Jane-Finch area is comparable to South Central in Los Angeles.
“‘You Got Beef’ is controversial because it is the first of its kind,” Nguyen said. “I think “You Got Beef” is talked about a lot in the news lately, because Chuckie Akenz is Vietnamese. Never before, did we have a Vietnamese artist connecting with mainstream audiences."
Nguyen has collaborated with Akenz in six music videos, including “You Got Beef.” When Nguyen chose “You Got Beef” as his flagship project, he had two goals in mind.
“The first was to strike an accord with the Vietnamese youth and to popularize Vietnamese culture. The second goal was to promote my community website, www.Jane-Finch.com, in hopes that the video would be shared online," said Nguyen, whose website received more than 1,000 visits per day after the music video was posted. "Our video was not intended to be taken literally but as arousing and uplifting fictional story to invoke Vietnamese pride and awareness.”
Nguyen worked with a racially diverse crew to make the music video.
"Chuckie’s fans are not only Vietnamese and Asian, but of all colors and from all places," Nguyen said. "I think his truthful messages of growing pains and living through difficult times expresses a universal message that kids all over the world can relate to, so they embrace his music. There are far too many films based on the war and of the boat people. It’s time to pay attention to contemporary issues, especially dealing with the Vietnamese youths of today.”
Real-life issues that many Vietnamese youth face today include ethnic rivalries, crime and poverty in their working-class immigrant communities.
In Jane-Finch, the crime rate was 200% above the national average in previous years. Through community efforts, crime rates have since declined by 60%.
Many critics claim the “You Got Beef” video justifies stereotypes of turf wars and gangs, but rapper Akenz and Nguyen defend it as an expression of art. The video helps to raise an awareness of their neighborhood.
“When you come here, you see a pho restaurant right beside a barber and braids hair shop,” Nguyen said. “It just shows the community exemplifying racial harmony and post-modernity. Most residents here are proud of this hard-working community.”
A York University graduate and distinguished member of the Jane-Finch community. He was honored by the Toronto Police and the Department of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism for his commitment to fight
racism in his community.
“Despite the media-proliferated stereotypes, Jane-Finch is a warm and inviting neighborhood with people of all colors,” Nguyen said. “Violence and hate will always exist as long as kids are taught it. I think as time goes on and as more people learn about each other, we will eventually all live in relative harmony."
As a testament to this ideal, Nguyen said, "the Vietnamese people in Jane-Finch are best friends with all ethnic groups. From black, to white, and to brown, we all share each other’s customs, food and culture. It’s a great mega-mix here. I think that if your next door neighbor is a black kid who you grew up playing with since childhood, racism won’t be around for very long.”
Although Akenz and Nguyen never met before filming the “You Got Beef” video, they both had established their own reputations in Jane-Finch.
Akenz was known for rapping, while Nguyen was known for his kung fu movies. They never realized they lived blocks away from each other.
“Last year, I was looking around for a musical artist from the area to complete a project for school and a friend of mine who attended the same school as Chuckie introduced us," Nguyen said. The first music video they made was "Soldier."
Akenz said (he) didn't like rap music until he was 12.
“I guess it gradually evolved into rap as I was more exposed to it,” said Akenz, who began composing songs using a tape recorder. “To be honest a lot of my rap influences came from listening to Tupac. I never really liked rap music at the time, but after hearing a song I was touched by the lyrics. I never thought music could do that. I started trying to make music that stabbed people in the heart, so they can sit down and just listen to the lyrics.”
Both Nguyen and Akenz want to get beyond the stereotypes.
“I think the Vietnamese have tried really hard to break many popular stereotypes,” Nguyen said. “But what many of them don’t understand is that we need to raise our voices in order to be heard. Chuckie’s lyrics were written during a time when the Vietnamese youth were being bullied around, so he created a voice and anthem for all of them to cheer to.”
Nguyen hopes that the public realizes the greater meaning behind his work and Akenz’s music.
“I would hope that they see this video in a deeper light and not take the themes too literally. The underlying message in our video is about Vietnamese people finally taking a stand and working hard to insert themselves into the mainstream to be heard. We literally have no media product here to call our own," Nguyen said.
“You Got Beef” will be screened April 15 at UC Irvine, as part of the Vietnamese International Film Festival. For more information on the film festival, please visit http://www.vietfilmfest.com. The rap music video can be viewed on www.jane-finch.com.
This article was originally published in Viet Weekly on March 31, 2005