BackArts & Culture » Music & Art » Quãng 8 » Born in Cần Thơ and Raised in the US, Rapper Mixed Miyagi Stays True to His Many Roots

Born in Cần Thơ and Raised in the US, Rapper Mixed Miyagi Stays True to His Many Roots

"Miền Tây sông nước tao ngắm cánh đồng xanh / Buổi sáng là thức dậy để đi cày mà làm ăn / Trên đời này thành công là siêng năng / Không có giống mấy thằng chó, có chút tiền rồi kiêu căng."

If you listened to these bars without accompanying visuals, you would likely picture a local rapper rhyming while driving around his hometown rice fields, perhaps interspersed with footage performing in a rowdy Saigon nightclub. Reality is unexpected though.

Wearing an Angkor Wat tourist shirt and rapping inside a shopping cart being pushed down the aisles of an American grocery store as his braids swing, Mixed Miyagi's appearance juxtaposed with his flawless Vietnamese helped the video for 'Việt Nam Xin Chào' go viral last year. People were astonished by the sight of someone of African descent rapping so smoothly in Vietnamese. 

Video via Mixed Miyagi's YouTube.

From Cần Thơ to Tampa

Mixed Miyagi explained to Saigoneer via email that his father was born and raised in Nigeria, received seven college degrees in seven different countries, and spoke six languages. He was a researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa when the local Asian community there convinced him to travel to Vietnam, where he taught economics and English and met Mixed Miyagi’s mother on a public bus. She gave birth to him in Cần Thơ and ten months later, the pair arrived in America amongst a fury of fireworks on December 31, 1999.

Like children of all backgrounds in America at the turn of the century, Mixed Miyagi gravitated to hip-hop at a young age. He cites Eminem, Lil Wayne, DMX, Immortal Technique and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony as particularly influential in his youth. But before he took up a microphone, he discovered his talent with words via the essays and school assignments that came particularly easy to him. His interests and skills came together for a final history project on World War I that encouraged him to make a rap song with an accompanying music video for extra credit. 

"Growing up, I’ve always admired the old-wise characters in pop culture. I see a lot of myself in them because I’m very much an old soul. So, I chose the name 'Mixed Miyagi,' influenced by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid in order to pay homage to my Asian roots, but also, I’m 'mixed' first and foremost."

Writing music as a Vietnamese-Nigerian-American artist

Mixed Miyagi began his career by releasing brief videos of himself rapping in English on his Instagram account while at university. The positive feedback they garnered gave him the confidence to continue, but a breakthrough came in 2020. He explained to Voyage Tampa: “When COVID-19 popped off, and all of the Asian hate crimes started. I told myself it was time to show out for my motherland and Asian people as a whole.”

This connection with other Asians gave him the courage to release the Vietnamese language tracks he’d been working on. They caught on among Vietnamese and other Asians whom he says now make up the majority of his fan base. He explained to Be the Boss Podcast: “I didn’t realize I was holding myself back, but that’s what actually blew me up; doing the bilingual stuff, doing the Vietnamese stuff… I always believe be exactly who you are, be the real version of yourself; my truth, my real version is I am mixed, I do come from two different backgrounds, I am Vietnamese, I am Nigerian and American as well. The success I’ve gotten is from just being my true self, being authentic.”

Mixed Miyagi’s father passed away when he was only two years old, and he was raised by his mother. In addition to speaking only Vietnamese, cooking Vietnamese dishes, and administering the familiar punishment of úp mặt vô tường, she filled their home with karaoke, bolero and cải lương music. The effect of this has had subtle influences on the tracks he prefers to rap over. “Vietnamese music definitely influences my ear,” he shares. “It has made me lean towards unique and Asian-inspired melodies rather than beat and drum work.” One can hear this in the lush string and piano-driven 'Ngày Nào Cũng Vậy' and the jazzy 'Tale of a Ronin.'

Beyond avoiding the trap beats and electronic-influenced production that seem ubiquitous in modern hip-hop around the world, Mixed Miyagi focuses more on lyrics with a message couched in clever wordplay compared to rappers whose writing does little more than carry a “vibe” for background club music. Such a preference continues a rich legacy in hip-hop. He explained: “I always believe in giving credit to those who paved the way for you or influenced you. To me, hip-hop runs very deep. I believe its origin was born of an era of oppression and pain and became a means for people to express themselves in a fun and creative way.”

Video via Mixed Miyagi's YouTube.

Mixed Miyagi’s understanding of rap music as a means for the voiceless to speak and his unique position at the nexus of different communities and cultures underscore the importance of 'Ngày Nào Cũng Vậy.' He tells Saigoneer: “The song was intentionally directed towards the Vietnamese audience. I can’t speak for everybody, but I do believe there is a divide between Asian and Black/African cultures. Because I’m a child of both worlds, my wish is to be the bridge between the gap and allow both of my peoples to understand each other. I believe the gap between them is due to lack of information. So, I choose to communicate and speak in a way that is best for me — music.”

Mixed Miyagi is non-committal when discussing his plans for the future. As an independent artist who serves as his own manager, finances his own projects and has an outside job to support himself as well as co-ownership in a family nail salon, he has the freedom to follow his creative impulses. “As of right now, I’m having fun just dropping singles. It allows me to play with various concepts and topics freely without the boundaries of making a concept album or project focused on one thing. I do plan to return to Vietnam and see what kind of impact I can have there. I’d love to do tours,” he shares. 

A trip to Vietnam seems inevitable considering he used to visit family every two or three years when growing up. And in the meantime, he has been observing Vietnam’s exploding hip-hop scene and following artists such as Nah, Jombie, Datmaniac, Đen, and Endless. Whatever direction Mixed Miyagi’s career heads, it’s worth keeping an eye on a rapper with the confidence to kick off a song with “I’m gonna make a difference, I’m gonna shake the game up,” and the charisma to match the proclamation.

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