Asian hip hop has never really hit it’s mark in the music world. If you try your best to think of an artist of Asian heritage that is active in that scene, odds are you’ll come up empty handed. Sure there are a few, some of which are popular in their own communities, in their own right. This is what makes Jon Chan Simpson’s debut novel so interesting. In Chinkstar, he presents a complex and fast paced novel about a Chinese rapper on the brink of social explosion, only he disappears before his name is called into the lights.
Chinkstar opens to a field in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. A large crowd has gathered for a promised performance by renown chinksta/nip hop/chinese rap star King Kwong, Red Deer native and leader of a local gang. In the crowd is Kwong’s brother Run and his best friend Ali, though Run states he is only there supporting his brother and has no love for this form of music. When the time comes for Kwong to take the stage, he is surprisingly missing. Other members of the Apes (Kwong’s gang) take the stage and start performing his songs, but King is nowhere to be found. When the party is busted by a loser cop, Run and Ali are detained. But everyone wants to know where Kwong is. This was supposed to be his big performance. Information is given to Run by his long time crush, Ros, that Kwong wasn’t going to show up for the performance that night. In fact she knew ahead of time. Running from both his crush’s insane brother and his gang of Timberland wearing redneck friends, Run must find out what has happened to Kwong.
There are many elements of Chinkstar that make is great, but the most important one seems to be style. Simpson writes in a very unique way that blends poetic prose with street slang. One minute the main character will be waxing poetic about how much he loves Ros and the next minute he will be saying something almost indecipherable.
How did freckles and boobs always work their
way into my mental equations?
There is an incredible amount of slang and code words present in this novel, most of which work to enhance the story by making it feel more authentic. Most importantly is the racial disparity that is clearly evident in the story. Here we have two warring gangs, both representing two very different cultures of Red Deer. Run is constantly questioning himself about his Chinese/Scottish heritage and about his involvement in his brother’s so called gang and chinese rap lifestyle.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 – With his debut novel, Jon Chan Simpson has struck a chord of wonder. Chinkstar may not be the most conventional novel, but that does not make it any less fast paced or moving to experience.