I’ve been known to enjoy some rap and hip-hop over the years. I moved to North Carolina in 2007 and I feel like the place adopted me. I love it here. So when I walked into a local shop and heard G Yamazawa’s lyrics-
Outta towners hear us, say that we can't talk, Offer my apologies, said with a slight drawl, And I'm using my apostrophes, homie we ain't y'all
I stopped in my tracks and listened to the smooth flows and began looking for this song on my phone. What can I say? When I hear something I like, I gotta find it! And the flow of these artists, especially the one with the chorus? Wow…
It's the North Cack baby I'm a boss, Carolina barbecue sauce, with the slaw, I'm the safe, the cellar, and the vault, I'm the best, the effect, and the cause, I'm the law...
And that’s when I was introduced to G Yamazawa. In “North Cack” he’s joined by Joshua Gunn and Kane Smego and the collaboration is perfect. Even more perfect? The video, which is simply the artists and friends performing down an old dirty road, somewhere in North Carolina in the colder season. The entire album that the single was released from is a tribute to Durham, NC.
Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, George Masao Yamazawa, Jr. aka G Yamazawa is now considered one of the top spoken word artists in our country. He was raised by Japanese immigrants George and Mayumi Yamazawa. His experiences as a Japanese-American in this region with so much mixing of cultures have influenced and shaped him.
Not only is he a poet, but he’s an internationally known poet. He is the youngest person to become a National Poetry Slam Champion; an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist. He now lives in LA, but he still keeps close ties to the city and state that made him.
For Reference: In case you were unaware – Cackalack is a term for North Carolina and Cacakalacky refers to a person from North Carolina. People have used different forms of the word for years. I looked into it, you know, going down the rabbit hole – and it’s really a gentle insult from folks who didn’t necessarily want to be here – specifically people stuck at the military bases, like Fort Bragg. But it’s been reclaimed and in G Yamazawa’s song, becomes a source of pride.
Growing up as the only Japanese family in a quickly growing rural area and being Buddhist on top of that in a Christian dominated culture (the Bible Belt of the U.S.), G had a tumultuous childhood filled with the knowledge that he was very different from other children. When he was in 5th grade, his father sent him into foster care for about 3 months. It taught him a lesson he’ll never forget – about how hard a lot of children had it. He began getting into dancing, drawing, and writing when he got home.
After the death of his best friend, he turned to poetry as an outlet. His poetry won him the National Poetry Slam Championship. It also took him around the country where he toured college campuses to give spoken word performances that explored his own personal experiences. He graduated from Jordan High School and attended Durham Tech for a couple of years, before his passion for the spoken word broke him into performing.
He’s an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and Southern Fried Champion, and has toured 150 universities including Princeton, University of Guam, and NYU-Abu Dhabi. Winner of Kollaboration DC 2012, Audience Choice Award Recipient of the Inaugural Kollaboration Star and 2013 Kundiman Fellow, G has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, TV One’s Season 3 of Verses and Flow, the Pentagon, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the youngest person to become a National Poetry Slam Champion.
See his performance “Elementary” a poem written and then performed for the finals of the National Poetry Slam of 2014.
He is a Team Backpack Mission Underground Top 12 Finalist, and nominated for Best New Hip Hop Artist by the 2016 Carolina Music Awards.
G released his debut album Shouts to Durham in May of 2017. It charted #37 on iTunes top 100 rap albums. It contains the North Carolina anthem “North Cack” and another Durham fave – “Whas Good”.
His poetry has been published in Beltway Quarterly, Asian Fortune Magazine, and 27 Views of Durham, and has shared stages with Sonia Sanchez, Michelle Kwan, Danny Glover, and VP Joe Biden. Co-founder of North Carolina’s pioneer youth poetry organization Sacrificial Poets and advocate for youth empowerment, G also has extensive experience as a teaching artist facilitating writing/performance workshops for inner city youth in the Washington, DC public school system through Split This Rock, a nationally recognized non-profit organization with a focus in political poetry.
STYLE AND INFLUENCE
G says his upbringing and where he’s from has put a lot of context into his poetry and music. His understanding of race and culture helps give him a perspective that not many people have and can actively voice. After all, he was a Japanese-American in a very black and white community.
In an interview with HyphenMagazine.com in 2018 he explains –
“Growing up in Durham is something I’m so thankful for because it nurtured me into the person that I am. I think it was unique just because of obvious reasons, of me being one of the only Asian Americans in my community and in my schools and growing up with hip-hop. // You have a sort of mutual exchange and sharing of culture and of just friendship and love.
I’ve had a lot of white friends, I had a lot of black friends, I had a few Latino homies, and I think where I just tended to feel most comfortable was around my black homies. And it felt like I was allowed to dress the way I wanted to dress, and be who I wanted to be, and test out who I wanted to be, in a way, within the umbrella of hip-hop.”
If you want to know more about his influences, check out his words and images in the series of videos on YouTube entitled “Good Writtens.” You can purchase the downloads on Bandcamp for this if you’re interested.
COLLABORATIONS & CONNECTIONS
G has worked with DJ Armenhammer since before the drop of North Cack and with artists of TeamBackPack – which is a music movement created in San Francisco by Armani Cooper, Dev Tejwani, and Nelson Silva. Since its early days, TeamBackpack has held cypher events in which underground & independent emcees rap a verse over originally produced beats, all in one take.
He’s worked with so many artists and other poets I’m not sure I have room to list all of them! Not to mention, he’s also got connections with Japanese artists, musicians, rappers, beatmakers, and DJs.
Unlike a lot of artists in his generation, G Yamazawa is the first to admit, his journey would be a far different one without the help of so many other people in his life.
There are single releases, but I’m focusing on albums:
- 23; 2014 (on Bandcamp)
- Shouts to Durham; 2017
- Money is Time; 2018
- Good Writtens; 2019
- Thinkpeace; 2020
- Durham vs. Everybody; December of 2020
2020 was a year on the move for G. He released new work all through the pandemic. And the fans were thankful!
G came out with his new project, “Thinkpeace” in October of 2020. It climbed the iTunes rap charts and peaked at #12 – produced by Fatgums, engineered by Armenhammer, under BEATROCK MUSIC.
In December of 2020 a new album “Durham vs Everybody” became available everywhere. It has a North Cack Remix (feat. Petey Pablo, Jozeemo, Kelly Kale, Jooselord, G.R.A.C.E, Ox Omega, Kourvioisier, O.Z the HitMaker & Lord Fess) and was produced, mixed, and mastered once again by ArmenHammer. The video was directed, shot, and edited by G Yamazawa.
In 2021 he’s continued to put more merchandise up and a few more videos. Here’s to the future!
FIND OUT MORE:
SOURCES: A lot of this article came from info on Wikipedia.org and the artist’s own social media and website, but also –
If you are looking for more great artists to learn about and support then be sure to check out my other articles here.