Dumbfoundead is a Rapper Straight Outta Koreatown

Dumbfoundead, aka Jonathan Park
Dumbfoundead, aka Jonathan Park


Dumbfoundead, whose given name is Jonathan Park, is a Korean American rapper. Born in Buenos Aires, “DFD” was raised in LA’s Koreatown. At the age of 10, he got his first exposure to hip hop at a community center in MacArthur Park. He further honed his craft at Project Blowed, an open-mic workshop in Leimert Park. He began to achieve renown after participating in the West Coast division of the rap battle Grind Time Now. Today he has a strong presence on YouTube, where he has over 400,000 followers, and has released three solo albums to date.

Dumbfoundead will be headlining JANM’s outdoor Summer Night Concert on Thursday, August 18, along with other hip hop and electronic music stars. Our summer Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in production, Michael Chang, conducted the following interview with the rapper via email.

Michael Chang: What drew you to music, specifically hip hop and rap, as a way to express yourself creatively?

Dumbfoundead: There was always an “I don’t give a ____” attitude that came with rap music. I feel like I can say whatever I want when I rhyme it over a beat. There’s a lot of power in music. Hip hop as a genre specifically has always been rebellious and DIY, and I like that aspect of it—it makes something out of nothing.

MC: As a creative person, what do you think makes Los Angeles a unique place to work?

DFD: We have so many little neighborhoods, and each one makes you feel like you’re stepping into another country. Being in this city really is the definition of the American experience; I feel like I learn more every day about different cultures and how unique everybody is, which helps me write universal stories and songs.


MC: Do you think LA is more conducive to a thriving scene for artists of color?

DFD: I love that LA is as diverse as it is. The community of AAPI entertainers here is bigger than anywhere else in the world and I definitely do not take that for granted. I think it’s important that we tell the stories of our people with all the outlets we have here. I know when I tour the Midwest I get a lot of AAPI artists coming up to me and talking about the lack of creative outlets in their town.

MC: The music video for your song “Safe” critiques how Hollywood erases and ignores AAPI identities in mainstream media. Do you think executives, directors, and other people in power inside the entertainment/media industry do this with intent or more subconsciously?

DFD: I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s almost a new idea to throw us into leading roles and in some cases they can’t even imagine us playing those characters. In other cases, they aren’t willing to take the chance because they think white actors are a safer bet for box office success. We need more people of color behind the scenes—writers, producers, directors, and executives—pushing our stories forward. We can’t just wait for those roles to come along, or expect them to be written by people who don’t know anything about our experiences. We have to write our own stories.

MC: Looking into the future, are there any other media or disciplines you’d like to explore?

DFD: I would love to write, direct, and act in films. TV and films have always been big passions of mine and there are so many stories that still need to be told. For right now though, I’ll settle for writing treatments for my music videos [laughs].

JANM’s Summer Night Concerts series kicks off this year with “Viva La Taiko” on July 21 and continues with “Electronic and Hip Hop Night” on August 18. Concerts are held on the plaza; admission is free and no RSVP is needed. For more information, visit janm.org.

Michael Chang majors in Graphic Design and Painting at the University of Southern California.

Young LA Rap Artist to Kick Off the National Youth Summit on Japanese American Incarceration

Three generations of the Tenorio family: father Phil, grandmother Sue, grandson Kane, and grandfather Alex. All photos courtesy of Sue Sato-Tenorio.
Three generations of the Tenorio family: father Phil, grandmother Sue, grandson Kane, and grandfather Alex. All photos courtesy of Sue Sato-Tenorio.


Kane Yutaka Tenorio, a college student and rap artist also known as “Kamikaze Kane,” was born in East Los Angeles in 1997. A young man of mixed Latino, Japanese, Native American, and white ancestry, Kane enjoys a close relationship with his extended family, including his grandmother Sue Sato-Tenorio, an educator and longtime friend of JANM.

As a youth, Kane spent a lot of time at his family’s three historic Boyle Heights homes, where he was able to learn about their history firsthand. His great-great-grandmother on his father’s side was a physician who practiced out of her house. She was also diabetic; when she was incarcerated at Poston by the US government during World War II, she became very ill due to lack of care and medication. Kane’s grandma Sue was born at the camp, along with her older brother. Although the family was lucky enough to retrieve their homes when the war was over, they lost their thriving businesses and virtually everything else.

Sue's parents, Jack Yutaka and Clara Sato.
Sue’s parents, Jack Yutaka and Clara Sato.

The real impact of these stories was not lost on Kane, who was an active participant in family discussions as a child. As he grew older, he took up the study of music, eventually writing and recording original rap songs, which were inspired by his own experiences and world events. Today he performs his material, which frequently addresses race and social justice, in venues throughout Southern California.

This Tuesday, May 17, at 10 a.m. PDT, JANM is proud to host the latest edition of the Smithsonian’s National Youth Summit, which will focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Kane’s rap song “9066,” will be played to kick off the summit, after which a panel of dynamic speakers will address the history and legacy of the incarceration. (For more information about the Summit, click here.)

Kane Yutaka Tenorio, aka "Kamikaze Kane"
Kane Yutaka Tenorio, aka “Kamikaze Kane”


Kane’s song is both a stirring protest against injustice and a loving tribute to the resiliency of his family, whose stories are woven throughout. In his grandma Sue’s words: “I am so proud that Kane has written this rap not only about my experience, but the collective experiences of thousands of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in the United States of America. To me, his song is about the trajectory of injustice, and the terrible human consequences of our government’s illegal incarceration of people solely due to race.”

The museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum will host a full house of students and educators for this important edition of the National Youth Summit. Among the audience members will be three generations of the Tenorio family, including Kane and Sue. In addition, educators and their classrooms around the globe are invited to participate via a live webcast of the event; so far, the event has received registrations for more than 2,000 students from 42 states, the District of Columbia, France, and Canada.

It’s not too late to register your class for what will surely be a lively and engaging event. The Youth Summit website offers many useful educator resources, such as lesson plans and conversation kits, that can be downloaded. After the event concludes, the Smithsonian will archive it along with past Youth Summits on this webpage, where they are available for viewing at any time.

Sue and Alex Tenorio
Sue and Alex Tenorio

Mountain Brothers Broke New Ground for Asian Americans in Hip Hop

The Mountain Brothers (Peril-L, CHOPS, Styles)
The Mountain Brothers (Peril-L, CHOPS, Styles)


Most people I know of Asian descent who came of age in the 1990s have a deep appreciation for hip hop music. One of the most visible examples of this is chef and iconoclast Eddie Huang, whose boyhood is the subject of the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.

Based on his bestselling autobiography of the same name, the sitcom repeatedly emphasizes young Eddie’s identification with hip hop as empowering music for outsiders. As Huang’s generation came of age, they began making music of their own, and today, there are many successful Asian American hip hop acts.

Back in the early ’90s, however, it wasn’t so easy for musicians of Asian descent to gain acceptance in the field. The hip hop genre was heavily coded as African American, and Asians were perceived as not fitting into the culture. Attempts to perform or compose beats were typically disparaged—by audiences, by music producers, and by industry executives.

In 1996, a trio of Chinese-American students at Penn State University entered a national singing contest sponsored by Sprite, and won. Their slick rhymes expressing their love for the soft drink wound up on the radio as a 60-second commercial. Executives at Ruffhouse Records—known for producing albums by The Fugees and Cypress Hill, among others—liked what they heard and approached the group for a deal.

Mountain SelfThe Mountain Brothers—CHOPS (Scott Jung), Peril-L (Christopher Wang), and Styles Infinite (Steve Wei)—named themselves after a group of noble bandits depicted in a classical Chinese novel. They soon became the first Asian American hip hop group to sign with a major label.

Unfortunately, the group’s path was a rocky one. The record label saw their ethnicity as a disadvantage, and even suggested that they satirize their heritage onstage by wearing karate outfits and playing a gong. Although their music was critically acclaimed, it was difficult for them to get gigs if they did not initially conceal their Asian identities. After releasing only two albums—Self: Volume 1 in 1999 and Triple Crown in 2003—the group disbanded.

Today, the Mountain Brothers are considered important pioneers who paved the way for the many Asian American hip hop acts who followed. Although two of the members have since left music to pursue other professions, CHOPS continues to have a successful career as a producer and composer, working with artists like Nicki Menaj and Kanye West.

On Thursday evening, May 14, JANM will present a rare panel discussion with all the original members of the Mountain Brothers, moderated by sociologist Oliver Wang. Come and learn more about the band’s history and what the members have been up to lately, and hear their views on the past and future of hip hop music. Tickets are still available here.

Listen to some of their classic tracks here.