As anti-Asian hate crimes continue to occur, many Asian American and Asian Canadian artists are turning to music to bring awareness to anti-Asian racism and to push forward the message of #StopAsianHate.
Music has played a key role in social activism and various rights movements throughout history, and artists like Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye, and Childish Gambino have used music to share critical messages, inspire action, and achieve lasting change. Gaye’s 1971 hit “What’s Going On” explores themes of racism, drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War, while Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” comments on black oppression in the U.S. by juxtaposing the
brutal reality of racial discrimination and the entertainment
derived from black pop culture that is praised by society.
Similarly, these Asian American and Asian Canadian artists have been expressing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions around anti-Asian racism through original songs. Below, eight songs on the theme of “Stop Asian Hate.”
1. ‘Us’ — Jessica Sanchez
American Idol alum Jessica Sanchez’s “Us” speaks directly to discrimination against Asians in the United States in a positive, unifying way. The 25-year-old Filipina American’s music video features Shark Tank‘s Marc Cuban, along with makeup artist Patrick Starr, social star, vocalist, and model Liane V, Black Eyed Peas’ Apl de ap, singer Ne-Yo, and many others showcasing support for Asian Americans affected by racism and hate crimes.
“I wrote this song recently called ‘Us,'” Sanchez wrote on Instagram. “My inspiration was from all the things that have been popping up on my feed regarding the spike in discrimination and violence toward the Asian community since Covid. I will stand up with [and] for everyone that needs a voice, showing my support with words in the best way I can & following with action in any way I can. We hear you and we’re here for you. “
Notable lyrics: “Can we believe in justice today? Would we still be the same if all of us could see that there’s no one to blame? If all of us realize our hearts beat the same?”
2. ‘Stop the Hatred’ — MC Jin and Wyclef Jean
MC Jin’s track “Stop the Hatred” was inspired by his eight-year-old son, Chance. On March 21, days after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta-area shootings, Jin attended a rally against anti-Asian violence at Columbus Park in Manhattan. While activists were taking turns speaking on stage, Chance went up and yelled into the mic, “Stop the hatred!”
The song “Stop the Hatred” is a collaboration between Jin and Wyclef Jean and is meant to send a message of unity between the AAPI and Black communities. The music video was directed by filmmaker Bao Nguyen (who directed Be Water) and was produced in partnership with The Asian American Foundation (TAAF). It was filmed in New York City’s Chinatown — a place where local businesses have been heavily impacted since the onset of the pandemic, with multiple restaurants and stores permanently closing.
“To see the collective pain and trauma that our community was enduring was grueling but there was also a glimmer of light in the darkness as it also stirred up a sense of unity that I had never witnessed before. There was definitely something cathartic about taking these various emotions I was feeling and channeling them into my art,” Jin wrote on Instagram.
“I hope that this song can be one of the many examples that solidarity can exist and be powerful during these times. ‘Love is the only vaccine for hate.'”
Notable lyrics: “No more staying meek it’s time to take a stand and react / A simple trip to the market thought the streets were safe / Turned targets I speak up for my people’s sake / From this pandemic I’m hopeful that we’ll see escape / Until then love’s the only vaccine for hate.”
3. ‘Gold’ — Ella Jay Basco feat. Ruby Ibarra
Birds of Prey actress Ella Jay Basco’s song “Gold” is a self-love anthem for the AAPI community. Featuring Filipino American rapper Ruby Ibarra, 14-year-old Basco says the song “incorporates that universal concept of not trying to figure out how to fit in and then finding your way.”
Ella Jay, who is the daughter of Derek Basco and niece of Dante Basco, says the key inspiration for the lyrics was being surrounded by “a bunch of beautiful, strong, badass women in my life.”
“My family, we have so much pride in our heritage and who we are. We love our food and our skin tone. We love everything about our culture,” Basco told The Hollywood Reporter. “I really wanted to write a song about loving our identity and not caring about what other people say because of that.” The half-Filipino, half-Korean actress and singer also said that she, her brother Darryl J. Basco, and Ibarra (both of whom co-wrote the song with her) also wanted to create a song “that enlightened people with a message that showed our beautiful Brown golden skin and embraced our culture.”
The music video begins with a faux ’50s-style commercial, where Basco advertises “Brown Be Gone” soap from “Karen and Karen.” She then wipes her face to show her true skin colour, and the music video begins, showing visuals of family home videos, as well as news clippings of violence against the Filipino community and a photo of a building with the words “Positively No Filipinos Allowed” written on a wall.
“I want [people who listen to ‘Gold’] to have pride in their culture the way that I do,” Basco told Refinery29. “I’m really in love with my heritage. And I think that when other people of colour listen to the song, they could really relate to sometimes being boxed into a stereotype. This song is really about breaking through that.”
Notable lyrics: “Head to toe I’m dipped in gold / And I know and I know that I’ll break the mold / When you learn to love your true reflection yeah / Then you’ll always be rich with a gold complexion.“
4. ‘They Can’t Burn Us All’ — China Mac
China Mac’s “They Can’t Burn Us All” speaks about anti-Asian racism and is named after the protest movement the rapper and activist organized in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, along with actor William Lex Ham.
Mac, whose real name is Raymond Yu, was inspired to start the movement in July 2020 after an 89-year-old Chinese woman, who was walking through her neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, was slapped in the face and set on fire.
“That was home, this was right here, this is Brooklyn. I was watching the clip of her speaking in Cantonese and that’s my language. I was hurt, I wanted to do something about it,” said the New York-born and raised Chinese American artist.
After the first march in Brooklyn, the protest movement gained momentum with another protest rally in Manhattan in August 2020, and protests in Los Angeles and San Francisco in September where thousands of protestors marched shouting, “They can’t burn us all.” Shortly after, Mac released the single, “They Can’t Burn Us All” with an accompanying music video.
“‘They Can’t Burn Us All’ is unity, right, because they can burn one of us if we’re alone, and when I say ‘they’ I don’t mean a particular type of people, just ‘they’ as in anyone who is coming to harm us,” said China Mac.
Notable lyrics: They had us mine gold but we were barely making pennies /Uh, yeah, do you know where our pain at? (Do you know?) / Who you think built them train tracks? (Do you know?) / What we contribute, can’t erase that (blaow!) / Put in blood sweat and tears, tell them this is payback (ha!) / God bless America, racist America / They hate us in America, but we helped make America.”
5. ‘NO MORE’ — KHA
Asian American pop soul singer and songwriter KHA wrote her song, “No More,” as a way to help her process her anger, sadness and frustrations over the hate towards the Asian American community.
“I wrote ‘No More’ as a way to tell the history of the collective Asian-American experience throughout the past 200 years and the various struggles we’ve faced with racism, othering, and the model minority myth,” says the Vietnamese American singer. “But I also wanted to represent a ‘montage of solidarity’ within our community and with our allies.”
The music video features images of Asian Americans throughout history, including Chinese railroad workers in the 1860s, Japanese Americans interned in the 1940s, and Asian immigrants arriving in America. It also showcases present-day Asian Americans holding up signs urging to #StopAsianHate.
Notable lyrics: “No more / We’re not going to let you hold us down / We’re gonna rise up and stand our ground / And we won’t keep quiet no more.”
6. ‘The Window’ — YSSY
YSSY’s “The Window” is a response to the surge in anti-Asian racism. The Toronto-based alt pop duo, which consists of Elliot Caroll (who is the artist behind the #DumpTheHate posters) and Simeon Abbott (also of Toronto band Dwayne Gretzky), was forced to reexamine the fabric of their work and lives during the pandemic. But for Caroll, the surge in anti-Asian racism worldwide really hit home.
Caroll told She Does the City the title of the song is meant to represent “the feeling of watching a whole world of popular culture happen without you, without people who look like you, and wanting to get to the other side of the glass.”
“I was flooded with feelings at the start of this year. People of colour were marking huge historical achievements one day, and mourning horrific hate crimes the next,” says Caroll. “Though I intentionally never touched on issues of identity in my music before, I wrote ‘The Window’ about my experience as an Asian-Canadian artist and woman.”
“Just weeks later, the shootings in Atlanta happened and the Stop Asian Hate movement exploded. My newsfeed reminds me daily that how I feel is part of something much bigger.” she continued. “Representation isn’t a simple solution to racism, but it is crucial. This song celebrates the change and activism we see happening in and outside of the entertainment industry—and as a band, we want to be a part of that change. I’m hopeful we can get to a place where those who have been marginalized feel seen, heard, and accepted.”
Notable lyrics: “Cause as far back as I go / In the stories that I’ve known / I’ve been watching from the outside of the window / And the ones who are like us / Won’t go back to how it was / We’ll be knocking on the outside of the window.“
7. ‘Chasing Reversal’ — Abey Lin and Nani Lin
Brother and sister Abey Lin and Nani Lin wrote “Chasing Reversal” to fight xenophobia and the increasing violence against Asian Americans. According to FOX KTVU, the fourth-generation Chinese Americans wrote the song while reflecting on their own lives and struggles. The song focuses on what life was like during childhood versus what life is like now as young adults amid a pandemic.
Notable lyrics: “I was always told when I get older, I’ll be bolder / Then, someday, I woke up and I was colder / I couldn’t shoulder. / Feel like I’m running in circle, feel like I’m chasing hurdles. / Feel like I’m chasing reversal, feel like I need more rehearsals / I think that I’ve been here before / But now I’m overgrown, I feel so alone, with nobody.”
8. ‘We Are One’ — Davide Jeon feat. Leah Kim
Following the Atlanta shootings, Davide Jeon wrote “We Are One” to not only bring awareness to anti-Asian racism, but also provide a message of hope.
“Because of the recent event in Atlanta, I was inspired to write a song about racial justice and how it’s just unfair that people lost their lives because of their skin color and race,” Jeon shared on Instagram. “Although this issue is hard to solve, it is not impossible. I urge you all to spread awareness with the people around you, to make donations to organizations that aid not just the AAPI community but also all races that are impacted by this issue. Encourage yourself and others to make the right decisions in life in order to take a step forward towards a more healthy and cultured society.”
Notable lyrics:” It might be stormy now but it won’t rain forever / When pain arrives only joy awaits / The tears in your eyes will someday dry / We believe in change, we will go up high.”