City Paper is not for tourists
Notorious MSG imagines what would happen if three Asian immigrants fresh off the boat learned about American culture and the English language solely from gangsta rap, as if they took a Berlitz class taught by Master P. Like fellow deadpan pranksters Stephen Colbert and Sacha Baron Cohen, the hip-hop trio has an enviable talent for staying on message. Their official backstory, abetted by complicit press coverage, is that the three members (Hong Kong Fever, Down-Lo Mein, and the Hunan Bomb) met on a smuggler’s ship from China and honed their MC skills while working as low-paid kitchen workers in Manhattan’s Chinatown. A reference to Cornell University on one track from their new EP, Lunch Money, suggests more middle-class origins. They’ve even passed off a hoax about the death of one member in a drive-by shooting, and they back it up with a trail of online news clippings that would impress Stephen Glass. (It must be noted that the Hunan Bomb looks suspiciously like a slimmed down version of the “late” member.) They rap in the kind of hoary Asian accent that’s out of fashion even among Borscht Belt comics. Here’s a typical passage from one of the Hunan Bomb’s rhymes on the anthemic “Chinatown Hustler” (when reading, it’s important to imagine r’s in place of l’s): “In the flesh, I’m a killa/Packing more heat than Godzilla/What the deal-a with the five-0?/Who know?” On the track, frontman Hong Kong Fever declaims with the swagger and confidence of a young Chuck D: “Motherfucker we’re back/MSG with the hot track/Lyrical Ginsu/Cutting off your nut sack.” Their unapologetic embrace of Asian stereotypes, including live shows performed in delivery-boy drag, raises the question of whether Notorious MSG is an exercise in satire or minstrelsy. Or it would raise the question, if anybody knew them. In their obscurity, the MSG are forced to will phantom enemies into being, singing on “Last Showdown”: “They say we’re taking Asians/Back to the stone ages/What you gonna say about that?/We say fuck that.” What’s great here is that in defending themselves from scolds and rival MCs, they are sending up one of hip-hop’s most tired staples—the wrathful revenge song. Their excursion into rap-metal, “Warlord,” opens with a growl of electric guitars courtesy of Satanicide’s Aleister Cradley. They also offer their take on the rap ballad with the “Dim Sum Girl,” mixing an ultra-smooth R&B beat with the arpeggiated Casio chords of a karaoke track. MSG are funny as hell, mixing their hyper-masculine pose with name-checks of General Tso and “that bitch, Michael Fay.” As MCs, they’re legit, but I wonder if they will have anything to rhyme about once their assault on hip-hop cliché goes stale.