DURHAM (WTVD) -- George "G" Yamazawa lives in Los Angeles, but he's truly in his element when he comes back to his hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
The rapper's new album, Shouts to Durham, is loaded with fond references to the Bull City and shoutouts to the state of North Carolina. It's probably the only album you'll hear this year that drops references to Carolina barbeque sauce and slaw in a hard-hitting rap hook.
That's because in the world of rap, Yamazawa is anything but conventional. He's an Asian-American rapper whose popularity has only been growing since his song North Cack went viral on Facebook. He attributes that success to the fact that he ultimately raps for himself.
"I have to make this because I love what I'm making," he said. "And I have to feel happy while making it, regardless of if no one listens to it, or it becomes a number one Billboard charting record."
Before releasing his first EP last year, Yamazawa was well-known for his spoken word and slam poetry performances. His list of awards in that arena is lengthy. But despite his respect for poets, he felt he was never destined to be one.
"Rap was always the dream," he said. "To be on a big stage, really spittin'."
As an Asian-American in the south and a Buddhist in the Bible Belt, Yamazawa's life has always been about conflict. Hip-hop was a good fit for him because it harbors its own conflict: the feeling of getting a new beat and looking at a blank page, feeling the excitement to create something amazing but also the frustration that the words aren't there yet.
Hip-hop, as an outlet of creativity and free expression, helped Yamazawa reach a new level of self-actualization.
"In a world dictated by the powers that be, and borders, and all of these different systems that we feel that we're a victim to, and that we can't change... hip-hop provides a whole culture based on a boundless imagination," he said.
In his formative years, hip-hop offered him a way to connect more easily with Western culture. He said he actually feels more in tune with the culture of Durham and the Western world than he does with his own Japanese lineage.
"I'm from here," he said. "So this is what I know the most, what I'm most comfortable with."
And Yamazawa carries the Bull City's influence with him everywhere he goes. His parents have operated the Yamazushi Japanese Restaurant in Durham for 31 years. Growing up, he watched his family perform daily hard work to bring the food of their culture to the American South.
In some ways, he wanted more for his family, a theme he explores in the song Dining Room from his first EP. But he also respected his parents for unapologetically sharing their culture with people very different from them. In retrospect, Yamazawa said, seeing their openness helped him learn to be proud of who he is.
"It took me a long time to actually be proud of the way my eyes are shaped," he said. "The way I look, the way I sound. The way my parents talk, the way the food tastes, all these different aspects of a deeper cultural lineage."
Now, he aims to share pieces of himself and his culture with the world through his music, much as his parents continue to do with their restaurant.
Yamazawa is back in Durham tonight to perform at Gunna Fest with two other Durham rap legends, Joshua Gunn and P.A.T. Junior. The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Pinhook in downtown Durham. Advance tickets are $20, and Yamazawa suggested picking one up before the show sells out!
Rapper G Yamazawa brings the Bull City to the world