Rapper rejects social labels
Combining her love for poetry and hip-hop, talented lyricist Heesun Lee recorded her latest single “I break stereotypes” as a personal statement and rally call to unite those who refuse to be bound by labels.
Asian American hip-hop artist Heesun Lee breaks stereotypes
Born in Korea then adopted by Chinese parents in New York City when she was four months old, Heesun grappled with identity issues growing up.
"I have always struggled with not really knowing where I come from and why I look the way that I do," Heesun explains.
On her latest single with Chinese-American rapper MC Jim, she raps, "Breakin' out my shell can you tell I'm hyped? It's a new day gonna get it right, everybody shout with all your might: we're breaking stereotypes."
"I'm not my gender, my colour or my class...get your mind right."
Heesun says she has noticed a lot of stereotypes about Asians Americans, especially in relation to hip-hop, the music that grew to be her passion.
"Being a Christian, and Korean and a female, I am just trying to break every stereotype out there."
It was during high school that Heesun first developed a love for writing and music.
"All the identity issues that I had as an adoptee brought me to use music and writing as a tool, as an outlet, to try and express myself because I felt like everyone around me didn't understand me," she explains.
"Through that whole process everything I wrote was about God, I was writing to God."
Heesun first turned to God, hoping for a miracle, when she was 15 years old because her grandmother was very sick in hospital.
Her friend invited her to church and she was impacted by the love and care people showed her there.
In 2008 she released her debut album titled "Re:Defined" which features a spoken word piece that documents her journey from there.
"Jesus Christ found me crying in a corner when I was 16 years old and my grandmother passed, music gave me worth 'cos the rest of me was trash," she raps on the track 'Re-defined me'.
"Christian walk with a lumpy path, relationships with men dependent on them, I gave every part of me away just to get scarred in the end.
“In order to get through problems you have to admit that they exist”"Sex and parties were my new best friends. Every week feeling sorry for myself so I'd repeat the same process the next week and again."
Although she understood that Jesus had died so that she could have life and a relationship with God, Heesun says choosing to become a Christian was hard because she knew she had to openly acknowledge her flaws and the wrong things she was doing.
"The conflict between picking right or wrong affected me a lot," she explains.
"I started dating a lot and going to clubs, smoking, all of that stuff and it got really bad, but God was always pulling at my heart and reminding me that this wasn't who He called me to be."
Having genuinely prayed to Jesus to come into her life and change her from the inside, Heesun says although she made some wrong choices as a young Christian, her struggles helped her realise that God is the "only permanent source to turn to".
"In order to get through problems you have to admit that they exist," she explains.
As her relationship with God deepened Heesun says she found that "Jesus is the only thing out there that can satisfy you" and this gave her reason to pursue her passion for Christian hip-hop.
She made a start performing in detention centres, block parties, church events, and colleges and worked hard over the years to attain a record deal and develop two albums, Re:Defined and Stereotypes.
"The message I try to give through my lyrics is hope and encouragement to people that you don't hear every day on the radio," she says.
A key message she reiterates in one of her spoken word pieces: "Jesus Christ can be your help. He already died for you, why wouldn't He give you everything else?"
God particularly helped Heesun to deal with her identity issues and she says believing in Him has made her realise that even though people place a lot of emphasis on their own ethnicity, at the end of the day, we were all designed and created by God.
"Even if I don't know who my real family is, I know who God is and He gives me worth and identity," she says.
"Just reading God's Word [the Bible] explains everything I need to know about who I am."