She is giving New York newcomers a bad rap.
Rap rabble-rouser Awkwafina will perform at the Knitting Factory on Dec. 20, bringing her eclectic mix of hip-hop and comedy to Williamsburg. And the up-and-coming emcee said it is always a treat to be able to play her hometown.
“It’s a little gift to play in New York, because people here know where I’m coming from,” said the artist also known as Nora Lum.
Born and raised in Queens, Lum earned herself a good deal of attention for her 2013 music video “NYC B—-$,” which takes transplants to task for co-opting the city of her birth. In the song, Lum drags through the mud Barclays Center, Bushwick newcomers, vegans, and many other symptoms of a gentrifying city.
Lum said the song is partially about solidarity with her fellow New York natives and partially a criticism of rich kids who want the glam side of New York living but none of the struggle most real New Yorkers have endured. You don’t have to be from New York to get it, but you do have to put in time and hard work getting to know the city, she said.
“Whether you’re from here or been living here a while, there are certain things you understand,” said Lum. “Native New Yorkers all have a shared anger about what has happened to their hometown in the past six years. New York has always been a place that people come to from other places, but it’s weird being a townie in someone else’s dream land. That charming fairy-tale is not the real scope of the city.”
The song turned her into something of a mouthpiece for native New Yorkers, and Lum said she is now asked for a reaction every time a new song drops that paints a wildly naive portrait of the city (think Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” or Catey Shaw’s “Brooklyn Girls”). But with one anti-transplant manifesto out there already, Lum said she is reluctant to take on all of New York’s grudges in her repertoire.
“I don’t want to take on all the anger of New York because there are just so many levels of it,” said Lum, who also stars on the MTV show “Girl Code.” “But our story is just so different than Taylor Swift. I have to watch guys masturbating on the subway while she takes limos to the gym.”
Lum lives in Greenpoint now, and said she rarely meets other native New Yorkers beyond the friends she still has from high school. But she said transplants who do have friends who grew up in the city should count themselves lucky.
“Knowing a townie is like having a fixer,” she said.
Awkwafina plays the Knitting Factory [361 Metropolitan Ave. between Havemeyer and N. Fourth streets, (347) 529–6696, bk.knittingfactory.com]. Dec. 20 at 8 pm. $12 ($10 in advance).