After moving to Los Angeles from Hong Kong at age 13, comedian Jimmy O. Yang became obsessed with hip-hop culture. He learned how to speak proper American English from watching BET’s “Rap City.” He started a half-Black, half-Asian rap crew called—wait for it—the Yellow Panthers. And at one point, he worked as a strip-club DJ.
All of these endearing tales are told in Yang’s new memoir, How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents, and his fish-out-of-water experiences inform his increasingly in-demand stand-up act as well. But at this point, he’s best known for his deadpan, chain-smoking portrayal of Jian Yang on “Silicon Valley,” which just wrapped up its fifth season on HBO. “When I first moved here, I tried to be as American as possible to fit in,” he says over the phone, while sharing his favorite albums as of late. “But as I got older I realized that my life is pretty fucking cool, and I don’t need to fit in.”
Nate Dogg & J. Period: A Tribute to the King of G-Funk
Nate Dogg is my favorite artist. I cried more when he passed than when Michael Jackson did. His songs were my gateway into hip-hop, and this mixtape has all the best Nate Dogg songs, along with some that I really love that not a lot of people have heard of. There’s this one interlude here that’s about how Nate Dogg was a marine, which I didn’t know. It’s funny because being a gangbanger is kind of gangster, but being a marine is the most gangster shit ever, but nobody reps being a marine. They should.
As a teenager, I started trying to rap a little bit, but I couldn’t rap. Then I thought I could try to sing like Nate Dogg—I always wanted to be the chorus guy—but I wasn’t good at that either. So I started making beats. A lot of my early beats were like G-funk, with the classic high-pitched synthesizer.
Back in the day, I put my beats on this website called SoundClick, where people could buy them. I went by the producer name of Doc West, just combining Dr. Dre and Kanye West, which I thought was super cool. I started selling some beats at about $200 a pop. It wasn’t big money, but those were really some of my first paychecks.
The very first beat that I sold was to this guy who called me and said, “Hey man, my name is Laronn James.” I thought it was LeBron James, but obviously it wasn’t. His first question to me was, “Are you religious?” I’m like, “No. Why?” He was like, “Some religious people don’t agree with what I do.” I’m like, “What the fuck? Is he a satanist?”
Eventually, he explained that he owned this website called Fudgestick.com, which was an interracial MILF porn website, and he starred in all the videos himself. He was like, “I really like your music. I want to buy one of your beats to use for my trailer.” He did buy that beat, and it was used in this trailer of Laronn James having sex with this woman. For a while, it was on the front page of Fudgestick.com, which is no longer a website, sadly. After that, I hung out with Laronn James a couple times. He came out to my comedy show. He’s a really nice, smart dude that just happens to have a massive penis.
And actually, speaking of my beats, I’m making a song with Too $hort right now. I did a music video with him, and then I did his podcast and got up enough courage to show him some of my old beats, and he actually liked them. That was the ultimate validation. So this song is my beat with Too $hort, Dumbfoundead, and Awkwafina is going to rap on it too. It’s called “YRA”—young, rich, and Asian.
Kiesza: Sound of a Woman
I was first introduced to Kiesza when I saw her perform “Hideaway” on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. She did it in one take, where she exited a DeLorean on Hollywood Boulevard and then started singing and dancing with a crew in the street before eventually making her way up to the stage. As an actor, I know how hard it is to do something in one take—and that’s not even thinking about choreography and singing.
With a lot of pop music, they just have one song and a good beat, but there’s not necessarily that much talent. But with this woman, I was like, “Holy shit, who is this person?” It’s like when I first heard Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” I was like, “What’s this pop garbage?” But then you start digging and you realize she’s actually an amazing singer and an artist with a point of view, and I really respect that. It’s so great when there’s a catchy song that’s fun and easy to listen to, but there’s also a real artist behind it. It’s a pleasant surprise.
Kero Kero Bonito: Bonito Generation
You can just tell Kero Kero Bonito are having fun. It’s very simple music, like, “Oh my God, I can do this.” It’s real catchy and quirky. There’s a song on this album called “Graduation,” and then there’s an interlude at the end where the singer is like, “I want to thank my friends and then I want to thank my pets,” then literally there’s just a woof woof. It’s so fucking hilarious, and so cute. It’s like Kawaii [the Japanese culture of cuteness] in that way. It just puts you in a good mood. We need some more stuff like that, not everything needs to be sad. It’s like watching old Steven Seagal movies: The plot might not make sense, the acting is probably horrible, but it’s just so fucking awesome.