Rapping about food has been a hiphop staple since the Fat Boys filmed the video for “All You Can Eat,” at the Sbarro in Times Square. And the song that put rap on the map Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight is replete with food references, including “collard greens that don’t taste good” and “chicken tastes like wood.” The gastronomic theme is also liberally sprinkled throughout gangster rap—Biggie’s sardines for dinner—and continues with rapper-chef (or is that chef-rapper?) Action Bronson whose rhymes are more food filled than Josh Ozersky’s dreams. So I present two decidedly more far-flung food rappers, one from Tibet and another from Xi’an, China.
Karma Emchi better known by his nom du rap, Shapaley is half Swiss and half-Tibetan. His stage name comes from the Tibetan beef patty that’s available in many of the momo parlors in Himalayan Heights, as I’ve come to call Jackson Heights, Queens. The message behind the tune Shapaley is equal parts national pride and equal parts filial piety. You don’t hear lines like this in American rap: “If your grandpa tells you to pass him his walking sticks you’d better do it…If you don’t wait a minute, I’ll make the dough, put meat on it, fry it in oil and there it goes.” And: “Mother and father if your kids don’t behave just call me up. I’ll be there in a minute and give them shapaley.”
Cao-Si hails from Xi’an, China. The ancient Chinese city is widely known as the home of the terra cotta warriors. In Queens it’s better known as the city that gave birth to the cumin-laced lambcentric fare of Xi’an Famous Foods and its upscale sister restaurant Biang! Cao-Si can rhyme. He shouts out dozens of local specialties. Translated into English they no longer rhyme, but they sound delicious: “Garlic dipped noodles are hot, your tongue might be on fire.” Jason Wang, the younger half of the father and son team behind XFF once told me that he was a B-boy in college. Now it makes sense. Talk about local flavor!