Blast Beats: Top 10 Metal Albums of the Year

Metal Albums of the Year

It’s the middle of February, so let me be the absolute last to say Happy New Year and to bring you my top 10 metal albums of the year. This is what happens when you miss half a year in new music and have to catch up.

In general, 2021 was pretty terrible. But it was a fantastic year for music — particularly for metal. No matter what you listen to, there was something for you this year. Are you a thrash metal fan? Thrash royalty Exodus hit us with a powerful new album in 2021. Is old-school heavy metal more your jam? Iron Maiden dropped something that many folks considered one of the top metal albums of the year. Maybe you’re a fan of hardcore or deathcore? Well, then you’re going to love this list!

As “Larry” did with his top 10 albums of the year, I’ll give you a brief look at the albums just outside my top 5, with more in-depth thoughts on those who made it. So, without further adieu, let’s get this show on the road!

Chris Spooner’s Top 10 Metal Albums of the Year: 10-6

10.) Inferi – Vile Genesis

Musically, 2021 was a year of discovery. I discovered great bands I didn’t know existed and “discovered” genres I thought I didn’t enjoy. Inferi covered both bases with their album “Vile Genesis.” I’ve never been much for the tech-death genre, but the #10 album on my metal albums of the year list opened my eyes. It’s a perfect blend of technical prowess without being over-the-top with it.

9.) Rivers of Nihil – The Work

If one tech-death album is good, two is better! Unlike Inferi, I was familiar with Rivers of Nihil coming into my #9 metal album of the year, “The Work.” I’d checked out “Where Owls Know My Name” and really enjoyed it, despite my aversion to tech-death at the time. While “The Work” is very different, it is no less a masterpiece. This is a band that deserves much more attention than they get.

8.) Of Mice & Men – Echo

Oh, metalcore. It’s not my favorite metal genre — that would be thrash, as I’ve mentioned on the podcast before — but it’s a comfort genre for me. One of those genres where, if I see a band falls into it, I know I’m probably going to have a good time. That was the case with Of Mice & Men and their album, “Echo.” 

Before listening to “Echo,” I was unaware the songs had been part of three previous EPs, so I got to listen to the album with fresh ears and expectations. Thus it comes in as my #8 metal album of the year.

7.) Jinjer – Wallflowers

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Jinjer. I, like just about everyone else, was *blown away* the first time I heard “Pisces”. It was a revelation, and I immediately went to listen to as much of this band as I could. What I found was a band who, while all are *incredibly* talented, the result wasn’t always as good as the parts would suggest.

That’s not the case with “Wallflowers.” Instead, this album is Jinjer at their peak. The technical prowess is there in spades, but it comes together masterfully, unlike some of their previous releases. Every song shows off just how talented each member is while also fitting together as complete, incredible songs. Of course, the openness and vulnerability in the lyrics from Tatiana Shmayluk are the cherry on top. In just about any other year, “Wallflowers” would easily be a top 5 album. That’s how great 2021 was for metal.

6.) Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

I was late to the party on Spiritbox. Where most in the metal world got their first look from “Holy Roller,” they didn’t show up on my radar until “Circle With Me.” I had no idea what I was missing! “Circle With Me” hooked me, “Holy Roller” sent me into the stratosphere with my fandom. The crazy part? Neither wound up being my favorite track off “Eternal Blue.”

Between tracks like “Hurt You,” “Silk in the Strings,” and the tearjerker “Constance,” it’s impossible to pick a favorite on this album. The only thing keeping “Eternal Blue” out of my top 5 metal albums of the year was the song “We Live in a Strange World.” It was the lone misfire on an album full of some of the best songs I heard all year.

Blast Beats: My Top Ten AOTY List

Radical Larry's Top 10 AOTY List

Always late than never, I present my Top Ten AOTY list

Throughout this month I’ve seen end of the year lists that spanned from anywhere from 40-100. I’m going to bring you ten. Ten is a number I feel where I can give you an honest assessment of an album. I’ve listened to these top albums enough times where my opinion was backed by somewhat credible ears. If I tried to expand beyond that, I’d be full of shit. Even more than usual.

I’ll start off with my first five, give a brief synopsis, and then go a little deeper with my top five.

10. Tetrarch – Unstable

I love Nu-Metal. I grew up with it, and it was a major part of my entry into heavy music. Memes and insults aside, nu-metal is pretty much dead. Enter Tetrarch.

This album was straight out of 2003 in the absolute best way imaginable. If you criticize a metal band for being catchy, take a lap and get over yourself. Unstable has catchy hook after catchy hook that deserves to be experienced live. Fantastic songs and I’ll gladly included it in my Top Ten AOTY list.

9. Beartooth – Below

Caleb Shomo needs to be higher on everyone’s rock and metal hierarchy. Every riff, blast beat (shout out), drum fill, and bass line that you heard on this album was recorded by the man himself. That should matter.

It still features those anthemic jams which have become a Beartooth staple, but also has tracks that straight up chug and punch faces.

8. Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell

Death Doom stand up! 48 minutes of gloomy yet groovy Death Metal. If you don’t do anything else with your life, I suggest you at least turn on Blood Ornaments and head bob for the next nine minutes.

Those born before 1995, you may feel like you’re sitting in front of a PC playing Doom II. Anyone born after 1995, go download Doom II.

7. Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Morality

The year of death metal continues with the pure slimy evil joy that is Cerebral Rot. This is classic death metal lore from the album work, to the exhausting song titles. But its money maker resides in the perfectly sinister riffs.

6. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Honestly, this album is likely number one in any other Top Ten AOTY list. It’s just that impressive from all fronts. Cannibal Corpse is over 30 years into their career and the formula isn’t changing. Adding Erik Rutan to the lineup might have added another 10-75 years for all we know.

Radical Larry’s Top 5 AOTY List

5. Enforced – Kill Grid

I wake up every day thankful that Enforced exists. Make no mistake, 2021 was the year of death metal. But Enforced reminded us there will always be a spot at the dinner table for great thrash. In my perfect world, Kill Grid is the official launching point for the resurgence of thrash. It’s fast, it chugs, and it’s packed full of great riffs.

Knox Colby’s voice blends perfectly with the outstanding attack of Alex Bishop on drums and axe duo of Will Wagstaff and Zach Monahan.

I loved this album so much that I started making my own stupid memes for it and making Enforced themselves suffer.

If thrash is to make a comeback, as it should, enforced will be front and center.

4. Whitechapel – Kin

If I could sum up this album in one word, it would easily be “emotional”. A Bloodsoaked Symphony, the premier song of 2021, illustrates this point better than any other. Phil Bozeman also let us know his cleans are just as good as his harsh vocals, giving their catalog an impressive range.

It’s not fair to compare to it to their incredible 2019 release The Valley, but Kin is a great example of trying a few different things for the better. It reminded me in a way of Parkway Drive’s Reverence.

3. Rivers of Nihil – The Work

Rivers of Nihil is currently orchestrating the sneakiest takeover in metal. 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name was a haymaker, and boy did it knock you down.

You get back up, the ref is still counting, grabs your hands, and asks if you’re okay. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. More sir.

“MY BODY, MY PRIDE, ONCE RADIANT INSIDE”

Boom, you’re licking the canvas again.

The Work wrapped up a four album run, each dealing with the theme of a specific season. In this case: Winter. As a progressive metal unit, Rivers of Nihil are firmly established with a powerful yet mystic sound. The Work isn’t a chugging riff celebration or the standard metal blueprint. 

It’s a powerful and enigmatic, drawing metalheads from all walks of life that come together and say “This shit slaps”.

2. Carcass – Torn Arteries

Pure stanky grooves.

This album is AWESOME. Let’s take a moment to appreciate when heavy metal titans are still churning out great music 35 years into their careers. Torn Arteries is stank face music. It’s “look at your buddy, squint your eyes, and make a scowl” music. It’s music you play for that hard rock friend that “doesn’t like screamo”. Then Dance Of Ixtab gets into gear and he goes “Hey what’s this?”

Torn Arteries is the album that reminds us that with nasty riffs, anything is possible.

It’s a unique blend of accessible melodies and riffs with harsh and piercing vocals, which frankly, metal could use so much more of. It was the year of Death Metal in 2021, and Torn Arteries was the exclamation point

1. Slaughter to Prevail – Kostolom

For my money (mine) no band had captured our attention in the way that Slaughter to Prevail had when Demolisher arrived. My first taste came from listening to LiquidMetal on Sirius XM. On-air DJ Shawn the Butcher intro’d the song by warning us that the ground was going to open up after about a minute and a half, and Satan was going to emerge.

He was right and it was awesome. Alex the Terrible’s malevolent gutturals took the throne for the most prominent contemporary voice in metal (only to be later challenged by Will Ramos of Lorna Shore). Several months later, Baba Yaga was released as a second single and continued their trend of striving for the heaviest breakdowns in metal.

First impressions after those two singles, I was expecting the album to be a meat and potatoes “nobody is heavier than us because you can’t sound like us” kind of release.

After we had time to fully digest the album, somebody on Twitter had made what I thought at the time was the hottest of takes — Kostolom was a nu-metal album.  However, with tracks like “Your Only” and “Agony”, it was easy to see the rationale.  You could make the comparisons to Iowa-era Slipknot. 

This album did the rare feat of living up to the hype and provides a great transition for somebody looking to dip their toe in the heaviest of realms of music.

An easy number one for my Top Ten AOTY list.

To hear from Chris and Zach with their Top Ten AOTY list, I highly encourage you to check out the podcast as well as our other shows we provide

Who Belongs On the Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

What is THE Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

I know it’s fall, which means Mount Rushmore season is ova. We have football to watch, no need to pass the time with intriguing Mount Rushmore topics. But this one in particular was very frustrating to me.

You only get four choices, yet without even thinking, I’m sure we could come up with a list of 15+ bands that you can’t discuss the history of heavy metal without mentioning.

There is no proper answer, this is a subjective topic, and unfortunately, there will be plenty of bands that are considered the titans of metal, omitted. When I first tried to come up with a mount Rushmore, I took about five minutes and tried to set some sort of parameters. I ended up considering a band’s global impact and overall influence.

It led to this:

1) Black Sabbath
2) Cannibal Corpse
3) Slayer
4) Venom

Sabbath is an easy choice, and in my irrelevant opinion, the only must-have on this list. Heavy Metal began with Black Sabbath on Friday the 13th, 1970. One of the few things metalheads have generally agreed upon.

But the remaining three all have the same image: dark, violent, evil, which leads to redundancy. It also ignores an enormous catalog of important music. So while I still think the parameters are okay, I’m going to try to broaden the scope.

For the sake of brevity, we will try to accurately identify the main subgenres of metal.

  • Thrash Metal
  • Death Metal
  • New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
  • Nu Metal (Just relax)
  • Traditional Heavy Metal

These five subgenres are typically associated with a distinct period in time, but in this exercise, we will also include genres that they spawned. For example, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Extreme Metal, and the like all hang out at the same bar as Death Metal.

For those that wish to “well actually” about bands that fit a few of the five listed, I don’t care. You ruin every party you attend.

So now the mission becomes finding three other bands in addition to Sabbath with the proper influence and global reach in something besides death and thrash.

Slayer

In my previous article Revisiting A Classic: Show No Mercy, I explained how Slayer’s evil thrash debut became the inspiration for death metal. Terry Butler of Obituary is even on record stating “Show No Mercy was the blueprint for the beginning of death metal”

Adding Slayer to the Mount Rushmore of Heavy Metal covers an influence that reaches both the thrash and death metal communities, more so than the evil influences of Venom or Mercyful Fate. By selecting Slayer, I’m omitting absolute juggernauts like Death, Cannibal Corpse, Megadeth, and Metallica.

Judas Priest

Rob Halford’s iconic falsetto wail and leather regalia spearheaded the NWOBHM movement in the 1970s, carrying their music—and sound—to incredible global success. They get the nod over Iron Maiden, but honestly, it’s a horse apiece. They both featured iconic singers, with similar styles, as well as a defining image.

The NWOBHM was a direct influence on Metallica and Megadeth, Dave Mustaine stated he answered Lars Ulrich’s ad in the paper for a guitar player strictly due to the band’s Lars had listed as influences.

Judas Priest is the poster child to our parent’s favorite bands, as well as being a part of the bedrock of the European metal scene, makes them a worthy selection. The addition of Priest means bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Diamond Head unfortunately do not make the cut.

And finally…

Slipknot

Everybody, just relax.

It’s now 2021. To continue the story of metal, we must acknowledge bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God, Korn, and Sepultura have reached a level of influence that most of the metal founding fathers have. I’m not here to argue that Slipknot or Korn is on the same level of influence as Sabbath or Slayer.

I AM here to argue that bands like Slaughter To Prevail, Spiritbox, and Tetrarch all exist in large part because of Iowa.

The modern metal scene has evolved into a sound with a vast number of influences and sounds. Much like the nine-piece unit that has incorporated elements of hardcore, hip hop, thrash, and death metal over their illustrious career.

Our resident heavy metal heart surgeon Bill Gioia had recently asked if Slipknot should be considered nu-metal. If not nu-metal, then what?

The resulting discourse concluded that while they may not distinctly and solely fit with a specific genre (still nu-metal), the music is objectively metal.

Slipknot rounding out my Mount Rushmore means no previously stated Pantera, Lamb of God, or Sepultura, our other favorite bands we couldn’t decide exactly what they were, besides awesome.

With my updated and calculated Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore complete, I would like to officially apologize to the absolute legends that have been omitted. This rendition probably sucks too. There is no correct answer.

Revisiting A Classic: Rust In Peace

“Humanity Still Producing New Art As Though Megadeth’s ‘Rust In Peace’ Doesn’t Already Exist”

-The Onion

Pretty Much.

Over 30 years later, the fourth installment in Megadeth’s catalog remains as iconic as ever. Its praise has been sung from every corner of metal as elitists and gatekeepers join hand in hand with casuals and dad rockers in shared admiration.  

This is old news.

Every superlative has already been said, and rightfully so. 

In and of itself, Rust In Peace is a phenomenal album, and in some respects, marked the peak of Megadeth. It’s regarded by many as Dave Mustaine’s finest work as a songwriter and was also our introduction to unknown guitar hero Marty Friedman. 

Once again, old news.

The album’s legacy is already cemented, strictly based on musical standards alone. But the process leading up to September 24th, 1990 was an absolute catastrophe. Drugs, infighting, and a career-threatening injury had all but dismantled the band. The greatest and most polished lineup in the history of Megadeth was decaying before the introduction.

That’s the story.

In 1988, Megadeth had to cancel their remaining shows for the Monsters Of Rock festival (replaced by Testament) due to bassist David Ellefson’s severe heroin withdrawals. However, he wasn’t the only one. Upon their arrival back in the United States, Ellefson and frontman Dave Mustaine both checked into rehab.

Ellefson lasted three days, Mustaine a little longer. But even while in rehab, they smuggled in heroin and continued to get high.

After their lackluster sobriety attempt, they began to rehearse and demo for what became Rust In Peace. During that time, David Ellefson struck up a kinship with Slash of Guns N’ Roses, who was already friendly with Mustaine. The kinship eventually led to the trio of Dave, Dave, n Slash: Heroin and Guitars.

In their friendly sessions of drugs and music, Mustaine asked Slash to join Megadeth. Guns N’ Roses already had two albums to their name, and Appetite for Destruction had captivated the entire country, yet Slash had considered the move, briefly.

Mustaine then shifted his interest in guitar phenom Dimebag Darrell (Then still known as Diamond Darrell) of Pantera. Had Mustaine allowed Dime’s brother Vinnie to join Megadeth on drums, it would have been a done deal. This was also pre-Cowboys From hell and Pantera was still the Van Halen-inspired hair metal unit.

What a butterfly effect that could have been.

By 1989, to say that the wheels of Megadeth were falling off would have been a gross understatement. The band was without a drummer and a second guitarist, Ellefson had just gone back into rehab, and Mustaine continued to spiral out of control.

The two Daves had moved into an apartment together, whereupon Ellefson’s return from rehab, spawned a debaucherous routine of heroin to fall asleep, then coke just to make it out of the door and off to rehearsal the next day (when they managed to wake up in time).

Chuck Behler was in just as bad shape and was essentially faded out of the band.

Enter Nick Menza.

Menza had served as the drum tech and roadie for the band for their last album. The drum tech replacing the current drummer was beginning to be a Megadeth staple, as Chuck was the drum tech for original percussionist Gar Samuelson.

The final piece of the Megadeth puzzle took form in the shape of a borderline homeless, malnourished, and—unknowingly at the time—deteriorating guitar phenom Marty Friedman.

Megadeth had already exhausted themselves auditioning numerous guitarists that ranged from flamboyant shredders playing on their own time, primadonnas that refused to learn the songs prior, and scorned musicians that claimed to have written Megadeth songs in their childhood.

Friedman showed up, no vehicle of his own, a cheap red Carvin guitar, and no amps or cabinets.

Mustaine had then set up Marty with two Marshall amplifiers. One for the rhythm and one for the lead, the most important aspect of the audition. Friedman excelled at the rhythm, though he wasn’t perfect, noted Mustaine, but he immediately won the job when it came time for the solo.

Upon Friedman’s entry to Megadeth, the band rented him an apartment, a Mercedes-Benz, and instructed him to change his orange and black hair. His life had changed in an instant.

Had Friedman not won the job that day, the struggling musician had another audition lined up with Madonna the following week. 

At this point, the members of Megadeth were in the midst of a fierce attempt at sobriety (to the point that they even quit smoking cigarettes). They were lean, mean, and clean. But once Marty joined the band, Dave Mustaine became so intimidated by Marty’s talent that it completely extinguished his confidence in his playing.

He quickly relapsed.

Marty wasn’t the well-rounded player that Dave was, Dave was still one of the greatest players in the world with his abilities at rhythm, lead, acoustic, and his prowess as a songwriter. But Marty’s proficiency at lead was so staggering that his lack of skill in other areas (despite there not being any true skill deficiency) did not matter.

Dave Mustaine began to show up to recording sessions completely loaded. He antagonized members and lusted for confrontation. Second opinions and suggestions aside from his own ignited arguments instantaneously. It became so emotionally taxing for the rest of the band that he went off to treatment again, but for the first time, under his desire.

However, Dave wasn’t the only one struggling with some form of physical detriment. Marty Friedman was suffering from a serious arm injury in silence. The nerves in his right arm were so damaged that a doctor had ordered him to quit playing guitar or risk complete and permanent loss of use in that arm.

Megadeth was recording the album of their career—one that eventually put the exclamation point on an entire genre—while their frontman was deteriorating in rehab, and their lead guitarist was deteriorating in silence.

In hopes to preserve his arm, Marty played as little as necessary. He would bypass warming up and try to nail the complex rhythm sections and solos in one take. When he wasn’t playing, he wore a sling, which he attempted to hide under a sweatshirt.

Eventually, he confessed his injury, but not the severity of it, to the rest of the band. Post-confession, he spent his downtime icing his arm.

Dave emerged from rehab a month later, completely energized. He returned to the studio, away from his guitar for a month, and recorded his solo for Holy Wars…The Punishment Due in one take.  

The vocals, one take.

Holy Wars became a mainstay on the Mount Rushmore of Megadeth. A song that was spawned after Dave unintentionally ignited a religiously fueled crowd in Northern Ireland, Holy Wars has been the closing song for their live shows for the last 20+ years

Hangar 18, on the other hand, has been the leadoff song ever since Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul suggested it be. The song they replaced? Holy Wars! Before Megadeth, and even before Metallica, Dave’s first band Panic was playing this song in their setlist under the title “N2RHQ”. Dave saw the text on the tail fin of a plane and was inspired to write a song about a mysterious space military base.

The Rust In Peace rendition, however, featured a Shaq and Kobe-like performance by Dave and Marty, dueling back and forth with solo after solo. The song has since been featured in video games such as Guitar Hero, and a 16-bit inspired version was on the Doom II: Hell on Earth Soundtrack.

Tremendous.

To support the album, Megadeth would embark on a massive co-headlining tour with fellow Big Four member Slayer. Thrash comrade Testament and hardcore punk outfit Suicidal Tendencies would join in support. This stacked lineup was eventually dubbed the Clash of the Titans Tour.

To build a report with the new band members and organize their setlist, Megadeth had a small five venue circuit around Southern California. It was here where the beast finally began to come to life.

Once again, they were lean, mean, and clean.

Megadeth carried their momentum into the Clash Of Titans tour, which became a massive success. But it did not go off without a few headlines: Mustaine and Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir developed a feud that brewed until Mustaine approached Muir looking to settle it in a fight when they returned home.  

They immediately became friends.

Then, later on, Dave had walked right into a lighting truss, drawing blood. The press speculated that Chuck Billy of Testament had hit Dave.

The initial success of Rust In Peace rewarded Megadeth with their first gold record as well as their first Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In the story of Megadeth, this was the peak. The band found a chemistry that Mustaine later stated they would never capture again.

Mustaine is the only remaining member from Rust In Peace, yet its legacy remains untouchable over 30 years later.

Awkwafina is an unnecessary bump in Marvel’s diversity road

Awkwafina stands in full blaccent persona with Eddie Huang.
Awkwafina with Eddie Huang / Photo Credit: Awkwafina/Facebook

Awkwafina. You may know her, or not. But her name has a bit more spotlight with the coming release of Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Marvel boasts a unique powerhouse film universe with heavy profits that no one has seen before. Everyone enjoys their cinematic projects, but that success cannot remove how Marvel continues to suffer from a major diversity problem. You may recall that prior to Shang-Chi, the minority actors/characters are always sidekicks and minor roles. That is, until Black Panther. These characters never own a significant role until the white hero takes a stand or heads in a direction for them to follow.

Remember…

Iron Man has Don Cheadle’s Rhodey/War Machine. 

Captain America has Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon (who ultimately takes the mantle).

Thor has brief moments of Idris Elba’s Heimdall and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie.

Hulk has… Well, no one. And the rest of the Avengers desperately needed sunscreen and seasoning in their food until Black Panther arrived in Civil War to finally add melanin to the equation. Oh, and there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

The films have shown improvement through recent years, and the release of Shang-Chi’s solo film is an example. Asian representation is finally getting its spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But Awkwafina’s choice as the lead romantic interest of the titular character shows the diversity problem remains. It’s just a bit shrouded.

The obvious issue with Marvel’s diversity

Being representative of the world around us should be easy, especially by a billion dollar entity like the Disney/Marvel marriage. At least to start, there’s an explanation for the initial trajectory courtesy of an old, conservative white man in power. The Marvel universe continues to make brilliant strides under new creative head Kevin Feige today. But, even then, it’s not enough, because there are still plenty of hiccups.

There’s a tokenism in Marvel that’s grown from the few diverse hires that reach the cinematic slate. When a breakthrough character comes along, the entire film is dedicated to that race. Don’t get me wrong, that’s phenomenal for representation, but it’s a testament to the lack of willingness on Marvel’s part to organically include a minority into a greater role at all. Diversity in Marvel seems to cling to those very same heavy profits that propel the entire franchise forward by featuring more diverse characters starring in movies surrounded by people that look only like them. It’s almost like those minority characters have to exist within their own ethnic bubbles to be a focus. T’Challa is the lone exception.

The bubble doesn’t apply to just the script

To that point, the heroes who take the lead within their ethnic bubbles are conveniently latched onto a movement.

Black Panther was marketed heavily alongside the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2018. Captain Marvel was hyped up during the #MeToo movement. Shang-Chi happens to be coming during a time where #StopAsianHate is a trending, and necessary, hashtag. Weird right? Marvel knows how to market but it’s a bit insincere to push the branding along next to the real-world issues.

Regardless, Shang-Chi’s release is a major milestone: a film featuring a predominantly Asian cast. Casting Simu Liu, known for his role in Kim’s Convenience, is a brilliant move, showcasing Marvel’s intent to find an actor that’s a great fit for the role, not just a big name for the sake of diversity.

And then they chose Awkwafina. Goddamn it. 

Culture vulture success

Awkwafina, who is actually Nora Lum from Forest Hills, Queens, first earned notoriety for being a “rapper” and posting YouTube videos of her music that garnered her millions of views. She now has acting chops via Crazy Rich Asians, which was a blockbuster hit and the female-led Ocean’s 8 movie. She even owns a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her lead in The Farewell. Now, she’s on the Marvel stage and it just doesn’t quite hit right.

As one can judge by her stage name STILL being her call sign for acting work, Awkwafina has awkwardly nurtured and maintained a career despite the fact that she’s essentially hijacked black culture, in the most stereotypical way, and has held onto that for dear life. She’s boasts “blaccents” with her rap persona and in most of her roles up until her Golden Globe project.

Funny how easily discarded that accent was.

What even is the point of still being “Awkwafina”?

She could easily remove her stage name, especially now that she has a strong acting career. Awkwafina also no longer raps (last album in 2018) nor hosts her former show Tawk (yes, even her little show followed the trope), so moving on is more logical! Hell, even Dwayne Johnson doesn’t go by “The Rock” anymore. Instead, she’s doubling down, even moving into the second season of a television series loosely based on her life, still embracing the Awkwafina name. 

User @LeahCsMovies comments on Awkwafina’s blaccent.

The intent here isn’t to solely slam Awkwafina. It’s more to point to Marvel’s need to strike diversity authentically and with a measured approach. One can’t help but realize that Awkwafina is still profiting off of a likeness she has no connection to, especially considering her upbringing in a well-off suburb in Queens, New York and not Brooklyn, as her rap persona claims. Her “culture vulture’ schtick has single-handedly sparked her rise to fame, and even though it’s problematic as hell, she’s not budging.

User @BrandonLBradfor comments on how he handles the Awkwafina issue

What could have been…

Overall, there are so many Asian actresses that are fantastic for this role. Each undoubtedly would’ve killed the role as the female-lead in a Marvel project. Each definitely would have found chemistry alongside Simu Liu and a host of legendary Asian actors like Michelle Yeoh and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. 

But Awkwafina got the gig. I applaud Awkwafina for her constant focus on representation. It’s beautiful to see someone mindful of what her representation can mean to her community. It’s desperately needed to have voices that seek to uplift minorities to greater platforms. But it’s disingenuous to claim such pure intentions while abusing a stereotype of other minorities. This is the same person that said she won’t “ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people” in an interview with VICE a few years back.

I’ve walked out of auditions where the casting director all of a sudden changed her mind and asked for accents. I refuse to do accents. And I think like—so far, like a lot of the parts I’ve gone out for have been really real characters and being Asian is not part of their plotline. I’m OK with having an Asian aspect if it’s done in a genuine way. I’m not OK with someone writing the Asian experience for an Asian character. Like that’s annoying and I make it very clear, I don’t ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people.

Awkwafina in her interview with VICE, May 2017.

So making a minstrel of black people is cool? Got it. 

Does she avoid the topic?

Awkwafina can address this issue too. But she seemingly avoids the controversy altogether. There has yet to be a tense moment where that question is directly asked of her. It’s never thrown right into her face during an interview. The closest she’s come to that direct questioning was via an interview with Yahoo! Movies UK. The actress claimed she’s open to the discussion. But that was three years ago.

Hmmm…

If Marvel needed to select an Asian actress that would’ve provided a similar or superior jolt of acting chops with comedic timing, they could have easily done that without her. They could’ve done that by selecting someone that didn’t make a mockery of black culture/behavior to earn their keep.

So, shout out to you Awkwafina for getting the bag and repping your people. And shout out to Marvel for trying. The movie will likely be a hit and Awkwafina will continue a prestigious career. But it doesn’t make it any better.