Cambodian rap group AZI Fellas drop a positive beat on their troubled past.
One night after Korn and a few friends drove home from the movies, another car followed them. When Korn’s crew parked and started walking toward his house, the passengers in the second car released a barrage of bullets.
“They were looking for other Cambodian guys,” Korn claims. “It was mistaken identity.”
No one was injured.
While most of the Asian gang violence in Olney and Logan has slowed down since the 1990s, tempers still flare. Raymond Ros spent 8 months in jail recently after being connected to a shooting on Delaware Avenue. He was released when the true shooter was identified.
In’s brother is currently in jail, convicted of third-degree murder. His other brother is in jail for robbery. In served three months in prison after being busted for selling drugs.
“It was just stupidity,” says In of his gang days.
None of the group members shy away from their troubled pasts.
“If your life was really good, you wouldn’t be a rapper,” says Touch, who spent two months in the brig and was dishonorably discharged from the military after going AWOL from his Navy base in Washington so he could attend a Sixers’ game during the NBA Finals in 2001. “If you were born with a silver spoon, you wouldn’t have nothing to rap about.”
The next day at the Cambodian New Year’s celebration near 58th and Lindbergh in Southwest Philly, Joe In and his 7-year old daughter linger by the food stalls when he sees the crowd of people open up.
“That shit’s about to go down,” he says before pulling his daughter away from the mob.
In the ensuing bedlam, four people are stabbed right in front of the booth where Korn’s mother sells her spicy pickled cabbage.
“It’s just stupid old gang shit,” In says later. “It’s real corny. We outgrew that stuff a long time ago.”
He gave up the illegal hustle when his mother passed away from a brain aneurysm in 2003. Now, In, a father of two, works as a self-employed contractor when he’s not rhyming in Korn’s basement.
“They turn their difficult backgrounds into positives,” says Sorn of the Cambodian Association.
The AZI Fellas performed at the Association’s 30th anniversary celebration last December.
“It’s inspirational and empowering how they tell their life stories,” Sorn says. “They are a link for us between Asian culture and American culture.”
A week later, Korn sits at his computer in the basement. He announces that he was fired from his job as a cable technician after 10 years with the company. He blew off work too much to tend to his music.
“I’m going to do this full-time for a while and see what happens,” he says with a wry smile.
A hollow club beat emanates from the speakers
AZI artists Khalid Hall—known as Kalek, Ranz Lee and Willie Green enter through the alley door and approach the recording booth.