George Masao Yamazawa Jr., or simply “G”, was born in Durham and raised by Japanese immigrant parents, George and Mayumi. He graduated from Jordan High School, and attended Durham Technical Community College for two years. With a knack for spoken word poetry, G is the youngest person ever to become a National Poetry Slam Champion. Although he now lives in Los Angeles, he still has close ties to the Bull City. It was only natural that he name his debut album Shouts to Durham. Released on May 3, it charted at No. 37 on the iTunes top 100 rap albums, and his video for the song “NORTH CACK” had many fans declaring it the song of the summer for Durham. (Another great, Bull City-heavy track: “Whas Good.”)
Why are you proud to be from Durham?
I do poetry full time. And so a lot of my set revolves around a unique aspect of my upbringing and how it’s provided so much context to the way I view the world and people in general. The more I traveled and got to share my story, the more I kept realizing, “It actually is pretty crazy that I’m from Durham, N.C.” It’s truly made me – it sounds so cliche – but it’s definitely made me who I am.
It is Durham, of course, but it’s a Japanese-American cat growing up with his parents running a restaurant [Yamazushi] in Durham. I’m just reminded so much about how crucial that part of my life is and how it can really stretch someone’s understanding of race and culture and the differences and the similarities.
The city is experiencing a lot of growth. Do you notice a big difference when you visit?
Not only the infrastructure, but also culturally. It’s been bittersweet because I’m not there. So Shouts to Durham is not only about recognizing what Durham has done for me, but it’s about what’s happening right now. It’s sort of reminding myself that it’s somewhere that I still really wish I could be all the time.
Where did you get the idea for your hit song “NORTH CACK”?
I actually wasn’t thinking, “I want to make a Durham, North Carolina, anthem that everyone’s gonna sing along to.” I think I was just in my early stages of figuring out what my sound is. And once I found that loop and the four-bar segment that ArmenHammer had in one of his tracks, I thought, “Ooh. That’s what I want. That sounds like me.”
As I was writing the hook, it just kind of all came together. I have a very serious side in my poetry, but I’m also a really goofy dude, too. And I wanted to tap into that goofiness and that silliness. And then I realized, “Oh! Sauce rhymes with boss.” And then it kind of became a North Carolina-themed song.
What was the reaction like?
The first day was kind of what I expected. The first day we posted it on Facebook, it got maybe 90,000 hits. I was confident that a video of that quality with the kind of following I had would be able to garner 100,000 hits.
And then the next morning, TeamBackPack, [an online hip-hop music and culture curator], shared it on their page, and it went bonkers. It sort of tripled the speed that it was growing, and it was getting like, 20,000 hits an hour. That’s when I started to realize how special this video is.
People are comparing it to Petey Pablo. People are saying it’s a hit for the summer for North Carolina. People are coming out of the woodwork and having a whole thread about barbecue sauce. I’m even seeing it get outside of North Carolina. People in Portland, Indonesia, Guam – people all over the world are listening to this record and dancing to it. It’s incredible.