George ‘G’ Yamazawa: Durham Tech ‘formative part of my life’
Award-winning rapper, spoken word poet discusses time as a Durham Tech student and his life and career at on campus event.
Nearly ten years ago, Durham native George Yamazawa was a Durham Tech student unsure about his future and yearning to connect to the world around him.
Today, Yamazawa is known around the world as award-winning rapper and spoken word poet G Yamazawa.
The performer, who is in his late 20s and based out of Los Angeles, returned to Durham Tech on April 16 for a presentation in the Educational Resources Center (ERC) Auditorium about his career, work, and his life as a Japanese-American growing up in Durham. April is National Poetry Month.
“I’m really, really excited to be back,” the performer told the audience. “I was driving around in my car the other day and was like … overwhelmed with how grateful I am for this place and to be from this place and to be welcomed back to Durham Tech. … Durham Tech was such an important, formative part of my life.”
Yamazawa was the 2014 National Poetry Slam Champion, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and Best New Hip Hop Artist nominee by the 2016 Carolina Music Awards. His debut album, “Shouts to Durham,” released in 2017 and ranked at number 37 on the iTunes top 100 rap albums.
In Fall 2009, Yamazawa came to Durham Tech and pursued an Associate in Arts degree with an English focus. He recalled wanting to be a creative writing teacher and being curious about what lay beyond Durham Tech and Durham.
“I think I had a lot of questions that I wanted to be answered at the time,” he said. “I wanted to visit a lot of places. I wanted to know what the world was like. I wanted to know what people in different places of the country were like.”
Since leaving Durham Tech in 2011, he’s performed and presented nationally and internationally, been featured at the Pentagon and for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and became a cultural diplomat for the U.S. Department of State.
“I feel like that same guy, now that I’m sitting here and I’m on campus,” Yamazawa said before the Durham Tech event. “I could see myself enrolling here again and being a student and that being great as well. But I think now that I’ve come back … I just feel different as far as my perspective of the world has widen a little bit.”
Students, faculty, staff, and community members listened and laughed during the Durham Tech event while Yamazawa talked about his parents, his creative journey, and his trying to break into the music industry.
While sharing his anecdotes, the artist would seamlessly slip into performing his spoken word poetry. A couple times he even did so in Japanese, since, as he puts it, he was “born with two tongues.”
One of the pieces Yamazawa recited referenced his dad.
“Whenever I speak to him in English, he always returns the foreign favor,” he said. “For him, speaking Japanese is like a walk in the park. I imagine speaking English is like climbing a barbed wire fence.”
His parents, George and Mayumi, are from Osaka. They have owned and managed the Japanese fine dining Durham restaurant, Yamazushi, since 1986.
“(G’s) really cool. When he talks about the whole self-identity type of thing, I think I can relate to that, especially having grown up with immigrant parents,” said Sharon Ramos Santana, a student whose parents are from Mexico. “I think whenever anyone talks about having immigrant families, it just hits home. It’s comfortable.”
Yamazawa discussed how it took him some time before he set his focus towards a career in rap and poetry. When he was a kid, for example, he envisioned a career as a visual artist or a dancer.
When his early teens hit, the now professional poet began writing rhymes.
“A lot of people say that you didn’t find poetry. Poetry sort of found you,” he said. “I never imagined it would become a career.”
It wasn’t until after years of creating poetry have past that Yamazawa even realized that he wanted to rap. He told the audience that, over the last few years, he’s been cultivating the courage to chase his music career.
“Rapping has always been this sort of outlet for me whether I felt like I would be successful or not, something that’s really helped my state of health and my mental health,” he said.
As a poet, it’s one thing. As an Asian-American hip hop artist in 2019 trying to break into the American music industry, it’s kind of a whole different thing. I’m positive that I would not be able to be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t had support from my hometown.”
After his presentation, Yamazawa took questions from the audience. One of the audience members who spoke up was Spencer Graham, a student and local DJ.
The Durham Tech event was not the first time Graham had crossed paths with Yamazawa. Both Graham and Yamazawa are graduates of Jordan High School.
In 2017, Yamazawa returned to Jordan to do a similar presentation. Graham was a student there at the time and was picked to run the sound for the event.
“I love really just how authentic he is,” Graham said. “His story is like super inspirational to me, partly because he came from Durham and so do I. … I’m glad he’s still doing his thing.”
This was Yamazawa’s first time speaking at Durham Tech.
“It’s been quite a journey for me, and moments like this are kind of like circular moments for me in realizing that all of the steps that I took throughout my life all added up and all became part of the story,” Yamazawa said to the audience. “A lot of times we try to compartmentalize parts of our journey, but it all actually adds up into who we are.”
That evening, Yamazawa headlined a sold-out event at The Pinhook, which Durham Tech co-sponsored with Duke University. Both Graham and Ramos Santana were among those in attendance.
The Viva the Arts committee and Global Distinction Program co-presented his Durham Tech event.
“I have such a deep amount of appreciation for (Durham Tech), for Durham,” he said. “To be from here and … to have left to have pursued something and to still be welcomed back while I’m still in the middle of that pursuit is really important to me. … I realize each time I come back that it means something to people here as well.”