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Born Nora Lum, rapper-actress Awkwafina grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, the daughter of a Chinese-American father and a South Korean immigrant mother. Following her mother’s death when she was four years old, Lum was raised by her grandmother.
When she was 10, Lum was offered a part in her junior high school’s band as a trumpet player, which inspired her to become a concert trumpeter. However, after she discovered online music production software, she produced hip-hop beats and eventually began rapping along to them. After this, she knew her career would be as a rapper and, at the age of 16, she adopted the stage name Awkwafina.
She attended school at The University at Albany, where she majored in journalism and women’s studies. After this, she attended the Beijing Language and Culture University in Beijing, China, where she studied Mandarin.
Her rapping career took off in 2012 after one of her music videos hit over two million views on YouTube. She released a solo album, Yellow Ranger in February 2014, and collaborated with comedian and her personal inspiration, Margaret Cho, for the single “Green Tea,” a satire about Asian stereotypes.
Prior to breaking into the world of film, Lum appeared on the MTV comedy series Girl Code, which invites female actresses, musicians and comedians to voice their opinions on women’s matters. She made her feature film debut in Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising (2016), which she followed up with a voice role in Storks (2016).
Lum returned to the big screen as part of the principle cast of women in Ocean’s 8 (2018), as well as playing a supporting role in the comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She also lent her voice to The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019) and Disney’s The Lion King (2019). She also starred in the comedy The Farewell, earning her first Golden Globe award for her role in the film.