Leonard Liao was one of the first Asian Americans to enter the nascent hip hop scene in the 90s. Born in Manhattan’s Chinatown in 1968 to a Chinese-Cuban father, Liao was heavily influenced by Latin music and cuisine as a child. His interests in Latin music grew as he worked at his father’s Chinese-Cuban restaurant. During that time a customer who DJ’d at the famous Copacabana nightclub began introducing him to clubs and musicians in the area.
Liao released his first music video, “Young Boys,” around 1991. The song, a fusion of dance music and Latin hip hop, was featured on the TV shows Video Music Box and Asian Panorama and became popular at nightclubs like Copacabana and Palladium. Liao cites the moment he began taking pride in his heritage as the inspiration for his music: “There was no Asian person out there representing the Asian crowd. And at that time, I realized that being Chinese was not bad. It was a strong point… I didn’t have to assimilate and be white.” Taking on the moniker Leonard Youngboy, Liao continued to fuse hip hop with Chinese, American, and Latin music. Liao currently continues his family’s tradition of Chinese-Cuban cuisine at their restaurant in Jackson Heights, Mi Estrella.