Tell us a little bit about your musicality. How did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
Ever since I was young, I've always taken an interest in music. I went through many phases through childhood appreciating genres from rock to classical to alternative to random songs you'd hear in a movie score or soundtrack. I finally came across hip-hop, and that seemed to be the one that really stuck with me.
I didn't start writing my first verse until I was about 15. I started off as more of a writer, but later on I delved more into general "freestyling" and after that, the savage beast known as "battling."
In high school, rapping was more of a hobby, but I couldn't deny how empowering it felt while participating in the artform. This was also when the whole "rappity-rap backpacker" era was coming in full force, so I got exposed to a lot of the raw culture of hip-hop and saw people from many different backgrounds repping their individuality to the fullest. This also encouraged me to dig deep to discover my own identity, not only as an emcee but as a person as well. I realized you don't have to play by the "rules" of the industry to gain recognition. You didn't need the gold chains, Bentleys, or platinum fronts to be able to express yourself. And ultimately, rap is NOT ABOUT WHAT THEY SHOW YOU ON TV, BECAUSE THE STUFF THEY DISPLAY IS ONLY ONE SIDE OF THE COIN.
Skip a couple years, and I find myself in college taking rap more seriously. I'd kinda graduated from battling with the homies in random cyphers, to actually entering REAL battles on stage. Sad to say I didn't win my FIRST official battle, but I did win my second one and from then on I won some more. Losing used to feel like a big deal with me being a novice and all, but after a while it just came down to the philosophy of "you win some, you lose some." Now as an emcee there was the success of battling and the success of music. On the music side, a group of like-minded friends and I banded together and formed our own little rap unit that released numerous projects throughout college.
By the end of college, I realized that there was a whole other world outside of the bubble of a university that I've yet to conquer. People kept telling me that I had the potential to go further. At that point I could no longer treat rap as something I just "did for fun." It was time to step it up battle-wise and music-wise. And ever since then, I've been making moves to get to where I'm at today. And it wasn't just because of the encouragement people gave me. I myself felt like even if I were to try to abandon hip-hop, there would always be a part of me that wouldn't stop having the urge to spit on a track or in a cypher, or just think of random words that rhymed with each other. So I stopped trying to peg rap as a "hobby" and now embrace it as more of a "career."
How do you feel it differs being an Asian American musician in today's world?
It's one big double-edged sword. On one hand you kinda have that culture shock thing, going where your ethnicity/skin color catches peoples' immediate attention--especially in a genre like rap where we are minorities among minorities. Also, Asian communities seem to be very supportive of their own, and many would give you props just for being Asian (although I myself have never considered it genuinely earning your respect if people are just willing to give it to you by default). On the other hand, just because you can easily get props from your own race does NOT mean the reception would be the same with all other races. I find that to be truly successful, you have to go above and beyond when it comes to perfecting your craft, otherwise you'll just be categorized as just another Asian who gets his props just because he's Asian.
Other than skin color, you have to prove why you stand out from the rest of the pack. And when it comes to the battle world, Asians seem to be on the bottom of the race hierarchy because for some reason we are the easiest targets. I had to improve twice as much and be twice as vicious to gain respect in that regard. I've heard from knowledgeable heads in the game that it is harder for Asians to make it in the industry because they don't get taken as seriously. And that wasn't even a statement that was meant to offend me, they were just speaking the cold hard truth. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that even the industry doesn't always know the true definition of talent, and no matter what color you are, it's all about finding your niche--THAT is where you'll find real success.
Who are your main influences?
As far as emcees there are a LOT. But I'd say the main ones are 2Pac, Eminem, Canibus, Crooked I, Tech N9ne, and MC Juice (in no particular order). There are other great names that I also acknowledge as legends, but the ones on that list have molded the foundation of my style in my early years of rapping.
As far as people in general who are known for other forms of art/entertainment, there's Louis C.K., Seth MacFarlane, Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, Donnie Yen, Michael Jai White, etc.
Is there anything you feel strongly about, that you're trying to highlight in your music?
Whether it's a battle track or a conscious song for which I draw from life experiences, you can always expect technical lyricism, vivid imagery, and a cold hard dose of reality. I say what I mean and mean what I say.
If I was to turn on your iPod right now, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?
I don't actually own an iPod but on my Winamp player you can expect a playlist that's constantly changing and never definitive. At the moment you'll probably find a bunch of instrumentals, Crooked I's "Psalm" mixtape that just came out (obvious choice), and some tracks from random battlers who happen to make good music (the majority of what I listen to these days consist of artists I've personally met and came up with).
Since it's Hyphen's 10th year celebrating, please humor us by telling our readers why you decided to come support us by performing!
Hey, y'all are the ones giving ME the opportunity to grace your stage. What better way to pay you back than offer my services as a performer? And knowing the deep rooted history behind your movement makes it that much more meaningful that I get to be a part of it all. So, MUCH RESPECT AND BIG SHOUTS TO Y'ALL!
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!