|(from top) Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy|
This is the ninth in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene. ― Ed.
Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy have seen it all. From their beginnings in the hip-hop industry when Tiger JK would perform for free tapas, up to now, with the release of a new album, Drunken Tiger’s ninth, they have seen both ups and downs.
All three got into hip-hop in different ways. For Yoon Mi-rae, or Tasha, it was her dad who first influenced her. She said he was in the U.S. Army, but at the same time, he would also DJ for parties as a side job.
“I grew up listening to my dad DJ, so I guess it kind of happened naturally,” she said. From there, she said she got lucky when she tagged along to a friend’s audition and was picked up as well.
Bizzy said that as a child he would sing commercial jingles or melodies. He added that he wanted to be an R&B singer initially, but he felt he wasn’t good enough as a singer.
For Tiger JK, hip-hop was a means to fit in. Growing up in Los Angeles, hip-hop was everywhere.
“L.A. was all, the culture is really strong. Either you’re down with hip-hop or you’re an outsider,” he said. “You did your own thing, but hip-hop was like this, our own underground movement where we thought we were cool and we were rebels. You get to express yourself in the most outrageous ways.”
But the group said that in Korea, they felt lonely when they started out in hip-hop. Yoon said it wasn’t until she met Tiger JK that she realized there were other people out there who liked the same music and doing the same things she did, such as jam sessions or writing rhymes together.
But she said at the same time, it opened her eyes to how lonely everyone in the hip-hop movement was.
“The rappers were actually the audience,” she said. “We would get on stage and perform. And the people clapping for you would then get up, and come on stage and perform. And then we would go down and clap.”
Bizzy agreed, saying he too felt he was alone in his interest of hip-hop.
“I was just writing in a diary, from the heart, and trying to rhyme it,” he said. From there, he showed his writing to a friend and was then introduced to a crew and the underground scene.
The trio said they came together organically. The underground hip-hop scene back then was small, so everyone knew each other. Since they’ve been together, Yoon said they have learned each other’s chemistry and often know when someone is about to mess up, even before the person knows themselves.
But despite their many years in the Korean hip-hop scene, and the respect they receive from fans and other artists alike, the group finds themselves once again starting over from the bottom up.
They recently branched off to start their own label, Feel Ghood Music, and just released their first album under the new company called “Cure.” However, despite the fact that the album made music charts in Korea, Tiger JK said they haven’t had much media attention.
They said that the theme behind the album was simplicity and hope.
“I feel like everyone is always going towards the provocativeness,” said Tiger JK. “So what is provocative became really boring for us. It didn’t provoke us or invoke us or anything. It didn’t inspire us, so, we started just making music. And we wanted to send a positive message.”
Yoon added that the struggles the three were going through at the time also influenced the album.
“We were going through some stuff personally and with our prior company, so, at the time, I think our mind frame or state of mind was that life is complicated as it is, let’s just simplify everything,” she said.
For Tiger JK, it was also important that his father be involved in the project. He said his father was recently diagnosed with cancer, but he is going through chemotherapy and fighting. On the front of the album, the name “Salja,” the albums name in Korean, is actually his father’s handwriting.
They said that everyone involved in the album, from the artist who created the animation in the music video to their friends who stopped by their studio in Uijeongbu for jam sessions, felt the message they wanted to send. Hope.
“Every moment we really appreciate,” said Tiger JK. “When we hit bottom, all the cliches started popping up and then became the most powerful philosophy. ... What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ... Either you quit or die or you fight and find a way.”
They said their next step is to continue to get their music out there and heard, and to “cure” people. They’ve put together a band and hope to take them on the road for shows.
They said they often lock themselves up in their studio recording and fans will be hearing non-stop music from them. They are planning to release two more albums to complete the “Drunken Tiger, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy” series, as well as solo albums.
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)