This is the 12th in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene. Translator Ary Kim contributed to this article. ― Ed.
Life is certainly hectic for producer and hip-hop artist Deepflow. Since starting his crew, Vismajor, just a few years ago, he has taken on many roles, from manager and CEO, to producer and director.
But he says that while difficult, the fact that there is no money involved ― his members must find ways to support themselves ― makes it easier for him to lead.
“I’m not one of those CEOs that’s like, ‘Oh we have to make money.’ Because I don’t have to do that, it’s easier for me to tell people what to do,” the 29-year-old rapper said. “So it’s difficult, but at the same time easier for me to manage my crew since I don’t have any restraints holding me back.”
With 10 years in the industry, Deepflow has experience to draw from as he helps his fellow crew members. Vismajor came about three years ago when he was working at club Cocoon in Hongdae as a host MC. Prior to that, he had been in Big Deal Crew for several years, but his performances were becoming few and far between.
He began hanging out with the DJs and other MCs at the club, one of which was rapper Wutan who is also a member of the crew. The group hung out more and more, and Deepflow quit his old crew and started Vismajor.
The crew started with just four people, but over time, Deepflow said he would choose or recruit people who he knew could fill the roles and positions that were open. Now at 14 members, it is certainly no small task for the rapper as he “does everything” for the crew from writing their music, producing their songs, to making music videos and planning their shows.
“It’s a give-and-take relationship,” he said.
He offers his help to the members as they often sacrifice in order to pursue music. For example, some postpone military service to pursue music and have to go through explaining that to their families, then find ways to support themselves.
“Because they’re willing to take that upon themselves, I’m willing to do that much work for them, because it is give and take,” he said, adding that each member has something he has to give up to pursue hip-hop. Because of that, he is willing to make sacrifices for his crew.
“Because Vismajor is fairly new, I’m taking this on. It’s something I have to go through initially for them to get their foothold in the industry,” he said. “So I’m doing this now, but once they get their foothold and they’re all settled, I’m not going to.”
Deepflow’s first taste of hip-hop culture came in 1997 when he was in middle school. At the time there was a popular comic book called “Hip-hop” about break dancing. During breaks at school, the students would all go out and practice break dancing, but since he couldn’t dance, Deepflow started listening to hip-hop, such as Drunken Tiger and Cho PD, who were the popular artists then.
He began rapping and writing his own lyrics in high school. His friends said he was pretty good at it, so as the internet starting taking off, he began uploading his music. At 20 he joined a crew through the internet ― Big Deal Crew ―and had his first performance in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
Throughout his years in the industry, he said it’s been difficult to be an underground artist since he basically stands alone. There is no one promoting his music for him and he doesn’t get much exposure, the exact opposite of major mainstream artists.
“Compared to the time I’ve been working as an artist ― it’s been a long time ― I am not known that well,” he said.
Deepflow pointed to capitalism as one of the struggles facing today’s Korean hip-hop industry. Some artists focus so much on fame and money that they forget their roots and why they started hip-hop. It’s no longer about the love of music.
He said there are many more newcomers in the scene now and that hip-hop is evolving with a wide variety of music styles as rappers’ skills get better. However, he said he hopes in the future that the not-so-great styles of hip-hop won’t stay in the picture.
“Personally, I wish that Deepflow’s music would be the future of hip-hop,” he said, half-joking. “Basically, I just hope that a lot of the bad stuff goes away ... things that are clouding hip-hop and making it lose its color.”
And while managing Vismajor keeps him busy, he said he is taking the time to focus on his own solo album, explaining that he hopes to put out something the audience will like and be an artist that lasts for the long run.
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)