This is the 13th 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.
After 13 years in the underground hip-hop scene, rapper Vasco is looking for something bigger. In the next year he hopes to sign with a big label, put out a big album and be No. 1 on the Melon chart.
His goal is to be successful as a mainstream artist.
“Thirteen years in the underground, I’ve done it, I’ve seen it. I did everything. No more underground. I just want to go with the major,” he said.
Vasco started out like many in the scene. When he was young, America Forces Korea Network allowed him to discover artists such as MC Hammer and Kriss Kross, but at the time he was more into rock music. It was Limp Bizkit’s combination of rock and rap that drew him into hip-hop.
But he didn’t start rapping until university. He said when he first started college, he was in the bathroom when his friends came in and brought up the idea of starting a rap team. They asked him to join and he agreed.
The group made some songs, recorded them and began auditioning at clubs to perform. Vasco was tasked with writing lyrics.
He said he likes all kinds of music from rock to jazz to hip-hop, though he leans more towards rock, saying that Jason Mraz and Glen Hansard are two of his favorite artists. And even though he is a rapper, he would rather sing, but has come too far in the industry to go back.
Vasco said he went three years performing without getting paid and at times would end up rapping for just two people in the crowd. But luckily, he ended up performing at Master Plan. He said if you made it to the stage of Master Plan, that meant you had skills.
“Once you get into Master Plan, that means you’re the best rapper in Korea. It was like Def Jam. Master Plan guaranteed your skills. It was like that. The golden era,” he said.
He said that unfortunately, there are no stages like that anymore. Instead, artists are recording music and debuting online rather than on a stage. And instead of criticizing the government, capitalism and society in their music like they used to, more hip-hop artists are writing songs about money today.
For him personally, Vasco said one of the biggest struggles he’s faced in the underground is the people.
“In this industry, you can’t really trust anyone,” he said “It’s lonely here.”
At one point in his career, a person in his crew ran off with all their money. It was doubly troubling since to them, crew means family. His said the backstabbing has made it difficult for him personally to trust anyone ― something that has come through in his music.
Vasco said the music he makes now deals with a lack of belief in people. The lyrics in one song insist that the world is not round, that it’s actually square. He said it symbolizes how the world has edges and it’s not always a good place.
After releasing an album and an EP over the summer, he is currently working on an EP called “Codename 187,” which deals a lot with this theme. He said “187” was the code for murder or homicide, and the EP is his way of telling others to just go away and that he will do whatever it takes to take care of his young son and make him happy.
Vasco said over 13 years, he hasn’t changed as a hip-hop artist, but he is trying to change now that he’s decided to pursue a contract with a major label.
“Rap was used to criticize society, but now I’m trying to tune all that out and not care about that. And I was initially against capitalism, but that’s the only thing I can turn to now because I’ve been stabbed in the back so much that the only thing I can trust is myself, family and money,” he said.
“Like Jay Z said, ‘Man lies, woman lies, but numbers don’t.’”
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)