This is the 15th in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene. ― Ed.
Thomson Gazelle found hip-hop in junior high when he discovered American rapper Eminem and then old school hip-hop. But from a young age, he’s been all about freestyle.
“I love freestyle. I’m really confident in my freestyle,” the 29-year-old rapper said.
He got his start in freestyle and often competed in contests and rap battles, making it to the top eight in the Mnet Miller Rap Battle in 2005. He and his cousin would use a couple of tape recorders to make beats that he would freestyle over. When he was 19, he started recording his own music and uploading it to millum.com, a popular site among hip-hop artists at the time.
His first major performance was at 21 when he and his team performed for the opening of Fubu. He has performed at shows with big names such as Outsider and Garion, though he shyly admits that maybe today, years later, they don’t remember him.
But throughout his career, freestyle has been his focus. The hip-hop artist said he loves pure freestyle rather than battles, which often include preparing rhymes beforehand. He said that is why he looks up to American hip-hop artists like Eminem, who is known for his freestyle, and the culture there of cyphers and freestyle.
And he said though there isn’t as strong a culture of freestyle in Korea as America, more rappers have embraced it here and are becoming more comfortable with it.
One memory in particular that stands out is an impromptu freestyle session with well-known rappers E-Sens and Huckleberry P. Thomson said he met them after a show when he was 23 and they went drinking. They talked hip-hop and started freestyling, which grabbed the attention of people around them. Onlookers started recording it.
“I just kept saying, ‘Upload! Please upload!’” he recalled with a laugh.
However, as he gets older, Thomson said he wants more than just freestyle. He wants his rapping to be a part of the music rather than just rap with some music in the background. He said a problem with some of the Korean rappers coming out nowadays is that they don’t pay enough attention to the music and go for a sound that is a copy of what is trendy.
He said as a sound engineer he is more exposed to different sound textures, electronic sounds and synthetic sounds, and wants to open up his music with this. His latest single, “Love Breeze,” which dropped on Nov. 11 is an example of this. The song is a style called cloud rap, which has a very surreal texture and synthetic sound. He said it doesn’t have a strong beat like regular hip-hop and it’s more about flow and vibe.
As long as he raps, it doesn’t matter the style as long as the music speaks to him. He said he gets his inspiration from daily life, and will often make memos of certain emotions as he feels them. Thomson also said music inspires him, that when he hears music he likes he just wants to rap to it. He is exploring new sounds and texture and likes to make his own sounds to incorporate into his music.
For now, Thomson hopes to release a series of singles to better build his fan base, but he hopes to work on an EP or album soon. And for the future of the hip-hop scene in Korea, he hopes more artists work toward finding a style all their own and make music that appeals to more than just the current market of young fans.
“Many fans are young and it’s really a rotation. Maybe young people get older and don’t like hip-hop. And maybe some people really love rap music and hip-hop and still love hip-hop. But always, most underground fans who are buying music and interested in performances are young girls,” he said.
He continued that artists end up making music geared toward this audience, which ends up falling in the realm of trendy. He hopes they focus more on what they want in music and broaden their audience.
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)