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[Herald Interview] Indie rapper dreams big

From Boston underground rapper to owner of Korean label, Snacky Chan stays independent

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Published : 2014-04-21 20:35
Updated : 2014-04-21 20:44

Korean-American rapper Snacky Chan, 33, has always been an independent artist. From his start in the Boston underground hip-hop scene in the late ’90s to his move to Korea in 2008 and up to today, he said he’s never been out to get signed.

Instead, he relies solely on himself.

“When I first started ― first debuted ― the whole system kind of changed. People were doing stuff independent and building their own fan base, getting on the radio without depending on your label’s backing,” he said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald. “So that’s why my philosophy was to do what I had to do first.”

Since the beginning, Snacky Chan worked hard to go from the freestyling kid at his New Jersey high school, to one of the top Asian-American rappers in the underground hip-hop scene, to now a label owner in Korea.

He owes his official start to a rapper he met during his university days in Boston, who became the first influential figure in his career: Verbal, who would go on to join Japanese hip-hop group M Flo.

“He kind of took me under his wing and showed me how to arrange a song, and just take it more seriously,” he said.

When Verbal left for Japan in 1998, Snacky Chan was pushed to find his own way into the Boston underground scene. He did so by working as a street promoter, which led to him meeting popular artists in the scene such as Mr. Lif and Statik Selektah. Through these connections, he was able to release and distribute his first single.

Snacky Chan built up a following in the Boston underground scene over the years, but after a certain point, he felt he had reached his limit in the Asian-American hip-hop scene, he said. So he turned his attention to Korea. 
Rapper Snacky Chan. (Dynasty Muzik)

“I was doing pretty well in America, at least as far as the Asian-American market (went), because there weren’t many artists at the time doing it,” he said. “(But) even being one of the first to do it, the market was still not big enough.”

One month stretched into three, and Snacky Chan performed about 20 shows of varying sizes with big-name artists such as Dynamic Duo. That was when he made the decision to pack up everything in the U.S. and move to Korea.

Despite the positive experience during his summer stint, Snacky Chan said he laid low when he first moved, working as an English teacher at first to save money. Things had changed once he moved to the country, he recalled.

He was here for nearly a year before being approached by his friend Maniac to join the new Uptown. At first, he said, he wasn’t interested and recommended underground rapper Swings for the spot. He later changed his mind after hearing they were working on “something good,” and joined the group for two albums.

Being an independent artist has its struggles, one of which is money. He said he still faces that issue now as label owner of Dynasty Muzik, though he takes inspiration from the likes of Jay-Z, Russell Simmons and Damon Dash.

“Reading about these people all the time just really inspired me to start a business and try to build a business. And it’s still something I’m passionate about today, even though it’s a crazy, crazy money hole. I’m just stubborn as hell,” he said with a laugh.

He has signed two groups to the label ― solo act MSG and rap duo Ilgap. Snacky Chan said that lately he’s focusing more on putting his artists out there rather than himself.

“I guess as an artist, maybe I’m losing a bit of passion for it. I’m still confident. I’m good at it, but I’m an old dog now in this business,” he said.

“So I think it’s smarter in Korea to push someone that’s native here ― speaks the language, raps in this language. ... I feel that would be more successful.”

He still makes time for his own pursuits. Snacky Chan released his EP “The Jazz” last year, and will perform at the upcoming CLASH charity concert on April 26 at Club Freebird in Hongdae, Seoul.

By Emma Kalka (ekalka@heraldcorp.com)

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