On July 31, 2016, I sat down with Korean-American artist Junoflo for an exclusive interview. We discussed topics including his recent gig at The Wiltern with Illionaire Records, his friendship with fellow Los Angeles rapper KillaGramz, his experience and personal thoughts on Mnet’s Show Me the Money, and his upcoming projects!
Please introduce yourself to your fans worldwide!
What’s up? My name is Junoflo. I am a hiphop artist and emcee. Coming out of Los Angeles, and also representing Fullerton, California.
First, let’s talk about your performance at the Illionaire – NO RE$T show at The Wiltern (Los Angeles), where you opened for Dok2 and The Quiett. How did it all come about?
After participating on Show Me the Money 5 (SMTM), I came back to Los Angeles and I’ve just been working in the studio. I saw that Illionaire (Dok2 and The Quiett) was on tour here in the US and thought to myself that it’d be cool if I performed with them. So I sent a direct message to Dok2’s crew, “Do you need any opening acts for your tour? Because I’m ready.” The next day, they got back to me and said “Dok2 and The Quiett would love to have you perform with them.” It was dope!
KillaGramz and I made a track together in Korea, and I like this track cuz it’s a banger. That’s when I thought it’d be dope if KillaGramz joined me on stage, especially since people in LA would know who he is too. And he came through! He was supposed to head to San Francisco that night, but he ended up changing his flight just to make it to the show.
I was shocked to get this gig at The Wiltern. I wasn’t expecting to perform, because Dok2 and The Quiett usually don’t have opening acts for their shows. That’s why I was real excited when I heard back from them. I just took a shot, and it worked out.
Your stage presence at the show was unbelievable! You knew how to command the crowd with ease. Do you perform a lot on stage?
I’ve performed a lot throughout my college years at UCSD (University of California San Diego), doing open mics and performing alongside acts such as Awkwafina, Blue Scholars, People Under The Stairs, Luke Christopher, and other upcoming and established artists.
I’m just in love with the hiphop culture, and I’ve gone to countless shows. Back then, I worked for a hiphop promoting company as a photographer in San Diego, so I would get into so many shows because of that job. I’ve seen all these names come out, such as Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Tyler the Creator, ScHoolboy Q, Iamsu!, you name it. Being fully immersed in the culture got me in the mindset that, if I’m gonna do a show, I have to make it something memorable. As I saw these artists perform on stage, I learned that the crowd wants to see that you [the performer] are human, and more than just being entertained, they want to interact with you.
Method Man is my favorite emcee. Seeing him live confirmed it for me. He has this explosive aura on stage. Everyone at his shows will do whatever he says because of his ability to control the crowd.
Do you ever get nervous on stage?
All the time, man. But usually only right before I go on. When I’m on stage, the adrenaline kicks in and it’s like a release of energy. It feels great to be up there, especially when the crowd is responsive and engaged in the show. In the end, everyone’s there to have a good time.
You performed with KillaGramz on stage, and between performances, you mentioned that the two of you “go way back.” Can you tell us about your friendship with KillaGramz?
I met KillaGramz in high school. Back in the day, he was a beat boxer and I knew him as Beatbox KG. Neither of us rapped back then [in the same way that we do now]. After we went to college, that’s when I started making music and recorded my first song. I think around that time was when he started putting out some tracks too. If it wasn’t for hiphop, I don’t think we would have kept in touch.
About four years ago, I went to Yonsei University for an exchange program during the same summer that KillaGramz was in Korea working on music. I hit him up because I needed a place to record a track for a rap contest I wanted to participate in.
He invited me over to record that track, which ended up winning the contest. I got a spot on that producer’s debut album and made some money as well. I was thankful to KillaGramz who made that possible. After that, he performed at a couple of shows in Korea and I went out to support him. We always had this mutual respect for each other.
I’ve seen his style evolve over the past few years. Back then, both KillaGramz and I sounded a lot different than we do now. Now I feel like we’re a more polished version of ourselves. And most recently, we ended up on SMTM5! It always came around full circle, where we encounter each other over and over again because of hiphop. And now, here we are! *laughs*
Let’s talk about your rap career. When and how did it start?
I was always into hiphop and all genres of music since I was young. I was a huge fan of artists like Eminem, 50 Cent and Linkin Park. I discovered jazz hiphop in high school, which is what really started everything for me. Nujabes and Uyama Hiroto were on heavy rotation, and hearing emcees rap over jazzy beats was something I loved. I felt like there was so much depth and meaning behind this style of hiphop.
My first track titled ‘Celestial‘ was recorded in 2010, using my roommate’s Macbook and some iPhone earbuds with the mic that you talk on the phone with. I shared that track on Facebook and got a lot of positive response from my friends. One of my older hyeongs hit me up and invited me to record another track (with a real mic). That’s how I got started; I cranked out songs while attending school, made my first mixtape titled [The Dreamer] which was super jazzy. Nowadays, I cringe if I ever listen to it *laughs* but I do have some cool songs that I’m proud of.
I started getting recognized a bit on Soundcloud. I learned that my biggest listening base was from France, Japan and Germany. It was dope getting positive messages from people all over the world. I actually used to listen to a hiphop group from France called Hocus Pocus a lot. I had no idea what they were saying but sonically, it was beautiful. I got a lot of influence from them.
One of my tracks started getting around on Soundcloud. The track hit like 100,000 views, which was a lot to me back then (and still is) when I had only like 400 followers. It started to get reposted like crazy. It was a track I recorded over a Nujabes beat ‘Aruarian Dance‘ and called it ‘Finishline’. I’m a huge Nujabes fan. His music got me through a lot. I wanted to make a tribute song after he passed from the car crash, cuz I was so devastated. If you listen closely, the last verse consists of names of his songs, which I incorporated into the lyrics. This was recorded like 5 years ago.. so yeah.
Can you tell us about Good Loox and Native Souls?
Native Souls is a hiphop duo consisting of Junoflo & Apaullo. We formed our group and made a mixtape titled [Fully Fundamental] (2012). We’re both from Fullerton, and as artists coming out of “Fully,” we wanted to show that we got the fundamentals of hiphop down. We rapped over old-school beats like ‘Electric Relaxation‘ by A Tribe Called Quest.
Eventually, we both went our separate ways due to college (Apaullo went to University of California Irvine). We couldn’t meet up to record. But he came through to San Diego a few times to write and record with me, so props to Paul for that!
One time, we remixed a Kendrick Lamar track titled ‘The Recipe‘ which ended up on GoodMusicAllDay. They posted our track and wrote something like, “These two Asian American cats remixed Kendrick’s track and it’s really refreshing.” It was really cool to be featured on a major website, alongside major artists like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky.
Good Loox is a creative collective that I represent. The whole core of Good Loox is basically helping out the homies and keeping each other in check. If I do my homie a favor, he’d be like “Yo, good looks” That’s where it stems from. Me and my homies are looking out for each other, especially in the creative side like music. People thought it was about being good looking *laughs* but that’s not the meaning behind it. I wouldn’t call it a “movement” because it’s what we do and should do every day. If you’re a homie, be a homie! We’re all a part of Good Loox, namsayin?
Any upcoming projects and album?
I’m working on my first official full-length album, with around ten tracks or so. It should be releasing in a few months or so, so stay tuned for that.
I have a couple of visuals lined up for these tracks too. I’m getting my arsenal ready. We finished shooting a music video for my single ‘Waste No Time.’ I recorded that track in Korea with the talented Korean producer mOOn.
I shot another music video yesterday for another track that I actually performed at The Wiltern on Friday. The track has some heavy funk influence, and the music video will have a lot of high energy. People at the Illionaire show will also see some clips of the show in the music video. For people who missed my performance, I also have a recap video of the show prepared to drop in the near future, so look out for that!
Do you have any collaborations for your upcoming album?
I’m working with a couple of producers: Big Banana, cLAsicc, JChuBeats, as well as my producer in Korea, mOOn. They’re all super talented – working with them has given me new inspiration. In addition to my collaboration with KillaGramz, I have a track with a talented Los Angeles rapper Yung Koconut and Danny Chung from the east coast.
I wanted to reach out to some bigger names, but I feel like I’m currently not in the position to do that. SMTM5 put me on the map, and people may have praised me for rapping well on the show, but that’s all they’ve seen. I still feel like I have something to prove, and have everything to lose right now. I want to reaffirm myself as an artist through this new album.
I want to create great music, not be strictly bound to rap. I want to create something that could be played in any environment at any time and just give off good vibes.
What has been the biggest difference before and after you participated on Show Me the Money 5?
People recognizing me *laughs* [during the interview, Junoflo was approached by fans to take photos, and also received a complimentary piece of a cake by the café staff for choosing this spot for the interview]. Another difference is that, people are listening to my music more. More specifically, they go out of their way to search for my music and message me. I made music for myself – I didn’t make music to please others. Whatever sound I loved, I made that. I find it amazing that people are enjoying something I created for myself. A lot of acquaintances have hit me up on social media to show love. Lastly, I find it really cool to see bigger names recognize me when I meet them in person.
Any plans to audition for Show Me the Money 6?
As of right now, no.
SMTM was a great experience. I loved it, but it was also very stressful. I learned a lot about both the music and television industry. In the end, SMTM is a television show. My goal is to build my reputation, my brand, my artist name, solely on good music. I want to get my recognition for the music I create. I don’t want to be seen as “the rapper from SMTM.” I personally don’t want to be a product of a television reality show.
In my opinion, music, in general, is subjective. I don’t think that there should be a judge to tell you what your worth is. I got a good response, so I was honored that these established artist were in my favor. But at the same time, having to rap in front of a judge to receive a “yes” or “no” response is not how it should really be, you know? You prove your worth with the music you create. That’s how I feel.
That being said, SMTM promotes good music, so I respect that. I’m very thankful for the opportunity they gave me. Where I am today is mainly because of SMTM. I mean, that’s how I found out about Korean rappers too. I’m a fan of Superbee, CJAMM, and BewhY, as well as other Korean hiphop artists – I think they’re all crazy talented. If it wasn’t for SMTM, I wouldn’t have known about them. I’m sure that goes for me as well. I’m glad that the show exists as a platform for underground artists and for those who have a dream.
Do you have any plans to perform in Korea?
Yeah, that’s what I’m planning right now. Once I’m ready, I’ll be flying to Korea to tour and whatnot. There are a lot of artists I want to work with who live in Korea, too. That’s the short term goal. The long term goal is to go international – I’m gonna make sure this happens.
Do you have any advice for individuals who want to pursue music?
For those who are pursuing to make music full-time, you truly have to cultivate your craft and artistry. You have to put in that work, you know? It has to come from a place of passion. I’m nowhere near where I want to be just yet, so I’m putting in that work.
You have to put in your 110%. During the time when I went to school and worked full-time for two years, I learned that it’s difficult to divide your attention between work and music. That’s when I made the decision to quit my full-time job. I saved up money so I could live in Los Angeles for at least one year.
You also have to gauge your potential. Everyone has a dream, but you need to understand where you stand and be realistic about it. Everyone can grow and learn, and that’s definitely what I’m doing – I’m learning something new every day.
Lastly, you need to have inspirations—artists that you follow, those who inspire you, both in music and their lifestyle in general. There are artists that I follow, and what they say or how they create certain art inspires me, which makes me want to create, too. Having inspiration is key. You can’t keep always seeing and listening to the same thing and expect to make something better.
Any closing remarks for your fans worldwide?
Thank you to everybody who has supported me and showed love. It’s been a crazy few months and it’s only gonna get crazier. I have a lot of new music coming, so stay tuned!