Check out our exclusive interview with Korean-American artist HeeSun Lee, who recently released her album Beauty For Ashes and competed on Show Me the Money 6. In this interview, she shares her story on why she chose music as her career, and sheds light on her experience as a contestant on the Korean hip-hop survival program.
Please introduce yourself to the international Korean hip-hop listeners.
My name is HeeSun Lee, I am a rapper/poet/mother/wife. I live in Staten Island, New York!
Your music career first launched in 2008 with your debut album Re:Defined. What made you pursue music as your career?
I always loved poetry and writing stories, ever since I was young. When I was around 14, I owned a karaoke machine, and I used to listen to rap songs and rap along to them. I started realizing how much I loved music and the whole concept of being a rapper. So I decided to write my own lyrics, and by the end of my high school years, I had a little demo tape I made that I distributed to some of my friends. As my craft kept developing, I started using my songs as ways to express things that I was going through. It was an outlet for me, and helped me get through a lot of tough times. It just came natural, that this is where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
Your latest album, Beauty for Ashes (2016) was released independently. What was your biggest challenge with producing an album without a record label? Will you remain independent?
The biggest challenge was probably finances. This was my first time putting an album out completely on my own, with no support from any labels, industry people, etc. So, going hand in hand with the finances, would also be the support system. It is very challenging to put an album out when doing a lot of it on your own. But as hard as it was, the benefits of being independent are worth it. I have the freedom artistically and creatively, and I’ve learned so much through the process. It made me a stronger and smarter artist, and that is why I also believe a lot of artists are going the independent route. Hey, if a great offer comes on the table, I’d be dumb to pass it up, but as of right now, I’m content with being independent.
What made you choose to participate on Show Me the Money 6?
As long as I’ve been rapping, I never got into the Korean/Asian [music] scene. All of this is new to me. Recently though, I’ve noticed how big and influential Korean music has become in our society, and that realization sparked something in me. I had friends telling me about the show, so I looked into it and felt like I wanted to try it out. It was a great exposure and an opportunity to introduce myself to my own race and country.
Can you provide a recap of your Show Me the Money 6 audition experience?
Preliminary Round 1 was super exciting. I was still in my hometown, so I felt more comfortable and at ease, but as soon as I saw Swizz Beats, I was like “OMG!” I was hoping I would get judged by him because he was American and [as such] would better able to understand my lyrics. But he was also very intimidating because he is so well known in hip-hop. It was a blessing to be judged by Gaeko, because I’ve heard great things about him. I was truly honoured that he was impressed with my performance even if there was a language barrier.
Round 2 and 3 in Korea were intense, and more emotional for me, because I was in a new setting and against rappers that I felt really different from. But the love was real and everyone there was very respectful to me. And if anything, we all learned from each other. Being a part of Show Me the Money sparked an interest to learn Korean, and I plan to incorporate the language in my rhymes now.
Are there any Korean hip-hop artists you want to work with in the near future?
Gaeko & Tiger JK! The two producers showed a lot of love and sincerity towards me. I think that’s whats most important; feeling accepted by artists, regardless of circumstances or situations. They are both genuine, humble, and most of all, OG’s!
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming album or related projects?
I’m trying to work on an EP, hopefully it’ll b out by the end of this year or beginning of next. I have a single and music video coming out very soon, though!
What are your goals as an artist for 2017?
I just want to broaden my horizons and explore different paths now. Ive been doing music for so many years, and I feel like I need a change, especially if I want to grow.
In closing, is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Thank you to all of my new followers, and to everyone who has continued to follow me along my journey as an artist. It is truly humbling! There is more to come from HeeSun Lee, so please don’t go anywhere!