Check out the second of SCV’s Mineral Excavation Interviews, this time with Simba Zawadi who has a lot to say about his interesting background and his remix of ‘Come Back Home’.
SCV: Nice to meet you, please introduce yourself.
Simba Zawadi: My name is Simba Zawadi, I’m from Gunsan in North Jeolla Province and have just set foot into the scene. I was born ’92, am 23 years old, and my real name is Son Hyunjae (손현재). Thank you for having me.
SCV: How did you get the nickname Simba Zawadi and what does it mean?
In the African language Swahili, Simba means lion. At first, I used the name for fun, Simba was my nickname in kindergarten. Like anyone else, I liked comics and animation movies, and The Lion King was one of the movies that impressed me, I liked it at the time. When I started music at the age of 20, I just used my initials but knew that I had to choose a name. I decided to use Simba, the name I was called as a child. Then, the name didn’t have any special meaning, but later on it got one. As I am a Christian, I have faith and believe in the children of God. In the bible, Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” I thought, “I am his child,” so I used the name Simba. The name Zawadi was given to me by my girlfriend who majors in African languages, it is the Swahili version of my name Hyunjae. Hyunjae translates to ‘present’, the here and now. In English, the word ‘present’ also has the meaning ‘gift’, and Zawadi means ‘gift/present’ in Swahili.
SCV: You said you started music at the age of 20? How did you start?
In my department [at university], there were particularly many seniors who rapped. I ended up joining their university club and started rap as a hobby. Thinking about it now, I guess I’ve aspired to be a rapper way before I got to know hiphop music better. Around the time I started rapping, I listened to national artists like Epik High or Supreme Team who were famous amongst the masses. My range then slowly widened, and when I entered the military to serve, I was set on doing music professionally. My father is a pastor, and as a child it was my dream to also become a pastor who conveys the true will. However, like anyone else I went through a time of confusion where I deeply pondered on my dream. I wanted to have a job which I would not be tired of even though I’d do it every day.
Convinced that rap would become a good medium for conveying my thoughts, I decided that the belief that one has to be pure and honest for the hiphop culture was the answer to the dream and method I had been looking for.
SCV: Didn’t you face any objection? Didn’t your father want you to become a pastor?
Of course he objected in the beginning. Three months after leaving the military’s training center, I left the army for a holiday and told my father that I wanted to do music. He was upset and asked me, “Didn’t you say you just want to do that as a hobby?” However, after hearing my explanation about why I had to do it and after seeing my passion for it, he slowly opened up to the idea.
My father understood that my dream did not change, but that I chose music as a method [to realize my dream], now he is quite proud of me.
SCV: Is everything going well with your girlfriend who’s majoring in African languages?
SCV: Somehow, your childhood dream and your current goals are well in accordance.
That’s right. That became a reason for me to be attached to it and do my best.
SCV: You recently released the single ‘구제시장’ [Second-Hand Market]. Could you introduce it briefly?
‘구제시장’ is a track which originally was part of my first mixtape. I made it for my girlfriend, but at the time it didn’t receive much attention as part of the mixtape. Gunbae-hyung who was in charge of producing my recent mixtape ‘용기’ [Courage] suggested to make a single out of it. My girlfriend was slightly sulky that there was nothing about her on ‘용기’ [Courage] anyway, so I released the single as a surprise [for her].
SCV: What is your relation to second-hand markets? Do you go there often?
After this interview today, I’m planning to go there again. I go to second-hand markets quite often, also with my girlfriend. Unlike normal couples, she’s the one who gets tired and asks me how much longer I’m going to walk around.
SCV: Are you going to go with your girlfriend today too? Dongmyo or Gwangjang Market? Where do you usually go to? Give the fans some hints.
I’m thinking of going with a friend today. I often go to Jongno.
SCV: How exactly did your friends and family react to the [single’s] release?
Like I said before, I released the track as a surprise for my girlfriend, but the reactions were better than I had expected. The original track is Crucial Star’s ‘옷가게’ [Clothing Store] and Crucial Star actually gave me a shout-out unknowing of that fact. Minos also listened to the song and complimented me, saying that he sees himself in the lyrics. Many other people told me that they like the single, so I was very grateful.
SCV: In June this year, you released a mixtape. The title was simple and strong, ‘용기’ [Courage], have there been any changes from your situation before and after the mixtape’s release? Also, the line-up of featured artists is impressive, from Owen Ovadoz and his teammate Debi over skilled rapper BewhY to DJ KendrickX. How did you work on it?
When I was making it, even though it is only a small thing, I had the goal of becoming a rapper who is needed. A lot of things happened until the title ‘용기’ [Courage] was decided on, and there were many ups and downs until the mixtape’s release. It was some time after I had released my first mixtape for which I didn’t get any big attention. There is a person called Abn’Kenneth, he’s the one who mixed and mastered my latest mixtape, through him I received a track from Gunbae-hyung (건배) who produced ‘용기’. Until then, Gunbae-hyung had no idea that I had his beat. I wrote lyrics, went to the studio to record it and let him listen to it afterwards. He said he liked it very much and that I may use his beat. That track was the mixtape’s last one, ‘장항선’ [Janghang Line]. The [work on the] mixtape started by finishing its last song first.
After having finished the song, I let BewhY listen to it. He liked it so much and threatened me that I absolutely had to release it as a single no matter what. So while I was pondering on that idea of releasing it as a single, Gunbae-hyung made another track for me the next day. That was the mixtape’s title and second track ‘Brave Heart’ and it was better than I had expected so I became greedy. It was afterwards that I took my courage and asked Gunbae-hyung to produce the whole album. Gunbae-hyung had been in contact with professional musicians at the time, so the people of his team severely opposed. It wasn’t just about one or two tracks, which means it wasn’t an easy job. Nevertheless he heard my detailed plans and secretly promised me to make half of the tracks. The remaining tracks were made by the talented producer Jazzy Moon (재지문) and by Snail Lee who is in the military now. He gave me the beat for ‘새벽별’ [Morning Star]. After I showed my face at ODB-hyungs’ party, I called them the next day and asked them to feature on it. They said they’d do it if the song’s good, and after listening to it they coolly showed me the OK sign. Very thankfully, while Debi-hyung was giving me feedback on the album’s tracks, he mentioned that we should do a song together later, which I didn’t miss. It was the second time I took courage. Before BewhY became famous, I contacted him through the computer room at the military and we became friends.
I like to set goals for myself, and it was my goal that before I’d leave the army, I’d make one friend who has the mindset of a professional musician. As we [I and BewhY] became closer, we relied a lot on each other and he helped me a lot when I was working on this mixtape too. Also, when I was thinking about the album structure in the end, I needed scratching. So I asked several people who said that they’d scratch exactly the way I’d ask them to. I was grateful that they wanted to accommodate me, but I thought it was a DJ’s job to personally choose parts of my verse for the scratching. Therefore, I thought it would be a bit business-like if they’d just take the part I choose for the scratching without even having seen each other’s face, so I said I’d work together with them another time. Maybe that’s why I wanted to look for a more professionally thinking DJ who can show his own colors, even if I’d have to give more credit. So I asked DJ KendrickX. Luckily, he said he liked my tracks a lot and worked with me for quite a low pay. When I was working on the mixtape I had no idea, but when it was all done I realized that the featured artists were quite an impressive group of people. At the time when about half of the album was finished, I decided on ‘용기’ [Courage] for the title. The reason for this was that from the time on I started to work on the tracks’ producing, finding featured artists, mixing, mastering, making the artwork, etc., everything was made due to my feeling of courage.
What changed after its release was that I reached the goal I had set for myself. I have imprinted the rapper of the name Simba Zawadi into people’s heads so successfully, that I think: to a certain extent I am in the process of finding my place [in the scene], so I am wondering if there is more I can gain from it in the end? I have been well acknowledged by the hyungs from ODB who I am following a lot, and although they’re no ‘big’ featurings, many no-name rappers contact me who are in a similar situation I have been in until just now. I am needed for concerts too … and very fortunately I could participate in the Moneyflex Show, I think I’ve reached my goal. There have really been big changes.
SCV: Maybe because the mixtape was made up of original tracks, you released it officially and on SoundCloud for free as well. What was the reason for that?
SoundCloud is a social network based on the medium of music. I have been using it since quite a long time ago. By uploading the mixtape for free listening on SoundCloud, I wanted to show that I didn’t make that music to earn money with. I also released it officially simply so that more people have the chance to listen to it.
SCV: Your honest lyrics are impressive, from which artists do you receive a lot of inspiration?
I have been very influenced by B-Free.
SCV: Have you listened to B-Free’s albums during your military service with a CD player?
No. I listened to them with an iPod Classic.
SCV: Wow, an MP3 player at the military ..! Did you smuggle it in?
This is in my lyrics too, I received permission from the commander to use it. However, he did not simply allow it right away, it was thanks to my courage. After my transfer to the unit I was to serve at, I got the chance to talk to the commander as a private and that is when I asked him for permission. Of course, I’m sure that those who were there before me didn’t like it when they heard that I was using an MP3 player and I knew that I was being stubborn, but I somehow felt that for the sake of my dream I shouldn’t step back, so I pushed through with it. At first, he obviously said no. When I asked why, he said that it would not be fair, so I think I was a bit pedantic. I told him, “Military workers like welders learn a craft [in the military] to gain a certificate and become respected craftsmen in society [later], those who want to go to university study [on the side during military service] to go to a good university. However, musicians cannot make music [on the side] so they all have to starve to death [later]?” Then the commander asked me if I couldn’t use a CD player. I was greedy though and told a bit of a lie. I said that I needed instrumentals and many songs, and that CD players didn’t have much space and couldn’t play instrumentals either. Luckily, the commander was someone who supports people with dreams, so he gave his half-approval by saying that he would observe how I do until I’m a private first class [and if I do well, I could use an MP3 player]. So thanks to my courage I could bring an iPod with me when I came back from holiday as a private first class.
SCV: What part of B-Free[‘s music] has helped you during your time in the military?
Most of the supervisors couldn’t even imagine that I had an MP3 player. So I could secretly listen [to music] while working and that’s when I listened a lot. Although in the military there is time for [personal] chores and there are the weekends too, my assignment was to listen to the commands of the helicopter pilot and execute them. There was no regular schedule, disregarding night or day I did my work, with the MP3 player in one ear. So although listening to foreign hiphop was more fun, I used to get sleepy and tired because I couldn’t understand the lyrics well. To avoid that, I looked for a national artist with a good delivery and lyrics that would give me something to think about. I found B-Free. I listened a lot to [his album] ‘희망’ [Hope]. His lyrics are very straightforward so they’re well audible and I can concentrate [on them] even when there is the loud sound of the propeller. I had many feelings while listening to B-Free’s music, it doesn’t burden me and it makes me think a lot. I was often told that I resemble B-Free on my first mixtape. Maybe my lyrics also resembled his straightforward lyrics a lot. Listening to B-Free, I wanted to become an artist who people can listen to at ease and understand easily, someone whose whole album people replay, rather than someone who has one or two dope tracks on his album. In that way, I was influenced very much by B-Free.
SCV: So how do you like B-Free’s recent cloud music releases with which he is showing a different side of himself?
I think that is B-Free-hyungnim’s job. From the start, I can’t identify with cloud music that’s popular these days (it’s a subjective thought but I really don’t know where the point is in listening to this music). There is one hyung in my crew too who makes cloud music, I think this is an issue that every musician should decide for themselves. However, I don’t have a lot of respect for those who make that music only because they follow the trend. I think that there are a lot of rappers who copy South Korea’s The Cohort and Dbo, or Yung Lean from abroad. I wanted to understand what kind of music it is, so I listened to SpaceGhostPurrp, Raider Klan, and more. I am still not interested in it, but there [surely] is a reason why someone likes that music. I don’t blindly dislike the music itself.
Yet, since I know that all those musicians here and there who are making shallow cloud music these days are definitely going to make another kind of shallow music when the next trend starts, I don’t really like that attitude of theirs.
SCV: Although I cannot be sure about this, you can say that Okasian or B-Free are making cloud music due to the influence by Yung Lean and other cloud music artists. The ones who were the quickest to make cloud music in South Korea were Okasian and Dbo. When you have been making boom bap for a long time, it is possible that when the genre changes it might not match your own principles [anymore]. As you were influenced by B-Free a lot, do you dislike this kind of situation or do you see it as them [B-Free, Okasian, ..] trying something new or as their very own style?
First of all, of course I don’t dislike it. I have no right to meddle in their music and no reason to dislike it either. My feelings towards that music are quite close to incompatibility. Okasian and B-Free are making that music … Actually, whoever copies [music from abroad] in our country first earns the vested right to it. In this respect, I think that Dbo is really amazing. Shall I say he had kind of a batting eye? He has originality. There might be someone who has been making cloud music for a really long time, receiving influence by Yung Lean. I feel that someone like that has a different depth [in their music]. The same goes for those people who recently contact me to ask for songs. In their last track they moved their elbows to trap music, now they call themselves the king of boom bap … the genius of old school hiphop … People like that are uncool. I think that cloud music suddenly coming out big [in Korea] is the same context. Most rappers probably discovered it these days, found it cool and thus copied it. Of course, if someone really studied that music and researched it and decided to give it a try after long consideration, I do respect them. That said, I really like people like Konsoul. He really has the image of a master. He has been doing nothing but trap and I’d say that he knows how to make that music sound cool. I want people to do music that they are not ashamed of themselves. Even though people ask me why I mixed my first mixtape like that or say that I wasn’t as good as I am now, I ask those who say that they like my latest music to listen to my first mixtape too. That is because I am still very satisfied with it and not ashamed of it. I can even let my mom and dad listen to it.
SCV: What albums are you listening to recently?
I’m listening a lot to ‘Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star’ and ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (Lauryn Hill, 1998). Since I always play things like ‘Illmatic’ before choosing new stuff, well, no need for words here, I odten listen to Black Star or Fugees recently whose music has lots of African sounds to it, I guess I listen to their album ‘The Score’ the most. Ah right, I also listen to Snoop Lion.
SCV: As you clearly know what music you like to listen to, I’m suddenly wondering, what do you think when you listen to trap, ratchet or dirty south?
I have never liked fancy and sensational sounds much, maybe that is the reason why I like listening to artists like UGK or Big K.R.I.T if I do listen to trap. I also like looking up old hiphop music. One artist whose music helped me a lot with making ‘용기’ [Courage] was Dillon Cooper. If Joey Bada$$ is reusing old-style boom bap as it was, it seems like Dillon Cooper writes his tracks while well considering the current age. I also found help in J. Cloe’s ‘2014 Forrest Drive’. I’d say that its deep feeling inspired me a lot. 2 Chainz or Future’s styles are completely different from my sensibility so I don’t know about them. Shall I say, the lyrics seem to smell a bit of sweat […].
SCV: What do you think is your current position [in the scene] and why?
Honestly, I think the answer is certain. Normally, it would be something like: I just opened the door and came in[to the scene]. (laughs) I want to reply like this: I just set foot in so I might get pushed back out at anytime, it’s like I’m standing on the threshold. Musicians like Dbo or Konsoul clearly have their own [musical] field, while I may be forgotten anytime. Therefore, I’d like to add that I’m at a place where I have to try harder to go deeper into the scene.
YG: So to be like Dbo and not get pushed out, you would need your very own originality. What do you think is your originality that can push you farther into the scene?
I think that my devotion can play that part. I’d like for people to see devotion in my music. Not religion. Someone asked me if I won’t release a CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] album. I think that my music itself is CCM. It is simply a new genre of CCM. And it is hiphop at the same time. However, just like Dok2 isn’t called a Buddhist rapper because he is a Buddhist, I also do not want to be called a Christian rapper. If I released a CCM album, that would be fake. Because if you have a faith, then faith has to be the most important thing in your life. If you think you have a faith, then you should not avoid it. The way I see it, many rappers are embarrassed of that. If you live hiding the most important thing in your life, I doubt that can be called real.
I am rapping about the biggest part of my life and that is my hiphop.
YG: This is unexpected. As religion comes with a lot of prejudices, I thought it would make it harder to sell oneself, but this is a blow to that. Religion can become a two-edged sword. From another point of view, I thought that things like politics and religion bring a huge target audience. It was quite refreshing.
Faith has alway been something that could not help but lead to skepticism which cannot resist anti-religious reasoning. I think that embracing that is faith as well.
SCV: Is there a label you have your eyes on right now? If you were to join a label, where would you want to go?
Actually, I was recently contacted by a newly founded label. I was very grateful but since I am greedy too, I declined. One of the labels that took up most space in my heart until now has been Hi-Lite, but now I don’t really know.
This is obviously nothing but speculation about the current situation, but I don’t want dissing Hi-Lite to look like a shallow trick to get their attention, like when San E joined Overclass after dissing Verbal Jint.
Even if Hi-Lite contacted me tomorrow, I could not join them in the current situation. Like I said, this is nothing but speculation.
I’ve always envied the familiar atmosphere of VMC and the surroundings in which Grandline Entertainment’s TakeOne and Ja Mezz make music. This seems like an obvious love call so it’s uncool, but I can’t help but be honest about this.
Also, one more thing: I’d like to thank all the newly founded labels who are acknowledging me and asking for me.
SCV: Including Hi-Lite, it seems like you want a big ‘family’. What do you think about AOMG or 1LLIONAIRE?
Like everyone else, I also find them absolutely dope. However, I have never considered the chance that they might want me [to join them], and I don’t think I fit in there with my music style.
SCV: Is there an artist you’d like to work with?
SCV: Recently, you dropped a remix of ‘Come Back Home’ in several [online] communities [Cowardly Lion; no longer available online]. I think you gained more attention with it than expected. If there is anything you could not say in the song, please tell us now.
A guy called Boole (부레) dissed my remix, Owen-hyung, and J’Kyun [Boole – Go Back Home]. Actually, I am not very convinced but I saw that he is very hard-working on the Freeboard. I find that really cool and respect it. However, he dissed me for nothing but a problem with my track’s mixing. Here’s what I think about this: it [releasing the remix of ‘Come Back Home’] was an independent action that had nothing to do with my team, and I did not want to cause anyone [of my team] any harm (if you write other people’s names in the credits, it might cause them problems). I revealed it late, because I did not want the essence of my message to get damaged. In other words, I did not want to hear people say that I released it as soon as possible just to profit from it and become famous. Boole thought about how it would feel like if someone dissed you with a song that wasn’t mixed properly, however, I think that is nothing to criticize a rapper for in a rap game. I’d like him to criticize something about my rap but since he didn’t do that I have a hard time being convinced [by his diss].
After listening to TakeOne’s diss track, I felt like a coward for not doing anything and couldn’t even sleep. Also, at the Moneyflex show I had to meet for the first time the people who I respected the most, but I was scared that it was going to be uncomfortable. So I slightly hesitated, but after preparing myself to get insulted I felt a lot better. To convey fast that I was not trying to profit from the situation, I chose that song which was not mixed, but I did not hide myself. I wonder if Boole himself wasn’t trying to profit from dissing me, J’Kyun, and Owen-hyung. But, isn’t he embarrassed for dissing me in a rap game because of my song’s mixing? If I wanted to say all of this, I’d have to rap it, but I have no intention of turning this into a big thing, so I do not want to make any more songs about it. Because if I dissed him back, it would feel like two minnows battling each other. (laughs) I do not want that to happen.
In this situation, both listeners and rappers were cowards, due to the paradigm that Hi-Lite are all doing good.
TakeOne broke that and afterwards, people all insulted Hi-Lite. Don’t the listeners have to be hiphop too? It was really uncool.
In our time, it is not like you’d have to wait three days to receive a hand-written letter, so if you realized the truth and said something wrong, you can admit to it and make amends, and if you were misunderstood you can explain yourself. “If fans of Korean hiphop felt offended, I am sorry. I would like to apologize for stirring up trouble.” I think this would be the right thing to say. However, if they say “He would never mean it that way,” [TN: probably a reference to Paloalto’s statement] then to me it just looks like they’re trying to cover for their crewmate. And that from a label which the listeners saw as one of the vanguards of Korean hiphop.
Even if it was nothing but a trivial misunderstanding, if he [Keith Ape] had apologized for causing trouble it would have hurt a lot less.
I want the incident to be left as a scar for Korean hiphop. I mean a scar at a well noticeable place that can be looked at anytime. I’d like people to remember clearly what that scar looks like.
Seeing how people use this situation to diss MC Meta or release personal diss tracks, I think we have arrived at a stage where we contemplate Korean hiphop.
And Jo Woojin is a real retard. Please write this verbatim. I don’t care if he reads this and comes looking for me. Saying that Owen-hyung was off-beat … he [Jo Woojin] was the worst. J’Kyun wasn’t good either, he just used the chance to justify his being a commercial rapper.
SCV: If you are currently working on something, please tell us a tiny bit about it.
I am thinking of making an EP about the stories behind my name and what kind of music I’m making. The scale of featurings and number of tracks will be about the same as ‘용기’ [Courage]. I want to show the impact a solo artist can make.
Besides this, there will be a lot of free and spontaneous releases. I don’t know if anyone is looking forward to more [of my music] but for now these are my plans.
SCV: In that case, what is the biggest difficulty you are experiencing at the moment?
When I go to concerts, everyone already knows each other. I am slowly getting to know people, but I still feel very much like a stranger. I think that is a bit difficult for me. I dearly want to work with a lot of rappers, be acknowledged in the scene, and naturally become a part of it.
Last but not least, please say a few words to ROKHipHop’s readers.
Video: Hello ROKHipHop readers, I am Simba Zawadi who released the official mixtape ‘용기’ [Courage] and I am happy about the love I’m receiving for it. I just recently entered the scene, and strangely, I did something which some might hate me for. They might think: “Why is he trying to stand out?”, “Is he doing noise marketing?” However, I just set foot into the scene and want to give my best, so what I do might look overzealous or hard-working. And I do hope you see it as hard-working. I thank ROKHipHop for interviewing me like this, and thanks to everyone who’s interested in me. I hope you remember Simba Zawadi from now on. That’s it.
Interview by SCV, YG
Translator’s note: a big shout-out to SCV for not only allowing me to translate his interviews, but also especially creating the English version of the banner which you see above, and even checking the finished translation! Also many thanks to ROKHIPHOP’s head who made all of this possible.