During the 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview with Feel Ghood Music artists Tiger JK, Yoonmirae, Bizzy, Ann One and Junoflo, who poured out their energy and moved the crowd of Korean music fans at K-Pop Night Out held at The Belmont. We discussed topics including the globalization of Korean hip-hop music, the difference between Feel Ghood Music and Ghood Life Crew, as well as exclusives from each artist on their upcoming music.
My interview with the artists of Feel Ghood Music (FGM) was held at a residential neighborhood a few miles away from the booming downtown Austin that showcased SXSW Conference and Festivals. The FGM roster (MFBTY, Ann One and Junoflo) were scheduled to meet at this location for a few video shoots, including a live performance and an interview with another media group. At least half of the FGM staff and artists flew into Austin the night before the interview, and it was obvious that a handful were victims of jet lag. Despite this, the atmosphere perpetuated with positive energy throughout the evening, and the crew treated me like I was part of the family.
Once they completed their scheduled video shoots, we found a place to sit down for the interview. In contrast to their previous interview, which was conducted in a room using fancy studio equipments (at least to me), my own interview tools seemed rudimentary: an audio recorder and my iPhone to read out my questions. Despite this, our interview session was organic, conversational, and fun. The artists seemed intrigued with the audio recorder, as they mic checked before passing it along to the next. “It’s like a taser.” joked Junoflo.
Tiger JK and Yoonmirae (also known as Tasha), who both debuted as Korean artists in the late-1990s, have not only contributed to the creation of Korean hip-hop music (with classic tracks like “I Want You” and “As Time Goes By“), but also played a vital role in shaping the music scene we see today. I asked Tiger JK, “What do you think is the biggest difference between Korean hip-hop music NOW versus fifteen years ago?”
“They used to not understand what rap and hip-hop was,” Tiger JK told me as he shared stories of how people mistreated him during the first few years when he debuted under the group Drunken Tiger and introduced hip-hop to Korea. “People wanted to fight me, or called the cops on me for saggin’ my pants and rockin’ tank-tops. I was on the Korean version of 60 Minutes, calling me a criminal and saying I was leading youth the wrong way.” Despite the continued resistance from Korean society, Tiger JK persevered and created music under his own terms. “Now, people’s moms and grandmas know what rap is, you know what I’m saying?” Tiger JK said proudly. “We have TV commercials where people are rapping. Some of them are corny, but it’s good because it means our market has expanded and our audience is that much bigger and deeper.”
Tiger JK added, “But [now] it’s time for [Feel Ghood Music] to come out and balance it out. We can finally come out and breathe, like X-Men and them other superhero movies.” Junoflo adds enthusiastically, “…WE SUPA HEROES!”
As mentioned by Tiger JK, we’ve seen a shift in the Korean hip-hop scene, especially in the past few years. Mainstream television programs such as Show Me the Money and Unpretty Rapstar played a significant role in the popularity of Korean hip-hop music. Examples include music labels scouting for young talents participating in the survival program, and artists marketing themselves in the Korean music industry. In addition to the growth of Korean hip-hop domestically, we also see a recent surge in the popularity of the genre on a global scale, with artists reaching out to fans beyond the borders of South Korea through international tours, as well as international collaborations between Korean and American artists. Here are some examples:
- Keith Ape, Dumbfoundead, Waka Flocka Flame, Father, A$AP Ferg – It G Ma Remix (2015)
- CL, RiFF RAFF, OG Maco, Diplo – Dr. Pepper (2015)
- Tablo, Joey Bada$$ – Hood (2015)
- Keith Ape, Slug Christ – Honja (2015)
- BewhY, Talib Kweli – International Wave (2016)
- Cjamm, BewhY, A$AP TyY – Like Me (2016)
- Jay Park, Raz Simone – Only One (2016)
- BewhY, Big K.R.I.T – UNO (2017)
- Rap Monster, Wale – Change (2017)
International music wasn’t new to artists like Drunken Tiger and Yoonmirae, who both collaborated with several American artists since the early 2000s. In addition, the duo created English versions of a number of tracks for their international fans (check out “Monster” and “Get It In“). Back in November 2016, FGM artists (Tiger JK, Yoonmirae, Bizzy, Ann One and Junoflo) their tribute track for A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) titled “Check The Rhime” (released exclusively through HiphopKR!). I asked the artists, “Have you considered an all-English album for the English-speaking international fans?”
“We made it a mission for 2017 to release our music in both English and Korean to bridge the gap.” answered artist Ann One, who recently signed with FGM, but has worked closely with both Drunken Tiger and Yoonmirae throughout the years. She continued, “I think [bridging the gap] is very important because there is a great demand for it globally. I feel like it’s a natural progression and the next step for us.”
“Shout-out to artists like Cypress Hill and Kid Frost, and all of ’em good people, you know?” Tiger JK added, as he recalled the artists that inspired him to bring hip-hop music to Korea. “Back in the day, when Latin emcees were coming up, they were always bilingual with their music, and I thought that was fresh and wanted to bring that [to Korea]. I wanted to be down with my roots, because that’s who I am… I’m gyopo, you know what I mean? I’m not all the way Korean and I’m not all the way American–I wanted to represent both sides.”
And that’s exactly what Tiger JK and Yoonmirae delivered at K-Pop Night Out. Joined by veteran rapper Bizzy and the two recently signed FGM artists Ann One and Junoflo, the powerful stage presence and electrifying performances by Tiger JK and Yoonmirae proved to the Austin crowd why the two remain as legends in the hip-hop scene. Between the two fourty-minute set times allotted for each artist, Tiger JK and Yoonmirae performed their tracks tracing all the way back to the early 2000s (“Good Life,” and “Soul Flower“) to their MFBTY global hits (“Angel” and “Bang Diggy Bang Bang“).
Feel Ghood Music, a music label established in 2013 by CEOs Tiger JK and Yoonmirae, was a hallmark for MFBTY’s complete independence in creating music. “Feel Ghood Music is like the mothership.” Tiger JK responded when asked about the music label. “At Feel Ghood, we are the heart and soul. We want to express ourselves. [For example,] Ann One is the director when it comes to music, A&R, and all of that. She makes her own music, plays her own musical instruments, sings and raps. And this dude here (points at Junoflo) sings and raps. We want to do what we like to do musically, you know what I’m saying?
I took this opportunity to ask about the new label Ghood Life Crew established by Tiger JK and Dok2 back in September 2016: What’s the difference between Feel Ghood Music and Ghood Life Crew?
Tiger JK added, “There are emcees who really just wanna spit. Emcees that are into the craft of rapping, but also want to be down with Feel Ghood Music. So we had to compartmentalize. Not to say myunDo or Superbee [two artists signed under Ghood Life Crew] ain’t musical, but for now they just wanna spit… they wanna rap like a hundred bars, you know? Ghood Life Crew is a label that caters to those emcees that are hungry right now and just wanna rap. And Feel Ghood Music are gonna be the creative directors.” (listen to Superbee – Pattern (ft. Tiger JK, Double K, Junoflo & myunDo)
Upcoming Feel Ghood Music (2017)
Tasha. (Yoonmirae), can you tell us anything about your upcoming album, Gemini II?
Tasha: I would like to say what direction I’m going with it. In all honesty, it’s Gemini: neither here nor there. It’s wherever the music takes me, and whatever feels good at the moment. I can promise you that it’s music that I love and music that I personally want to be doing. The people that have been with me since day one will appreciate it and know what I was thinking or what I was feeling at the time. For the people from the newer generation that have discovered me recently, I don’t know how they will receive it. It’s music that is true to myself and I’m going to hope for the best. It’s not really about sells for this album.
Tiger JK: I got to hear some records that Ann made [for the Gemini II], and it’s crazy man.
Ann One: Tasha delivered.
So we can expect the album to drop by the end of this year?
Tiger JK: And look out for the Feel Ghood Music compilation album! We trying to bring the old ruckers sound bomb vibe in, you know? Look out for it!
And Tiger JK, your album is coming out this year, right?
Tiger JK: Yeah. It’s sad ain’t it? It’s the last Drunken Tiger album. I had to make it the last album to make it count. It’s like a personal mission given to myself. I don’t want to keep dropping singles trying to make money off my fans.
Bizzy, you’re recovering from a recent surgery. I was happy to hear your verse on myunDo’s new track “Ghood Life.”
Bizzy: Thank you man, that song was actually about my recovery. [In terms of upcoming music], I don’t know at this point in time. My goal right now is to be healthy, and to be able to do what I want to. I’m currently in my healing process. But I’ll be performing alongside with everyone at K-Pop Night Out.
Ann One, you recently featured in Double K’s new single “That Boi.” Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Ann One: Yes, I’m hoping to put out two EPs. And I do want to make it an effort to make an English version as well as Korean, because I feel like it is a global music commodity at this point, so it’s something in my heart that I would like to do. It’s a progression of R&B and something that I like. I did the bulk of the production, but I am going to include stuff with some producers I’m working with right now called the Blended Babies, and they are really dope. It’s really exciting. I don’t know how people are going to receive it, but it’s something that I stand behind, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters to me.
Junoflo, you’ve been working in the studio on the daily. What can you tell me about your upcoming album?
Junoflo: Yezzir. I am working on a lot of different projects right now. Ultimately, a full-length album by the end of this year. For me, I’ve been learning and adapting a lot these past few months. I truly believe that quality takes time, so I don’t want to rush anything. I’ve learned from my own mistakes these past few years. I went from rapping in my room, and now I’m thrown into the deep end of smacking the middle of the whole musical world, especially in Korea. So for me, this is huge.
I don’t want to put out anything that I’m not satisfied with, so even though I’ve been working a lot, it’s all for the future. I can’t say if anything is going to come soon, but I’m putting in my 10,000 hours right now. I’m still looking for that right vibe and wave that I could just ride. I’m also being very experimental right now, just trying different things. All in due time, so stay tuned!