Hip-hop, which includes rap music, is the hottest trend these days. In fact, rap music can often be found topping various online music charts, and not surprisingly, the careers of a number of hip-hop musicians are flourishing. Open auditions for television shows such as Show Me The Money or Unpretty Rapstar have been held to find hidden talented rappers, with the winners and even those who just participated in the auditions to gain fame.
However, it has only been a relatively short time since hip-hop became popular and part of the youth cultural scene in Korea. It was until recently that hip-hop was a fairly unfamiliar genre for the Korean public that there were only the minority of listeners in the mid 2000s. Nevertheless, at that time, a young boy made up his mind to be a rapper in Korea, and he finally realized his dream after about 10 years. The Hanyang Journal met a rap musician Andup to learn more about him and his music.
An Ambitious Boy
Q. Why did you make up your mind to be a rapper even though hip-hop was not very popular when you started?
A. When I was young, I listened to music from the U.S. Billboard Chart because back then, I believed that American pop songs sounded better than Korean ones. I listened to a wide variety of music from rhythm-and-blues(R&B) to rock, but when I listened to songs from Eminem, a famous American rapper, I became addicted to hip-hop music. However, I just enjoyed it as a hobby, and I did not expect to rap professionally at that time.
My father’s death motivated me to seriously start making rap music. My father was part of the so-called social elite and when he passed away, I was in my second year of junior high school. At that point, I began to think that following the standard way the society prescribes to become part of the “elite” was meaningless, so I decided to do what I wanted, which is to become a rapper with no regrets. It is obviously not easy to become a rapper as it is one of the unstable jobs out there. In fact, because I got quite good grades at school, my mother did not let me follow my dream. However, I was able to persuade my mother and even myself to keep my dream.
Q. You won the first prize in the 2008 Ultra Music Festival(UMF) Super Rookies when you were a middle school student. What is the UMF and how did you win?
A. At that time, hip-hop music concerts were not so popular, so the performance was considered successful if there were more than 50 people in the audience. UMF Korea was the only hip-hop music concert that was performed regularly. When the concert planned to hold a competition to find a new rapper in 2008, I applied for the competition.
Then, I was just a 15-year-old boy.Looking back, I do not know why I was so full of confidence. My rapping was not exceptional, but my confidence led me to win the grand prize although there were about 400 participants.
A Participant with Moral Courage
Q. Why did you apply for Show Me The Money 4(SMTM4) and what did you gain from the experience?
A. I cannot deny that I wanted to gain money and fame, but another compelling reason for applying was to overcome the stagnation I felt. I needed some motivation to improve and challenge myself. I think that participating in SMTM4 was a great turning point in my life.
Fortunately, I had popular traits for my music, which was delivering my ideas and feelings in a calm and quiet tone. However, then I became complacent and did not try to practice any harder. I realized I needed to change myself after I met lots of great rappers with various music backgrounds through SMTM4. Although my third and fourth performances in SMTM4 were not great, I finally overcame my limitations after I met my team and producers, and I received satisfactory results in the Team Track Mission. Since that program, I have been planning to redefine myself, and change my music style.
Q. You criticized idol rappers harshly at the SMTM4. What do you think about your new image?
A. I was disappointed at the editing as my words that were made to appear provocative in the program. As a result, I gained the image of an “idol sniper,” and some people have said some negative things about me, but I do not take them seriously. Freedom of expression should be guaranteed, so being completely honest is not a bad thing in my opinion. The audience can also express their own feelings if they feel offended by my comments.
Q. Have you ever thought about becoming a K-pop idol after seeing competent as well as popular idol rappers like your producer Zico?
A. I am a big fan of Big Bang, a famous hip-hop idol group, and I have actually dreamed of becoming an idol singer. I have admired their luxurious lifestyles. Actually, when I was a high school student, I had received lots of proposals to become a member of idol group’s but I rejected all of them because if I had to focus on the group concept or image, I would not be able to freely perform my own distinctive music. Also, idol members have to follow tight schedules as well as heavy workloads without any freedom. Instead, I took my own path, and I was finally accepted in the hip-hop scene. I have never once regretted my decision.
A Sympathetic Rap Musician
Q. Why did you decide to enter the Major of Youth Studies even though your major is not related to music?
A. As I had a clear dream for my music career, it did not matter what I studied. Still, I thought it would be a waste of time and money to study at the university if I did not have any specific goal. Then, I recalled a documentary program showing a young black criminal in Cuba whose life changed after he encountered hip-hop music. The program impressed me so much while I was preparing for the college entrance examination. I thought that it would be worthwhile to be able to later teach children or students who are disadvantaged. So I chose to major in Youth Studies for my second dream.
Q. Your fans feel empathy and comfort after listening to your music and lyrics. How do you feel about this?
A. Whenever I was tired or depressed, I used to listen to Jump Rope, a song of Paloalto, a famous rapper in Korea. The story in the song aroused my sympathy. I want to make such songs that can cheer people up. I think it is natural for me to write lyrics that contain my feelings and real experiences that will arouse empathy and comfort for other people. I feel fortunate that some of my listeners get comforted when they listen to my music.
Q. You made an album for people in their 20s. What do you want to tell this generation that face numerous social burdens?
A. Before attending SMTM4, I could not understand my friends’ difficulties. However, after I experienced a fierce competition in the audition program, I began to understand the reasons why my friends are frustrated when preparing for employment. I will try to keep cheering those in difficulties up with my music.