Everyone calls him the godfather of Korean hip-hop, and for good reason. Tiger JK AKA Seo Jung-kwon started rapping in a scene and time (1990s) when hip hop generally had a bad rap (pun intended) in Korea. It was considered uncouth, disruptive and rebellious in a typically conservative Asian society. In fact his first album failed, largely because the songs were banned, redlines, marked ‘explicit content’ and got no radio play.
Today, he is hailed as the man who took “controversial”, authentic hip hop into the mainstream. But his influence goes beyond his own music and it’s commercial success. He is hailed as a major influence by almost every Korean rapper of any significance (including BTS’ RM).
On the cusp of creating his next album, Tiger JK’s new single Love Peace made a scathing statement on the contagion of anti-Asian hate that has been raging since Covid became a global phenomenon.
The Score Magazine caught up with the icon for a quick chat.
You called Love Peace “angry music on the surface but spiritual”. Can you explain this a bit?
It’s angry music in the sense that I wanted this to be an outlet to let their anger out. But by doing so, you are letting negative energy fuel your positivity. Consequently, your Chakra is balanced, and that is the spiritual aspect of it.
The track condemns and comments on the recent spate of horrifying anti-Asian hate. When did you first decide that you would talk about this issue in your music?
When Trump was calling Covid “Kung flu” and was downplaying the ramifications of what he said. The social climate then was…”it’s just some funny wordplay and don’t take it too personally”. Also, the hate on the Asian community was sort of being justified instead of being seen for the terrible thing that it is. That’s when I decided to speak out through my music.
Given your stature in the Korean and Asian hip-hop community, how do you feel the genre is changing and evolving in recent years?
I’ve never really thought of this genre as an Asian hip hop artist, but I guess I am an artist doing things in Korea. And I feel like it’s becoming global, especially in recent times.
Often, when someone comes to Korean hip-hop (or any non-American hip-hop), they tend to compare it to American hip-hop. Do you think that’s unfair?
I don’t think it’s unfair. Those people aren’t informed or at times ignorant to the culture because they are not here. Furthermore, hip-hop started in the sSates so I do understand the comparison to a point.
However hip hop culture is really big in Korea, and many of these kids now grew up in the culture looking up to artists from Korea. It evolved into a genre of its own. So it could be looked upon as appropriation from the outside looking in, but it’s becoming their culture as well.
But I do hope there’s more of “each one teach one”, that more people study the history, but who wants to study these days…?
How should new listeners be approaching Korean hip-hop?
Check out Tiger JK , Yoon Mirae , Bizzy.
Tiger JK inspires millions. Who and what inspires Tiger JK?
I think you are just being too kind hahaha….but if I inspire one person, that’s a blessing.
People who wake up as early as 5 am to clean the street inspire me. Flowers and trees inspired me, birds gliding through the sky inspire me, good sex inspires me. People who work 9 to 5 every day to take care of their families inspire me. Mom’s unconditional love inspires me. Sometimes the pain I feel from myelitis inspire me.
You’ve been creating memorable, meaningful music for decades now. How do you deal with artistic exhaustion? Do you ever feel like you’ve run out of things to say?
I don’t. Coz I lie a lot.
How can Asian communities better mobilize and protect themselves, in your opinion?
Practice self-defense. Go back to training in martial arts. Not even to learn how to fight but to get our minds strong. Practice love and solidarity. Unit.
You mentioned that Love Peace wasn’t part of the plan. What changed for it to emerge?
I was working on my Tiger JK full length album . After seeing violence on the elderly on and on, on social media and all the news sites I couldn’t focus on it anymore.
From Drunken Tiger to Tiger JK, what has changed?
Letting go of the past. Hence, I’m in the future.
What would you consider your greatest struggles and difficulties as an artist?
Ego and insecurity.
What, according to you, does the world need now to survive its ongoing trauma?
Love your cells, Love yourself.
Other than music, are there any other forms of art you practice or pursue?
I doodle a lot.
What can fans look forward to from Tiger JK this year?
Hopefully, music that could be the soundtrack to their lives.
On a lighter note, if you had to recommend any three albums to an alien civilization, what would they be?
Bob Marley – No Women, No Cry
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
Prince – Purple Rain
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/drunkentigerjk/?hl=en