[Trans] Drunken Tiger Interview with IZM: July 2009

One of the hottest musicians in the Korean hip hop scene today and arguably the best Korean rapper ever, Drunken Tiger (Tiger JK) talks about his 8th album, Feel Ghood Muzik, his collaboration with renowned artists, and his responsibility as one of the first generation hip hop artists in Korea in this interview with IZM, a site created by a group of music critics:

by DongYun Han (bionicsoul@naver.com)
In the year that marks Drunken Tiger's 10th year and Tiger JK the hip hop artist's 15th year, Drunken Tiger (Tiger JK) came back with his 8th album. The most obviously remarkable thing about it is that is a two-CD album and living up to JK’s reputation as the "Big Brother of the Korean hip hop scene,” the album boasts no less than 27 tracks. The fact that he came out with a double-CD album when the market is so bad that digital singles are flooding the market and even many established artists are reluctant to release full-length albums alone is testament to his belief in and stalwart devotion to music.

While these problems wearing musicians out, a few big-name producers successfully turned hip hop into a rhythm and beat centric background music genre tailored for bars and clubs, fattening their wallets. It has been a while since this new strain of “flu” took over the Korean music industry. In the midst of the turmoil, Drunken Tiger came up with an album that boasts diversity while remaining true to the essence of hip hop music. Indeed, the Korean music market is currently being dominated by sugary tunes and electronic music. He says, "I thought it's about time somebody came up with an album with music that is not dance or electronica but is true to the essence of music and can be widely enjoyed,” when asked what this album is all about.

Q: It’s a big album. How long did it take you to make it?

A: Recording alone took about four months. If you count from the time it was first conceived, it’s been at least a year and a half. The mixdown took about a month and a half. We did it all confidentially and tried to keep it as a secret as if it were some sort of a 007 operation. “Feel Good Side” was our financial limit but I just couldn't stop there. I hadn’t expected for the album to become this big (laughs).

Q: When you came up with your 7th album, you presented this good boy image. But as we can see from the album jacket, there's a bit of the hood in the concept for the new album. Did you intend to restore the rebellious element of hip hop?

A: Well, I wasn’t entirely happy with the current trends in the industry. There are many different sub-genres in hip hop – jazz hip hop, philosophical hip hop and what not. Sometimes they attach themselves to other genres to survive and sometimes they manage to evolve by themselves. But in terms of diversity, I can’t help but think they have actually stepped backwards. You can call it an evolution only when various styles could coexist but that didn’t happen. That's really sad. Some hip hop fans tell me that I lack consistency but I was determined to introduce diversity even if I was the only one to do it. I also found that many people of my generation were listening to hip hop music secretly. I guess they don’t want to hear people say, “Do you still listen to hip hop?" I wanted to make those people be able to listen to hip hop music openly and proudly.

Q: The album consists of two “sides.” Which one is real you?

A: "Feel Good Side” is real me. But paradoxically, I didn’t want it to be real me. After I got married and had Jordan, I started to get asked to do TV interviews, which had rarely happened before. My public image has improved and I got more attention from people and as a result I lightened up. For a musician, a good public image can be helpful but can have a negative effect. The “Feel Good Side” is me but because it can put a limit on what I am, I divided it into two sides to make it more complete. I finished the Feel Good Side first and then started working on the Feel Hood Side. The Feel Good Side practically wrote itself. It's actually based on what I wrote in my journal while Tasha was in labor. “Congrats” is the song.

Q: There are so many good songs but especially “Number Game” was pretty impressive.

A: Yes! That’s one of my favorites too but not many people talk about it. Only two people have told me that they liked it so far you and my father (laughs).

Q: Your collaboration with Tasha, True Romance is not really about romantic love but about your passion for music.

A: That’s right. It was inspired by Loptimist's skit, the preceding track. And it was based on an actual situation. Loptimist is a well known underground artist and is gaining fame around the world. He is tremendously talented but there are some things are not working for him.

Q: Is it a recording of his actual conversation with his mother?

A: Yes, it actually happened. It’s in the skit but at first his mother didn’t believe that he was actually going to work with me. She believed him only when he showed her a picture of him and me after the recording and mixdown were done. True Romance was not originally our title song but suddenly it started to appear in the hot keywords list on major portal sites and then naturally became the title song. She doesn't usually use the Internet but got on the Internet to see it herself and sent me a text message. I was so proud that I moved her heart.

Q: Then True Romance is sort of a trick title.

A: Yes, it is. It’s about how people in this business - those who buy music, sell it or exploit it for their own profits, must keep up the relationships as married couples do. The funny thing is, I've been in this business for a while but was never on the top charts but True Romance got so much attention it actually broke into the Music Bank chart.

Q: On your 4th album, “Roots”, there is this song called, “A Sad Guitar String,” and you also have a song about a guitar titled, "A Folk Guitar without the No. 6 String" on this album. Do you have a thing about guitars?

A: I love guitars. I envy those people who are not famous as guitarists but play the guitar at quiet clubs. I love Bob Marley and I love reggae music. I wrote the song, “A Folk Guitar without the No. 6 String” because I wanted to combine hip hop and reggae. I get up in the morning and watch Keroro the cartoon on TV with Jordan, and get his pee squirted on my face changing his diapers. Doesn't exactly make it easy to write sad songs. But I needed a sad song. Then the 6th string on my guitar broke. I just kept playing it like that and liked it that way. It felt a little bit like a woman and a little bit sad.

Q: The Feel Good Side has significant popular appeal.

A: I certainly don’t know everything about hip hop but I believed we needed to make an album that did not necessarily have dance or electronica mixed in it but remained close to the original hip hop music and could be enjoyed widely at the same time. I’m not saying that I think less of those genres or believe that they shouldn’t exist. I wanted to show that hip hop can also be made into something that is enjoyable and has popular appeal. I wanted to make an album even housewives next door could listen to from the beginning to the end.

Q: What’s your favorite song in this Side?

A: I should say, "The Hip Hop Kanji Man." I wanted to write a song which we can have some fun with at live performances. As you can see in the lyrics, it's a bit tongue in cheek. In the song there is a line that goes, "A meta-type groupie, the hip hop No. 1 at my age." When anyone says anything about how the so-called first generation hip hop musicians deserve a certain measure of respect, Korean hip hop fans in general tend to take it the wrong way and brand it as a confuciunist attitude or old man mentality. In the U.S., respect for hip hop pioneers is a given. I wish it was more like that in Korea.

Q: What are your favorite songs in the Feel Hood Side?

A: I think serious hip hop fans would like “A Pair” written by Lopti. Despite the lyrics written in English, “Rest in Peace (Question)” was a song I considered necessary.

Q: Isn't there a song that is in the wrong Side? For example, isn’t "Number Game" supposed to be in the Hood Side?

A: I’ve never revealed this anywhere else before but, there is one track each in both Sides that doesn't really belong to the assigned Side. "Number Game" is the one in the Good Side, and "Frequency" in the Hood Side. With “Number Game,” I intentionally used a retro style and structured the beats in the DJ Premier style from 1990’s, the golden era for hip hop music. The highlight of the song is the punch line that goes, “No more philosophy, no more technology, no knowledge are left, deader than zombies). As I mentioned when I talked about Loptimist, I wanted to help underground musicians get as much popular exposure as I possibly could. As you can see in “Frequency,” I am not exactly a mainstream artist but not really an unknown artist either. That’s why I called myself a transparent man, and in the same vein, I called Fana an unidentified MC. I put “Number Game” on the Good Side because I thought it was an important game. I put “Frequency” on that Side for a shock effect. Thanks to that, many people comment that the organization is a bit distracting.

Was it because hip hop was introduced in Korea in a rather rushed manner? The format and structure were transplanted rather successfully, but the spirits and the core were slow in coming. In the Korean hip hop scene, you see a lot of “diss” but not enough “respect.” They say they respect but don’t walk the walk. “The Hip Hop Kanji Man” pokes fun at the lack of respect for the first generation hip hop musicians.

"Feel Ghood Muzik: the 8th Wonder" is an important album from the perspective that it has discovered and given mainstream exposure to talented underground musicians as well. Drunken Tiger simply refuses to be called "the godfather of hip hop" deferring the honor to older generation hip hop musicians. He prefers to be called a "hip hop warrior." For this album, he collaborated with many underground rappers and producers who do not have any mainstream recognition. In an industry where musicians have very little chance to be popularly recognized no matter how talented they are unless they sign with a big-name mainstream label, he tries to give young musicians a chance to be recognized. He believes that it is his responsibility to do so as an established musician.

Q: This is your first album in two years. Why did you let others do the beat structuring for you?

A: Didn’t really matter because I’m the one who produces the whole album anyway. I had this feeling that this could be my last full-length album. I wanted to make an album which I won’t regret over when I look back. So I just explained to them what I wanted and asked them to pay particular attention to those details.

Q: It’s a family collaboration in a way.

A: I am not really in a position to discover anybody but somebody had to do it. Jungle Entertainment had all the resources necessary but we went out to collaborate with these outside talents - Loptimist, the Quiett, Fana and Yang Gang because I believed they deserved popular recognition and I thought it was important that they got it. If this album is indeed the last full-length album, I will be happy that I did the right thing. I have a big collection of LPs in my basement studio and sometimes I think to myself I am so glad I bought these. I hope this album will make me feel the same way.

Q: How would you rate your collaborating musicians?

A: Palo Alto takes great pride in Korean hip hop music. He’s very committed, very talented and a decent human being. He acknowledges and respects the Korean hip hop pioneers and continues to study hip hop music. He believes that just because he raps in Korean doesn’t mean that he cannot be as good a rapper as American rappers.

Loptimist is a monster. He’s crazy – doesn't sleep for even one minute all day. He got a great sense in sampling but learned how to play the guitar just for “True Romance.” A German guy named Guenther Schmitz played the flute for the song and it was Loptimist who found him on Facebook. To arrange one song, he gets ready for an astronomical number of possible outcomes and literally searches all over the world for musicians that are just right for the music.

Q: How about Quiet and Techbeatz?

A: The Quiett is generally known to be good at sampling. He’s also a very dedicated musician. When I ask him to work on a song, he masters it until he feels it is perfect and even considers where it goes on the album. His sampling is really unique. Techbeatz is an interesting fella who does not use samples at all. He’s the one who produced "Monster", my collaboration with Rakim, and he did it all by himself. Even the foreign featuring artists who worked on the album with us were curious to know which samples he used for the song. The truth is, they were loops he created by entering each and every beat using the MIDI device. They just sounded like samples.

Q: Ann and Double Dragon also participated.

A: Ann is very good at beatmaking. She’s into something very unique these days and very interested in neo soul. She went to a music school in the States and now works with such respected artists as OK Player and Questlove of Roots. On this album, she collaborated with me for Question, which was inspired by her father’s death. When I did it alone, I felt something lacking so I asked her to write something for the ending - what she wanted to say to her father. Double Dragon is a twin-brother team. Very good at making trendy beats. Their works are as good as those of American hip hop artists.

Q: What do you think of your wife Tasha’s voice?

A: She is particularly objective with criticism. She’s my No. 1 fan but can be a brutally honest critic. With this album, she chose the songs she would feature on herself. Of course she was already busy with the baby and all but drew a firm line between what she would do and wouldn't do for the album. She would help with the chorus anytime but featuring was a different matter. For "True Romance," she changed her vocal style and sang it in a pop style. I asked her why she did that after the recording, and she said she did it because she'd understood what I wanted with that song.

Q: Many serious hip hop fans say that Rakim was disappointing. What do you think?

A: I see it as a matter of taste. It may sound like a cliché but, the first time he did the rap part, it was perfect. But he wasn't completely satisfied and kept saying, one more time, one more time, changing the lyrics here and there. As a featuring artist, he could just do it once and be done with it but really made an effort. He inserted some Korean words in the lyrics – not simply adding them but trying to make them relevant in the rap flow and the message he was trying to convey. The whole thing almost felt spiritual to me. I had always respected him but my respect for him has grown through the experience. When you look at only the result, Rakim’s flow is rather plain but I feel a little sad because I worked with him through it all and saw what he put into it. But I know that I cannot force what I feel on the listeners and I shouldn't make music just for my pleasure but I really can't agree that it was a step backwards. As a matter of fact, Roscoe Umali really killed it on Monster. Strangely not many people comment on it.

Q: Bizzy used to have a rap style that was very similar to yours but changed quite a bit both in style and tone. Did you ask him to rap in a certain style?

A: Not particularly. He’s just performed everywhere – from country fairs to Panmunjom and Goje Island. He even performed to a karaoke machine one time, and without a mic on a very unfortunate occasion. After going through all that his style just changed. I think he's sort of mastered his own set of techniques. Like having reached a higher place in music (laughs).

Q: Your collaboration with Palo Alto and Fana who have medium to low range voices – was it intentional to balance the tone of voices?

A: Not so much to balance the rap tone but to strike a balance among different methodologies. Working with those guys, I tried to rap in my former style. I’d been interested in working with Fana for a while. I am a big fan of Korean hip hop and try to buy and listen to just about all the CDs I can get my hands on. After listening to Fana's "Rhymonic Storm" I was so shocked I was sure he was a total wacko. People who don’t like him call it, “rhyming overload” but I like him because he’s very unique in that he uses so many rhymes yet somehow manages to make it sound good.

Q: I get the impression that Rakka is being overshadowed by Rakim.

A: I really didn’t expect things to turn out this way. But either way, Rakka totally killed it. It's just a matter of time that he wins the recognition he deserves. We became friends, Rakka and me. I’m surprised myself at how things worked out so nicely. Before I was just his fan and now we’re buddies. I plan to cause a stir in the Korean hip hop scene through more collaboration with American hip hop artists from time to time. I’d call it a success if only because we have caused controversy.

Q: “Hip Hop Kanji Man” got banned by the authorities. What’s your take on this?

A: No surprised there. “Kanji” is a Japanese word to begin with. I expected as much but individual broadcasters have yet to make their decisions so we still have a chance. My album is likely to be labeled, "Hazardous to Children" sooner or later. It’s funny when you think about it – then it means that it is ok for adults to enjoy “hazardous” contents, right? In other words, the adults are people who are constantly exposed to and enjoy hazardous contents. Regulatory and standard issues must be approached from the perspective of parental guidance and advice. Certainly, the lines drawn by the broadcasters can be blurry sometimes but those are necessary. Stepping on those lines and pushing the boundaries of what’s allowed on network TV is what we musicians should do. For example, in “Monster” I repeat the phrase, “bal-la-bo- ryo” again and again to emphasize the importance of free expression in an indirect manner but unfortunately many people don’t get the message and appreciate it only from the perspective of rapping skills. I intended it to be one of those insider jokes – you know, only the hip hop crowds can understand and laugh at – that’s what I expected but not many people got it.

Q: Tell us the names of the albums that have drawn Drunken Tiger into the world of hip hop.

A: Wow, that’s a tough question. First, I would say, N.W.A.'s “Straight Outta Compton.” It really opened my eyes – I realized for the first time that you could use street lauguage or slang when you rap just like when you talk to friends. Then there is A Tribe Called Quest's "The Low End Theory." That album made me realize that you don't necessarily have to be a ganster to do hip hop music and can write lyrics that sound like literary works. All the albums by Bob Marley were shocking to me. His music is reggae, a different genre, but you can feel the “attitude” you find in hip hop in his music. He had been a revolutionary who sang about love, resistance and injustice before hip hop musicians did. I also love Souls of Mischief's “93 Til Infinity." I was really impressed by how they could play with words in their rap. Slick Rick's "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick" shows what storytelling is all about. He raps telling a story but it flows so naturally and brilliantly you can’t even tell whether he’s trying to rhyme or not. The album has many suspenseful yet sexy songs. Last but not least, sensibly produced in a gansta style, Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” also had a great influence on me.

Q: Any advice you have for people who listen to your new album?

A: I thought really long and hard to arrive at the title, “Feel gHood Musik.” Music makes you feel good but not necessarily in the right way. Sometimes you want to escape from what's good and right. That's why I put "h" in front. As was the case with American hip hop artist Notorious B.I.G., hip hop music proves that you can succeed without the looks traditionally favored by the society. You don’t necessarily have to meet the standards set by the society. I want you to feel better when you listen to the “Feel Good Side” and liberated when you listen to the “Feel Hood Side.” Like when you bunge-jump, sometimes you need to feel liberated for a few moments but you also want the safety rope firmly tied around your ankle. I hope this album provides you with “a few moments of escape with a safety feature."

Interviewers: JinMo Lim, JongMin Lee, HyukUi Hong and DongYun Han

July 2009

[Original interview: http://www.izm.co.kr]
[Translated by pgeorgie]
[2nd Photo: bukaroo jeans]

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