MFBTY has a longstanding history in the Korean hip-hop scene, as individuals and as a unit. So their latest album Wondaland and single “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” were met with much anticipation and unsurprisingly met with many accolades. Despite the group’s busy schedule, Seoulbeats recently had the chance to grab an email interview with the trio.
We loved the Indian fusion music in “Bang Diggy Bang Bang!” How did you come across that (Hindustani) music and what made you decide to use it?
Tiger JK: I’m driven by sound. When I hear sounds, I hear patterns in them. Whether it be raindrops or cars honking, I hear language. Indian music is full of these things for me. Although I don’t understand what they are saying, something about it is very rich in rhythm and draws emotions from me. My father used to play a lot of Indian music. I actually attempted to fuse these elements in my hip-hop albums back in the day. I’m definitely not an expert, and hopefully no one cringes while reading my reply to this question. After all, “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” is a good pop song. We all enjoyed making it and don’t mind jamming to in the club, but I don’t want to come off like we did something out of this world and are feeling ourselves like that!
Over the years, on many of the K-pop tracks that have been dominating airwaves here I’ve noticed these labels consciously writing lyrics that do not make sense. Anyway, Indian scat singing is just amazing to me, and some of the scats definitely sounded Korean and made perfect sense to me. The one part I took to use during the hook sounds like “jump around and nod your head” in Korean. And the sitar reminds me of sounds from a gayageum, a Korean traditional musical instrument with 12 strings. We took the parts that fit each other perfectly and added real drums and percussion to them. We used bongo sets from Africa, and I even added metal chopsticks for hi-hats. Bass and that 808 were added last after Tasha went in the booth and started harming that hook. And the little bit of electro-like synth was recommended by our son Jordan believe it or not. I had to put that in for him. Originally this song was very naked with no bass and no bottom. Just a naked recording rich in rhythm and vocals. Our dance team are world-renowned battlers who’ve won many championships. They fell in love with the song right away and came up with steps when we were adding the African bongo sounds. There’s a lot going on with the track, but at the end of the day not a lot of people will think too much and dissect all the different elements that were put into it. It’s simply either “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” which I think is natural and I have no problem at all with. Anyway, I’m rambling a little now. But I liked this question. Thank you for asking it!
Are there any other styles of music you’d like to fuse with your own?
Bizzy: I’d love to do crossover stuff with jazz and hip-hop.
Tiger JK: I’d love to work with many of these groups out here and actually have been approached by many labels. But it usually doesn’t work out due to their A&R people. Kids get excited, but they have this notion that it’s got to sound very American and in the middle of production they’ll pour out these reference tracks that are charting on Billboard at the time. I’m not Dr Dre. I don’t have the skills to make those kinds of tracks yet. Maybe I can hopefully soon but not yet.
After “Gangnam Style” blew up, for a while it was all like “Let’s make a song just like it.” The birth of “Gangnam Style” was actually from Tasha’s “Get It In” track produced by our friend and mentor Illmind. If you listen to “Get It In” there’s a break part that builds up to the last hook. That’s the part that Psy loved and he said he was going to take that part and build on it. The producer who made that track did a hell of a job. He’s a talented artist who’s been in the game for long time as well. So I guess they have these genius ears that catch what becomes a hit.
As far as MFBTY goes, we just go with our feelings and usually get lost. Although our songs sound like other formulaic pop tracks, our style of making a song is very improvisational. Now having said that, this style is very irritating with these A&R folks. But that’s fine with us!
To any first time listeners of Korean hip-hop who are really interested in getting acquainted with the genre, which one of your albums or singles would you consider the best and recommend listening to?
Tiger JK: I would recommend my seventh album, Sky Is the Limit. And although it’s too sad for me personally to listen to, I humbly ask you to listen to the song “8:45 Heaven.”
Yoon Mi-rae: I would probably recommend my Gemini album.
Bizzy: If you’re after Korean hip-hop, I recommend Drunken Tiger’s eighth album, Feel gHood Muzik. If you’re just a music fan, then MFBTY’s WondaLand is very ghood!
We hear that Bizzy may be finally gifting us with a follow-up to his 2008 EP Bizzionary. What kind of musical change and growth can listeners expect from the new album?
Bizzy: I like the old A Tribe Called Quest albums. Something jazzy. I got some club bangers, too. Although I don’t talk much, my album’s very “rappity” as they call it nowadays. I like wordplay – and most of the time it is R-rated! Sometimes I don’t know where to draw the line, and JK gets worried. When JK is worried, then I know I’ve gone too far!
Bizzy: My record is done already. We’re just polishing it up and thinking about guest vocals at this point. The first single will probably drop this summer. Please be on the lookout for it!
In your eyes, what makes Korean hip-hop such a special and unique genre? Is it for everyone, or does one have to have a certain experience or exclusive connection in order to enjoy it?
Tiger JK: Korean hip-hop now has changed a lot from the Korean hip-hop I enjoyed when I was coming up. As far as rapping and producing are concerned, we’ve come up to a level where almost everyone is at least up to par. They are all good. But we live in the era of the Internet and because of that there isn’t a really distinctive sound from different areas. We’re all learning and are influenced by what we see and absorb from YouTube. But there are many MCs and producers who make incredible hip-hop records that don’t get exposure here. It’s gotten tougher for them to get put on.
But to answer your question, I say the language is what makes us unique. I think it’s incredible the way we flow in Korean and still find intricate rhymes and tell stories. When it comes to rap music, the message and lyrical content are very important. So there was a language barrier initially. But nowadays I think there are more people appreciating the flow and the sound of our lingo. Much love to them beautiful people.
Yoon Mi-rae: I also think the language is what makes it so damn good! Of course my answer may come across as being biased, and maybe it is, but there’s something about the cadence and the flow of the syllables that appeal to me. Lyrics most definitely are very important in hip-hop, but music as a whole is color blind. I don’t think you need to understand what I’m saying in order to like it or in order for it to move you.
If you could be the pupil of any artist, who would it be?
Tiger JK: Tasha!
Yoon Mi-rae: That’s impossible for me to answer!
Bizzy: There are too many to list! 2pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae … and countless others. I’m a big fan of hip-hop music.
In a roundtable, we discussed what makes a good rapper and authenticity was a commonly mentioned feature. What does authenticity mean to you as rappers and artists?
Tiger JK: I was fortunate enough to be right smack in the middle of this thing called hip-hop when it was shaping up. Not to get too much into the details, but I lived it. Hip-hop was and continues to be my way of life. MFBTY is a mutant group that is based on rap but also morphs into other musical genres that we enjoy. I always say my music is a lie based on true stories.
Rap is the best tool to express yourself and talk about anything you feel like. However, I see a lot of rappers these days who emulate the lifestyles that they watch on YouTube. It’s all good though, you are into what you are into. The visuals they saw may have been so impactful that they might’ve stimulated their creative niche. And they are so inspired that they want to recreate what they see and express it in their own way. After all, hip-hop is universal now and gives these artists something to live for. When TV is feeding you that you have to look certain way to make it, hip-hop liberates us to be who we are. You can have a scar on your face and still be a star as long as you got skill. It’s a thin line, though. It’s now an accepted thing for people to do what they see without knowing what it is. I don’t know. When these young kids here watch world stars rap about selling cocaine and killing people, I feel like that’s going too far.
Yoon Mi-rae: I like the idea of “authenticity.” It sounds a lot better than saying “keep it real,” which really is what it’s all about. Rap about what you know and not what you think is “in.” Be you. It’s cool to look up to certain artists and practice their rhymes and whatnot, but there’s a difference between practicing and actually trying to get your voice to sound like theirs or trying to copy their act or look. For me, the bottom line is regardless of whether you’re rapping about cars and money or changing the world, if you’re not really feeling it people will eventually catch on.
Over the course of your careers the Korean music scene has evolved, what are some of the positive and negative changes you’ve noticed over this time?
Tiger JK: It’s become a competition. If you don’t chart in one day then they consider your music trash. The positive part is now you have other outlets like this to introduce your music.
Yoon Mi-rae: I’ve actually been thinking about this, and really the more it changes the more it stays the same. Different players, same game. I know that sounds cynical and a little sad, but it is what it is. K-pop, for example, has become more international thanks in a big part to Psy, but on the flipside I’m constantly running into ignorant and sometimes rude people asking me to do “Gangnam Style.”
Tiger JK is active on social media — what are your thoughts on how social media has affected the popularity of Korean music?
Tiger JK: I’m not sure as I can only speak for myself on this one. MFBTY was born from social media. And it’s important for me to interact with fans. But that’s just me. Not just Korea though, but all over the world, it seems as though your worth is being measured more by the number of your followers. Money doesn’t define me nor does the number of followers I have. You are what you do.
Tiger JK: Being a homogenous country, people tend to be nationalistic and at times ignorant when it comes to racism. Racial jokes are more accepted and people make fun of themselves as well. What might be totally politically incorrect can be acceptable here, even stereotypical jokes about Koreans. Don’t get me wrong, of course hate is universal plague. It’s everywhere. But, I think things are getting better here.
Yoon Mi-rae: South Korea is definitely being a more socially accepting culture. I mean racism still exists not only in Korea but everywhere. But what they say is true, if you know better you do better.
Yoon Mi-rae, what are your thoughts on Unpretty Rapstar? What is the likelihood of you participating on a second season of the show either as a judge, producer, or possible collaborator?
Yoon Mi-rae: While I am all for female MCs getting to shine and the spread of hip-hop, I’m not a fan of the show. I realize everybody is entitled to their own opinion and although I’ve only seen short clips and heard stories, it is in my humble opinion that the show had more of a negative impact on how and what hip-hop is. So unless the show changes, it’s a safe bet I won’t be a part of it.
Some Korean female rappers say they are intimidated by Yoon Mi-rae. What are your thoughts on this sentiment?
Yoon Mi-rae: It’s all lies! I’m the silliest, dorkiest person ever! If there is any intimidation, I think it has more to do with the pressure of constantly being asked about me and how they think they “measure up” to me. Stuff like that makes me really uncomfortable so I can’t even imagine how they must feel not to mention their frustration.
Yoon Mi-rae: I mean, I guess it comes with the territory even if it’s not something you want. I’m a human, and a very flawed one at that. I’ve made mistakes and most definitely will make a lot more. Knowing that, it can be a bit stressful sometimes. At the end of the day, all both I and we can do is try our best to do what’s right and be, or at least try to be, forgiving when we fall short.
Tiger was recently in a film called A Trip Around the World. Are there any other thoughts from any or all of you about working in films or perhaps even dramas?
Tiger JK: The film Around the World was for the prevention of child abuse movement in Korea. That was during the time when me and Tasha were the spokespeople for child abuse prevention and my pay went to the charity 100%. It was a fun and wonderful experience for me. I learned a lot from those kids. We get crazy scripts. After 8 Mile blew up, they were all for a Korean version of 8 Mile. Then after Dreamgirls blew up, they were all about that. If a script is right for us. I’m down to jump in.
Is Jordan looking to follow in his parents’ musical footprints? Do you actually want him to, or rather he avoid the industry?
Yoon Mi-rae: He loves music, but so far it doesn’t look like it’s something he wants to do. I want him to love music, but I’d rather him not be in the business. Having said that, if he did decide to do music I would have JK or Bizzy be his manager and shadow him!
What are your future plans for your label? Will you be incorporating or debuting other artists?
Tiger JK: Keep an eye out for Bizzy’s solo album to finally come out! And keep an eye out for my cousin Dino-J! Our old label jacked us for everything we had. They stole from us and sold us to different labels. It took a lot of courage, grinding, and tears to finally have the strength to start over. So our main thing now is re-establishing the three of us wherever we can fit in. We need support from y’all.
Yoon Mi-rae: We’re going to continue put out Feel gHood music. And yes, we have a couple of new artists we plan to introduce to y’all. Please be nice to them!
How do you find the experience of running a company, and how do you balance your business ventures with creating music?
Tiger JK: I need help!
Bizzy: We’ve learned that it’s not easy, but we’re all getting better at it.
Tiger JK: I feel guilty. I think Tasha is the one! And not because she’s my wife. I mean, just listen to her spit, man. My main thing is making sure Tasha gets heard before I die. And to make Bizzy the biggest idol! I’m going to persuade them to sign with other labels if this doesn’t happen by next year because I’m almost done.
Yoon Mi-rae: I don’t think we separate the two. But we respect each other’s opinion and we respect each other’s space. I’m not afraid to say to him, “Can you please stop. I don’t want to hear this right now, I just want to relax and watch my shows for an hour or so before we talk about the company.” He does the same too. It doesn’t always go so smoothly, but for the most part it works for us.
And Bizzy, what’s it like working with a married couple?
Bizzy: It makes me want to get married soon as possible.
Bizzy, has Tiger JK ever been jealous of your flower boy looks?
Bizzy: JK gets crazy love when we rock shows. He’s a rock star! So I don’t think he gives a f*ck. And I thank my mom for my flower boy looks! Thank you!
(Images via Feel Ghood Music)