[From major French publication, Liberation.]
Yoon Mirae, famous female rapper in South Korea, co-founder of Feel Ghood Music:
We were warned not to take pictures from her manager. She is without make up, wearing just jeans and a hoodie. YoonMiRae meets us at her label’s office north of Seoul. Born from an African-American father and a Korean mother, she’s the country’s most famous female rapper. Also known as Tasha or T, the 34-year old artist is sometimes compared to Lauryn Hill. She is married to Tiger JK, with whom she works regularly. With label mate and rapper Bizzy, they created a group named MFBTY and their own label, Feel Ghood Music.
MFBTY (which stands for “My Fan are Better Than Yours”) have just released their first full length album, Wondaland.
Why did you establish your label in UiJeongBu, far from the media and music industry?
T: My father was an American soldier. He met my mother in Uijeongbu district when he was stationed at the base here, so I lived most of my life here. I like the atmosphere since it’s a mix of city and country.
How was it when you first debuted in Korea? At the time there was more prejudice towards mixed people.
T: I experienced discrimination from both sides. In the US, I wasn’t Black enough. In Korea, they called me “Yankee.” In primary and middle school, there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t reminded I was only half Korean. People stared at me. It was really hard. My first label asked me to hide my father’s skin color. They told me, “We will say you have far African-Americans origins.” Sometimes stylists tried to make me look “more Korean.” Later, when African-American music was the trend, they accepted my darker skin color. I was angry and lost at the same time. I put this anger into my songs.
Tell us about Korean hip-hop in the 90’s…
T: When I debuted, hip-hop was like a secret society, a small circle of people where everything was word of mouth. Tiger JK helped me discover underground battles in Hongdae and Sinchon. The rest of society thought rappers were all gangsters. Thankfully, today things have changed.
To the point now every boy band has a rapper!
T: To be honest, this trend irritates me. Some are clearly formatted, but sometimes when I turn on the TV, I see one with good potential. Because hip-hop is now trendy, we need a bigger underground scene to show various types of hip-hop styles. However, finding this type of scene today is more difficult. In the media, there is only one style: pop. If you don’t sign with a big label like YG or SM, your chances of appearing on TV become slim. It’s disappointing, and I don’t think it’s going to change soon.
What do you thing of shows with rappers, like Unpretty Rapstar?
T: I know this is going to sound shocking, but I don’t really get a chance to watch the show. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t support my fellow femcees. I hear some of the contestants are very talented, and that I was a major influence for some of them. I am thankful for that. Whenever I’m asked about how I feel about being the only femcee, my answer was and always will be, “I’m not the only one.” There’s a lot of talented ones out here. You just don’t get to see them because either they want to stay underground so they don’t “sell out” by signing to a huge label, or they want to blow up, but feel they will have to give up creative control of their music if they sign to those large labels. We don’t see these artists because we’re either not really looking, or because stations won’t play their songs.
Does Korean rap focus on specific topics?
T: In Korea, like elsewhere, rap discusses many things including politics and society. However, there is censorship here even though we’re a democracy. There are a lot of things rappers can’t say, but the censors are more lenient when a pop star says it.
In 2002, the first track of my “Gemini” hip-hop album was censored by the media because I said “show me your belly button.” However, at the time, there were pop songs on radio with more explicit lyrics. Fortunately, things have been changing for the better as hip-hop has become more recognized.
Interview by E.J. (in Seoul)
*Some parts of the interview were lost in the French translation. DT INTL was able to recover some of the original answers, thus some variations between the French and English version.
Drunken Tiger International