After establishing a new label, Feel Ghood Music, and project group, MFBTY, Tiger JK has stayed away from the spotlight for a year, especially after the passing of his father. He revealed that there will be a new album coming out in November this year and admitted he’s been, “just been intuitively making music.”
Tiger JK’s humble recording studio in Kyunggido, Uijeongbu was very basic. The former storage space has been transformed into a recording studio, which has been running for the last 10 years. Within this studio, with it’s out-of-date looking computer, antique sofa and dusty photographs, hit songs such as “Isolated Ones, Left Foot Forward” and “Monster” were created. This space is Tiger JK’s, aka Korea’s Hip-Hop Godfather/Big Boss’s music factory. When I met Tiger JK in his studio recently, he said that he is a Hip Hop Ajusshi (Korean word for middle aged men), but he doesn’t feel it when he is in the studio. He dubbed it his “time capsule.”
This is the first time Tiger JK is doing an interview in over 12 months. Last July, Tiger JK, his wife Yoon MiRae, and label mate, Bizzy, left their former recording label, Jungle Entertainment, and established their own, Feel Ghood Music. Most recently, Tiger JK released his 9th album, “The Cure,” a year ago but since then, they have not made many stage appearances.
“I didn’t know what was happening out there. I was just in the studio most of the time, so I didn’t know what was happening around the world. Bizzy suggested I take up boxing and I’m really enjoying that at the moment.”
Prior taking up boxing, Tiger JK was not in his best state. His father, Suh Byung Hoo, a highly respected Pop Columnist who worked with US Billboard Magazine to introduce Korean music to Americans, passed away on February 1st, 2014. It is well known Tiger JK and his father were close. JK’s responses always wandered back to talking about his father, showing he is still saddened by his absence.”To me, my father was like a big mountain, yet my best friend,” he says. “No matter what I’d ask, he would always have the answer for me. To this day, whenever I am unsure of anything, I want to ask him. No matter where I go, everything reminds me of him. I remember when he circled February 1st on the calendar and told me, ‘This day is going to be a long birthday’ when his birthday is on the 8th. The day before he passed away, we held a party for my father. We took photos together and listened to his wisdom as well. Out of the blue, he asked me to go outside and record, so I did. The next day, he took his final breath in my arms.”
Tiger JK revealed a part of his late father’s diary that he wrote while fighting cancer. Although receiving chemotherapy, JK’s father refused anesthetics and painkillers and this was clearly shown from his handwriting from his entries. (The interviewer saw multiple entries where Mr. Suh wrote about his dear son, a ring that he wanted to give to his wife, and the feeling of departing away.) Tiger JK delayed his album production and compiled his late father’s works, such as his 8 books, nursery rhymes for Jordan (Tiger JK’s son), and a website documenting the trends of Hallyu.
JK read the following excerpt to the reporter:
“Even though I feel like a tree, I want to carry out good deeds. However, I am afraid that I will be punished.”
Tiger JK felt his father’s pain while fighting cancer. He withdrew his entire savings, and with acceptance from his family and business associates, he donated it to those in need. Tiger JK stated that after he gave his money away, he felt free. He wants to embrace what his father taught him by creating a short documentary on Youtube using his father’s works.
A Young Man Wishing to be a Tae Kwon Do Instructor Becomes A Rapper + Battling Transverse Myelitis
Tiger JK spent his teen years in Los Angeles after his family migrated to the US. His father sent him to his uncle in Miami, a Tae Kwon Do instructor, so that he can become “a man.” With this vital skill under his belt, Tiger JK was able to mingle with the other kids in the area with no problems. Tiger JK returned to LA in his high school years. He wanted to become a Tae Kwon Do instructor and even opened a Tae Kwon Do club at his high school. His other hobby was writing as he highly respected his father’s ability to create with his words. Around this time, Tiger JK realized that his friends did not listen to “mainstream music.” Tiger JK was fascinated by this music genre (hip-hop) that he did not experience before and was instantly drawn into listening to the likes of N.W.A and Biz Markie.
“They were like superstars in my eyes. I thought all stars were all fancy and luxurious, but these guys wore the same hats as we did and shot music videos on the streets. They swore. They spat verses without background music. We used to hold open mic competitions whenever there was a house party going on. I was kind of shy at first, but my friends egged me on and I built up my confidence after that.”
Tiger JK was first introduced to the people of South Korea by being a guest on popular talk show, “Johnny Yoon Show,” in 1992. In Los Angeles, racial discrimination was more prevalent especially compared to other US areas. During the LA Riots in 1992, N.W.A rapper Ice Cube released the song, “Black Korea,” which discriminated against Koreans. In response to this, Tiger JK performed his own song, “Call Me Tiger,” in front of a predominantly African American crowd at a a Hip Hop festival.
Three years later, Tiger JK partnered with his friends, one Caucasian and one African American, and visited Korea in the hopes of releasing an album in his mother country. Oasis Records’ CEO, whom knew his Tiger JK’s father, agreed to release Tiger’s album “Enter The Tiger.” Tiger JK stated that his American friends respected the Korean Culture by learning Tae Kwon Do and wanted to embrace the Asian culture like Wu-Tang Clan. Thus, they took photos in a mosque and put them in their album. However, their entire album, with the exception of a few songs, was restricted from playing on air due to dubious reasons such as “there was no melody,” and “there’s profanity.” Tiger JK stated that the album was only printed in a few copies and never really made an impact as they competed with major mainstream artists like SeoTaeJi and Solid. Some famous producers approached JK, but they wanted him to drop his friends and work solo. With their dreams crushed, Tiger JK’s friends headed back to their homeland. Feeling ashamed and unaccomplished, Tiger JK promised his father that he would go to college and teach Tae Kwon Do for a living. By studying hard, he was accepted into UCLA. Then one day in 1997, he was invited to a seminar in Korea about Hip-Hop and he wanted to use this opportunity to show his pass to his father. However, during those years, he noticed that Hip-Hop was becoming much more popular in Korea. He was also being requested to write lyrics and feature in songs.
Hearing of Tiger JK, MNet requested him to perform on stage. Doremi Records took notice and asked him to create two Korean songs. Tiger JK, with his friend Kim Jin Pyo writing the Korean lyrics, created “I Want You” and “Do You Know Hip Hop?.” Tiger JK teamed up with friend, DJ Shine, to form Drunken Tiger and released their first album ‘Year Of The Tiger’ in 1999.
“We were getting into lots of trouble since the very beginning,” Tiger JK said. “because there were profanities in our songs and our outfits were not ‘appropriate.’ We sold 180,000 copies of our album, but everyone said we were done for.”
Despite doubts, Drunken Tiger came back in 2001 with their third album ‘The Legend Of…” and won 1st place in one of Korea’s popular music program – Inkigayo. Tiger JK said that when he told his father that he just won first place, his father told him, “Don’t be too happy. If you are happy because you won an award, you will be miserable if you do not receive one.”
After DJ Shine’s departure from Drunken Tiger in 2004, Tiger JK showed his musical flexibility with Drunken Tiger’s 6th album, “1945 Liberation.” With his contract with Doremi Records over, Tiger JK’s father asked him to create his own label. He created Jungle Entertainment, but then he received the shock of his life: Tiger JK was diagnosed of Transverse Myelitis. He would sometimes lose all sensation in his lower limbs, become bloated, and confuse hot and cold temperatures. Many doubted that he would ever walk, but with many treatments and personal determination, he started to walk again.
His wife, Yoon Mi Rae, had been a pillar of support throughout both good and bad times. Tiger JK and Yoon Mi Rae tied the knot in June 2007 and had their first child Jordan in March 2008. Korean Media branded them a “Hip Hop married couple.”
“People think that Mi Rae is strong and resilient, but she is just like a flower,” JK says. “She has a lot of tears, but is strong and never shows any temper. She was closer to my father than I was.”
Drunken Tiger’s 8th album, “Feel Ghood Muzik,” was a whopping 27-track, 2 CD album. This album surpassed everyones expectations and created a buzz within the offline music industry.
Tiger JK reminisced about the last 20 years he has been in the Hip Hop music industry, “I was a rookie back then and learned a bit each time I grew up. My first album was not a masterpiece. It didn’t sell well and the media didn’t welcome me. I never thought that creating music could be profitable, so I was never greedy.” However, his desire to tell us stories helped him shape and define his music. By writing songs such as “Convenience Store” and “Once Upon A Time” (5th Album), this helped him develop narrative in his music.
“I Am Happily Working Hard.”
Tiger JK stated that he is coming to terms with everything that happened in the last year and is very confident that his label, Feel Ghood Music, will do very well. Feel Ghood Music has 7 members – Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae, Bizzy, a new rapper, 1 producer, and 2 staff members. They do not have an actual head office.
“We all share one vision and do everything in a positive way. The very notion of us being able to achieve something helps us to fight stronger. My dream right now is for me to able to fulfil their dreams,” JK says.
Feel Ghood Music is due to make its stance once again with a new album to be released in November this year. There is no word, however, whether it is going to be a solo artist’s album or an MFBTY album.
“We made these songs to heal ourselves,” Tiger JK stated. “We forgot about genres and just recorded what felt good. The end results were happy songs, not sad.” Tiger JK continued to say that Yoon Mi Rae has even volunteered to do the choreography. “We are working hard, but at the same time, we are excited.”
Original article: YeonHap News
Translation credits: JSK
Drunken Tiger International