[INTERVIEW] Jay Park’s journey from pop idol to hip-hop star

From a young singer who made his debut in 2008 with JYP Entertainment’s 2PM, to the leader of Korea’s two biggest hip-hop labels – AOMG and H1GHER Music – and now a rookie rapper in the United States, the four-part YouTube documentary series “Jay Park: Chosen 1” has it all. The program, which aired its first episode on May 1, is the fifth original series created by YouTube in Korea.

“Jay Park: Chosen 1” shows Park’s journey through the entertainment industry; how Park began as a member of a boy band, went back to the United States to sell tires as a part-time job and then a few years later, signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, one of the biggest hip-hop labels in the world. He is the label’s first Asian artist.

According to Park, the documentary was definitely not meant to “show off,” but rather “look back at myself, because I’ve only looked forward for the past 11 years.”

“To be honest, people ignored me when I first came to Korea, because I couldn’t speak Korean. It could have looked funny, but I actually felt [that people were] ignoring me. And next, I was ignored because I was a pop star doing hip-hop. Now it’s because an Asian is doing hip-hop in America. I did it because I felt like it was my role to prove everything and show everyone. There are too many restraints that say, a pop idol should be like this, or that Asians should be like that.”

Park is the perfect embodiment of two very distinct entertainment fields: the idol boy band and hip-hop. Though the two genres are set very far apart from each other in Korea, he still managed to make a name for himself like no other artist in Korea. When he released his first solo album, “New Breed,” in 2012, people were confused by his direction. In 2014, his second album, “Evolution,” changed that question mark into an exclamation point. His third album, “Worldwide” (2015), fortified his name as a rapper, and he widened his appeal with the release of his mostly-R&B fourth album, “Everything You Wanted” (2016). In 2017, he was awarded Artist of the Year at the Korean Music Awards and at the Korean Hiphop Awards.

He has excelled, but it didn’t come easy, he confessed.

“It wasn’t easy trying to find what I really wanted to do,” he said. “Being [part of] an idol [group] takes away your creativity. Your company decides what song you’re going to sing and what clothes you’re going to wear. You’re given new concepts with each work, but that’s not who you are – it’s a concept. So when people first asked me what I wanted to do or who I wanted to do it with, I just said I didn’t know. But being used to training hard was a benefit I got from being in an idol group.”

That hard work has surely paid off. Just last year alone, he appeared on 32 songs, either his own work or as a featured artist on other people’s tracks. 

“I liked B-boy dancing and hip-hop, but I didn’t really think of myself as a rapper. I just thought I was an artist who danced and sang. If you are a rapper, you have to be good at it and contribute something to the culture, but I wasn’t like that. So that’s why I made the ‘Worldwide’ album. The young artists were out there doing so much, and I didn’t think I could judge them without a proper hip-hop album,” Park said. 

He added, “I’m not here with one mega hit song. I feature on other artists’ songs if I like their music, but I help around without getting paid if I see their potential. I should help them when I can. I think that’s how hip-hop culture will thrive.” 

The idea of coexisting was how the title of the new documentary came about, too. During the interview, he frequently mentioned “those who will come next.” 

“I actually asked how ‘The Road Less Traveled’ would be for a title. It was rejected because it was too long. But I went with the ‘Chosen 1,’ because I hope there will be a second and third guy like me […] I want to pave the way for others to come.” 

This year, the rapper plans to connect his careers in Korea and the United States. An 18-track album will be released in Korea in May, and a six-track EP drops in the United States in June. He will be kicking off his world tour series in July. “I signed with Roc Nation because they were at my concert in New York in 2016,” he said. 

“I guess I put on some nice performances,” he laughed.

Regarding the head of his new agency, Park showed endless affection.

“I liked Jay-Z as an artist when I was younger, but now I look up to him as a person,” he said. “He started from rock bottom, and now has all that money. He donates a lot, too. I want to be someone who influences the world in such a good way like he does. In my perspective, that’s what success is. You would need the figures to back you up, too. I would like to be on the Billboard Charts, get Grammy Awards, and it would be awesome if Jay-Z is featured on my songs. I don’t know how high I can go, but I’m going to prove that I haven’t hit the ceiling yet.”

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