University Of California Irvine held the first ever Afro Korean Hip-Hop Festival recently, with aims at fostering open dialogue and education addressing the emerging influence of hip-hop in Korea.
The reason Asian Junkie stepped foot on campus was because the highlight of the festival was none other than our favorite OG gods of Korean rap, MFBTY. Not only did Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae, and Bizzy participate in panels talking about their own journey in hip-hop, being Afro-Korean (YMR, obviously), and the globalization of hip-hop culture, but they also performed at the festival concert that night.
It’s so important to understand their influence. The doors they opened, the roots they planted, and the foundation they laid allowed our faves to explore the sounds and styles they do now. The level of respect the community feels for MFBTY is real and valid.
Yoon Mi Rae being half black and half Korean from the USA (Texas) addressing her displacement and otherness in a world which can be cold to those who don’t fit the societal norms. Tiger JK, from the streets of LA to Korea, bringing the culture that surrounded him on a daily to a world that had no idea what that culture really was like. Bizzy, from New Zealand, with an influence in expressing emotions early Korean hip-hop didn’t even want to address. These three formed the left ventricle of Korean hip-hop.
I can spend hours talking about the globalization of a culture, addressing cultural appropriation, and a movement that changed the lives of so many with a simple boom-bap beat. But the fact that Yoon Mi rae reigned supreme as the only woman who stood tall in Korean hip-hop for over a decade is a testament to who she is and what she stands for. As a mixed-race woman of color, I look at her and feel pride, acceptance, and family. To those of us who’s lived that life, the fight to stay connected to the multiple cultures that flow through our blood and fill our homes and hood are considered family.
The show itself was a testament to the roots of not only Korean hip-hop, but American hip-hop as well. Kurtis Blow (don’t call yourself a hip-hop head if you don’t know who Kurtis Blow is) took to the stage as he’s done for nearly 40 years. With one of his sons as his DJ, the other as his hype man, and his wife of 36 years and family in the audience, it was truly a family affair as he educated the audience on the history of hip-hop. He talked about the roots of hip-hop not being violence, but love. That the OGs of the genre were all about love and that root allowed artists to explore their emotions. He took us on a wild journey through the history of hip-hop via disco funk and rap to the delight of a capacity Barclay Center Theater.
MFBTY then stepped out on stage and thanked their predecessors first and foremost. Throughout the show Tiger JK kept it light and, as always, hilarious. He talked about customs jacking their luggage thinking they were going to sell their wardrobe in the States to explain their attire even though they looked great in their fancy gear. He also, as per tradition, taught the audience Korean (mostly profanities). Those in attendance were a diverse mix of students, faculty, industry leaders (Hyundai, specifically), and fans. I hear that in Korea he teaches the audience English, and it only makes me appreciate him more. He also explained why he retired the name Drunken Tiger. It seems it was for his son who is getting older and now understands what the name stands for. He wasn’t too keen on it and Tiger JK realized it was time to grow past it. The decision suddenly makes sense as one made by a loving father who wants more positive associations around his son.
Midway through the show, JK re-introduced Yoon Mi Rae, talking about her personal cultural ties in the festival. He spoke about her growing up in the States and being bullied for her racial mix, then moving to Korea and experiencing the exact same thing, realizing that she wasn’t considered enough for either culture. The displacement was real. The process of finding herself through hip-hop brought on the birth of “Black Happiness.”
She performed the classic phenomenally as a part of a solid lineup of hits and classics from “Angel” to “Bang Diggy Bang Bang.” It was a mixture of MFBTY and solo tracks between them as they absolutely killed the show.
Throughout the multiple times I have seen MFBTY live, I am forever shocked by the massive level of humility from the group. Their humble mentality had JK stating that they were actually afraid that no one was going to show, which bares the question, does MFBTY understand how important they are to the genre and to fans? As he said that, he they looked out into the crowd and smiled to see the place was packed and had, in fact, sold out.
Their genuine love for each other was visible on stage through their comedic antics and silly humor. Toward the end, JK told Bizzy to talk for once and walked away, leaving Bizzy standing at the center of the stage, face shocked and eyes wide. He finally turned pink and shook his head, unable to speak into the mic. His famed shyness rearing its adorable head.
And nothing was more revealing about them as a group than their love for their fans, calling them up to the stage in a theater auditorium as people rushed forward. They popped open a suitcase and pulled out stacks of albums. They passed them out to the fans in the audience, each had been signed by the group. They took selfies with fans and banners and signs. They hugged their fans and shook their hands, with nothing but joy as the night ended.
As far as the festival goes itself, I was curious as to how Maniac (1-Shot) or Michelle Lee were not present for the event as it would have absolutely pertained to them. But being this is just the first festival of hopefully many more, I would say it opened a dialog that needed to be to be addressed. I appreciate UCI for putting on this event and look forward to the college doing it again.
Thank you to Drunken Tiger International and MFBTY for allowing Asian Junkie to participate this event!