James An Discusses His Journey From Hip-Hop Enthusiast To A Respected Artist And Advocate

James An, a rising star in South Korea's hip-hop scene, is making waves with his unique blend of old-school West Coast vibes and contemporary R&B influences. After gaining recognition on the popular TV show 'Show Me The Money: and amassing millions of views online, An has unveiled his highly anticipated EP, 'I Have No Friends and I Must Party'. This eclectic 8-track project, accompanied by two music videos, showcases his versatility as an artist and delves into the complexities of modern life.

In this exclusive interview, we sit down with James An to discuss his musical journey, from his early days as a hip-hop enthusiast to his emergence as a respected artist and advocate for social change. We'll explore the inspiration behind his latest EP, his creative process, and his aspirations for the future.

It’s so great to be able to catch up with you, James, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Let’s dig right into things, when did you first start making music?

"I’ve loved hip hop since I was in elementary school, and I would listen to and memorize the lyrics of my favorite rappers every day. I first started writing my own lyrics and performing during college. When I first started writing, I doubted myself a lot, thinking, “What am I doing? This is stupid.” However, as I kept on writing, the more I felt, “Hey, maybe I have something to share.”

What inspired you to start your journey into music?

"Throughout my youth and school, I worked hard to meet societal expectations of being a “good son” or a “good student.” Throughout middle school and high school, even though I didn’t create my own music, I loved expressing myself on stage through music in choir, vocal jazz, and musicals. Because college was one of the most transformative periods of my life, and I was very inspired by my professors, I tried new things and found ways to really express myself. There was something truly empowering and uplifting about writing and rapping my own lyrics."

What influences have most defined your music over the year?

"The hip-hop that I fell in love with and grew up listening to influence my music a lot. Rappers and musicians that focus on lyricism and storytelling have influenced my music to center on lyrics and my own storytelling. They’ve really inspired me to delve into specific topics and themes that I want to convey through my music, such as racism, oppression, education, power dynamics, and so on."

How would you describe your sound at the moment?

"I always try to experiment and get out of my comfort zone through different sounds. I’m very comfortable with the boombap genre and sounds, but I also really enjoy delving into the nuances of different emotions that I experience on a daily basis, and incorporate sounds that might express those emotions in new or different ways. I would say my sound consists of old school boombap, slow R&B rap, and more, in both English and Korean."

Can you tell us a bit more about your latest release?

"This May, I released my first EP, 'I Have No Friends and I Must Party' that consists of 8 tracks, 2 music videos, and 5 visualizers. Thematically, it is inspired by a 1967 sci-fi dystopian novel by Harlan Ellison titled 'I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream'. Through this EP, I wanted to express my own “dystopia of today” through my exploration of the society, network, and relationships I see through tracks with very different sounds. To the narrator, to party is to be considered normal and blend in, and get along with society, but in order to party, one needs friends to do so; this is the narrator’s attempt and struggle to party, or get along with society, but without friends or people that normally allow one to do so."

What was your songwriting process? How did it all come together?

"For this EP, I wanted to make sure that the overall structure and order of the EP shares a certain story and process, kind of like the novel that first inspired it. I made sure that each song in the EP had a specific and important role in overall album, so I approached each song quite thematically and all the songs are topic-driven. I also wanted to express different sounds to express the changes in the story, kind of like different chapters, episodes, especially towards the ending. What kind of thoughts (and experiences) did the narrator have that makes him end up in a club, alone?"

What’s the most important thing for you when you’re writing a song?

"When I write a song, oftentimes the most important aspect is the lyrics, and the accompanying topic and themes. I take a long time to write lyrics that I find are important, interesting, fun, and/or create a space where listeners can come in, participate, interpret, and create new experiences together. Needless to say, sound is very important too in music, but I often center my lyrics as sort of the main character in my creative process."

What’s next for you as an artist?

"This year, I’m very grateful to be invited to have shows and perform outside of Korea! In mid-June, I’ll be performing (and giving a lecture, running a hip hop workshop) at the Korean Music Festival in Leeds, and at Auckland University, New Zealand in August. I hope to be able to travel and perform for cities and countries outside of Korea! If you know of any events or organizers that might want to have me come to perform, please let me know!"

Do you have anything you would like to say to our audience?

"I want to say thank you so much for reading this, and for giving my music a chance! I think it’s very difficult for all independent musicians, creators, and freelancers out there, but the love and support really mean so much to me, and my listeners are the reason I keep going and continue to create music. Reading one positive comment really inspires and motivates me to create more. I hope you are all safe and well, and thank you so much for your support!"

James has continued to collaborate with notable Korean hip hop artists and release his own independent music, establishing a strong presence in the scene across various subgenres. However, his interests extend beyond music. He is also actively engaged in academic conversations exploring the potential of hip hop storytelling to impact education and dismantle racism.

With his latest EP, he showcases his diverse musical range and his commitment to social issues, proving that James An is poised to make a lasting impact on the Korean hip hop landscape and beyond. Fans and critics alike eagerly await the release of 'I Have No Friends and I Must Party' to experience the next chapter in this rising star's promising career.

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