KONCEPT Talks Newfound Fame, Rappin Til He’s 50, and Sippin Soju in Korea
I love to see good people win. And this dude is as deserving as anyone I’ve met in this game. From Queens youth to Fat Beats employee, from Brown Bag AllStar to solo success story, get to know Korea’s fastest rising rap star, KONCEPT… [An interview with AWKWORD]
I said you were about to blow back in January 2016. How does it feel when you see things like that?
It makes me feel blessed, appreciated and grateful.
I think it’s fair to say I was right. When would you say it really happened for you?
There were some things and people in my life that were poisonous. As soon as I realized who and what these things were and let them go, everything began falling into place as I envisioned it. Although, I still do have much more growing to continue doing, and always new goals to hit.
You were born in Queens. My father was raised right on Utopia Parkway in Flushing. What about you? What was your childhood like?
Oh awesome. I used to go to Flushing Meadow Park all the time as a kid.
My father passed away when I was a kid. The day before my fourth birthday on October 9. It's why I have the 10 tattoo on my arm.
As a kid, it was mainly just my mom and me, with the guidance of my grandmother, who I call Nanny, and I also spent a lot of time with my aunt and my cousins, who are like best friends to me.
I always grew up in a positive and hard-working family environment. My mom worked two jobs to make sure she was able to provide for and take care of me. My stepdad then came into the picture and, with his care and energy, really helped build a better life for my mom and me and, later, my younger brother. He is one of the hardest working people in the world. He gave my mom everything she ever dreamed of. It was the both of them that really taught me my strong work ethic and to never give up on what you want and believe in.
How did you find rap music and Hip Hop culture? And what was it that most attracted you?
I found Hip Hop culture at a very young age through my neighbor in Queens named Johnny Guerrero. He was a graffiti writer, and right in the middle of the culture in the 90's, when graffiti was still all over the subways and streets. He bought me my first albums and really put me on. I've been in love with Hip Hop for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately I lost touch with him, so that's why I wrote his full name. [laughs]
Maybe this will pop up in his google analytics and we can reconnect. I'd love to play him my music and thank him for introducing me to what has formed my life and career.
Is there a specific artist, song or moment in time you can recall that sealed the deal?
There are a few:
- "Award Tour" by A Tribe Called Quest.
- The whole Nas Illmatic album (my favorite album/rapper of all time).
- "Work" by Gang Starr.
I remember I was visiting my grandmother (Nanny) in Florida with my cousin Dave. My mom and my aunt sent us alone for a week. That might have been our first time on a plane without our parents. It was like we were going on this big trip as adults. We felt so cool.
The Gang Starr Moment of Truth album had just dropped, and my cousin and I both bought the CD. I think it was from The Wall, which I don't believe exists anymore, along with a whole lot of other stores that sold music. I remember writing and memorizing all the lyrics to that song and acting like I was GURU. RIP to one of the greatest of all time.
Interesting. Perhaps it was the time period, or the music, or a combination of both, but that Moment of Truth album is one of my all-time favorite, and most nostalgic, rap albums of all time, too…
As a fellow ‘white rapper,’ I have to ask, have you ever experienced any push back because of your skin color? Did you notice a shift post Eminem or Macklemore?
I grew up in a diverse environment, so race or skin color didn't play too much of a factor as far as music goes.
I have had people make comments to me about Eminem or Macklemore, as I'm sure every white kid/person that raps has at some point. Mainly it’s been Eminem because of his extremely large impact on the culture in general, but honestly for the most part I feel like comments like that came from people who are uninformed about the music business and/or Hip Hop culture.
Agreed. And I always say that those who are respected within the culture, whether they’re big with the fans or not, are able to make their mark because they’re authentic, to who they are. Slim Jesus — was that his name? — is gone already, right?...
And on that note, you recorded one of my favorite albums in recent years, The Fuel with J57, with a co-sign from Red Bull, right?
Yes, The Fuel was done at Red Bull Studio in LA. A lot of the vocals were recorded in my own studio(s), which were in Brooklyn, and a song or two in Portland, Oregon, when I spent a little time there. The arrangements and post production, as well as the mixing and mastering were all done at Red Bull Studio with my man James Mushorn.
[Purchase via Fat Beats: https://www.fatbeats.com/products/koncept-j57-the-fuel-ep-cd]
What was the response to the album like?
The response was great. The energy from the fans for the music and the videos was really humbling. They made me feel like I was on the right path to to my next steps. The Fuel is your passion, your heart, and everything you'll do for it. I put all of that into that music, and all my music, so to have such a strong response means so much to me.
I can hear you rapping that line!...
So, is that how you ended up in Korea? That came out of nowhere!
It's crazy. Before coming to Seoul, I really had no expectations. I had never been to Asia before. I didn't really know what the support was like, the fans, the culture; I was just super excited to travel and see a new place, have a new experience, and get to play my music in a new country to new ears.
There was a lot going on before coming here. I was living in LA. I had flown back to New York for some work, and to see my family because it had been a while. Then, while I was back, I found out my mom had to have surgery so I extended my trip. I was supposed to fly back to LA to finish mixing another album of mine — that's currently unreleased — that I was also doing at Red Bull Studio. I was going to have a month to finish it before flying out to Seoul.
With the change of plans in New York, I then flew back to LA with only about two weeks before flying to Seoul. So I flew back to LA and spent every day in the studio in Santa Monica. I really didn't have much time to think about anything else. This was in November 2016.
I flew from LAX to Seoul on Thanksgiving night. I ate food and drank some wine and jumped into an Uber to the airport. It wasn't until I was at the airport that I think it settled in, and I was like, "Holy shit, I'm on my way to Asia right now to perform my music. Life is fucking amazing."
I was only supposed to be in Seoul for two weeks. I was playing a couple shows, and then I would fly back to LA. All of a sudden, I got asked to stay longer to play some other shows, including my big bro Bill Stax's birthday party in Busan — he used to be known as Vasco — and another show in Seoul. So I extended my trip to do that.
Next thing I know, I'm sitting with a rep from Sony Music Asia and he's telling me they want to release my music and help it explode through Asia. The situation was right and we made a plan and signed the papers. So I was like okay, well, it only makes sense for me to stay here and push the brand and the name, and be in people's faces, getting them ready for the release.
Still today people ask me when I’m coming home, and I don't really know how to answer that. New York is always my first home, LA is my second, and now Seoul is my third.
I remember when you left on Thanksgiving. Even I didn’t this coming…
What's your day-to-day life like in Korea?
Day to day life is creating music, performing my music, building on new projects and goals with my music, laughing, having fun, and living my dreams.
I've also been doing some acting and modeling work. Shooting commercials and TV roles.
Haha. Saw that coming. You look too clean in all them photos!...
So, what’s the craziest thing you’ve experienced?
All of it. The flips, the turns, the changes. I was living on friends’ couches, figuring out my moves.
Life has been good to me, though. I have a few of my own couches now. [laughs]
I’m a big foodie. When I met Morimoto, from Japan, for me that was like meeting Jay. So, I have to ask, what's the best food you've eaten over there?
Man, that's a hard one. Korean food is delicious. I love dak-galbi, which is basically almost like a stir fry with vegetables and chicken, but also with melted cheese in it. It's pretty damn incredible. Add some soju with that and it's heaven. It will lead to a food coma though. [laughs]
I've also been spending a lot of time in Thailand, playing shows and working with some artists — shouts to my fam Younggu, and Twopee — and the food there is incredible, and so cheap!
Sometimes I even order two meals at a time just because I can't decide on what I want more… Green curry; boat noodles; pad Thai, of course.
I once dated a girl from Spain, who before me had dated a dude from Thailand. She told me nobody in Korea orders pad Thai. That hurt my feelings, so I’m glad she was wrong!...
In what ways are the places you’re visiting in the East most different? How about similar?
What’s most similar is that people love pizza here. The biggest difference is that the people don't really know what good pizza is… Shouts to the fam at Gino's Pizza though. That grandma slice is like I'm back in Brooklyn.
Are you planning to return to BK any time soon?
Yeah, like I was saying a little earlier, I don't really know how to answer that. But I am trying to sometime in the near future. I'm aiming to take a little break around Thanksgiving and go see the fam.
Perfect time for your return…
You just released a new album with Sony Music Asia, 14 Hours Ahead. Congrats! Is that your first major signing? Did you get PAID?
Thank you. I'm living nicely.
[Purchase on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/tt/album/14-hours-ahead/id1237734902]
The record’s dope, by the way, and I have shared it with my audience. It was tough to choose a favorite, but “Never Again” just beat out “Time to Go” and is currently on my Best of 2017 list. Over what time period were these new songs recorded?
I had moved back to New York temporarily right after releasing The Fuel. I was subletting a place and living with this girl. I knew some things weren't working out and it was "Time To Go." I had my own studio built in that apartment and I believe that was actually the last song that I recorded before moving back out and back to LA.
“Never Again” was recorded in LA at my brother Tenacity's studio a few weeks later. Mike Two had flown out to LA to shoot the music video for “Understand Me” and we got in the studio and recorded “Never Again” as the follow up/part 2 to that. “Never Again” is like the aftermath/fuck-you song to the breakup song.
Word, Tenacity is the homie.
And, yeah, I got that feeling about the song. In fact, it’s one of the very few my wife has asked me to mute around my daughters. I mean, shit, they’ve heard all my records, right!?
Regrettingly, I did tell her I would keep it low, knowing it’s because the kids and she can actually understand what you’re saying — and there’s simply too much subtlety in adult relationships to try to explain some of your words outside of their context…
On that note, I just went through 30 PAGES of songs and albums trending on Audiomack and only found about 40 SINGLES worth adding to my playlist. Not the best sign for boom bap. Or maybe I'm just an old man with archaic taste. What are your thoughts on rap music today?
I think there's a lot of quality music out there. There's also music that's meant for different environments and purposes, and could be seen as quality in and for that market.
I listen to everything, depending on where I am and how I'm feeling at that given moment.
Sometimes I want to reflect on things in life, and sometimes I just want to drink and ‘turn up’! [laughs]
I feel that, but I just can’t relate. If it’s Hip Hop, it has to be my Hip Hop; otherwise, I want to listen to jazz, or some Hippy shit. But I keep that to myself for the most part, use my playlists to share what I like, and stay out of those social media conversations…
How about the NYC scene?
I love NYC. It's my home. Where I was created. Where I first got my inspiration to live the way I do. To do what I do. But I also like to experience new things, places, and cultures to expand my horizons and my mind. So New York is always my heart, but I needed to step out of it for a little while and absorb inspirations from elsewhere.
I wanted to hear your thoughts on other New York rappers, but I won’t push it. What’s next for KONCEPT?
Well, I just played House Of Vans here in Korea.
I'm also recording a lot of new music. I have a few projects I'm working on right now. A couple EPs and a full length album. No release dates yet because I'm still pushing 14 Hours Ahead strong. I'm grateful for everyone listening and rocking with me, but at the same time I still think that more and more ears can be on it, so I'm still getting it out and promoting it.
I also have more music videos, I’m playing a ton of shows, I’m about to play some more big festivals in the next coming months, which I'm super excited about, and I’m setting up some tours.
What do you do to relax when you’re not working?
Drink a glass of wine, smoke something and put on Bill Withers.
We should all strive to produce hits like Bill… As for as rap producers, who would you like to work with?
I want to work with Hit Boy, 40, and Kanye.
It’d be well deserved…
Another New York rapper you may have heard of, Kanye’s friend Jay-Z just dropped 4:44. Will you be rapping at 40 or 50?
I'll be rapping for as long as I live — whether publicly or for myself.
Glad to hear it. I know it’s unavoidable, like it is for me. That’s how it goes if you put your heart, your life, your feelings, your experiences into your work…
Now, I agreed to focus on KONCEPT and not your Brown Bag years, and I’ve kept my word, but I have to slip one in before I let you go: Have you heard "11 Steps"? What are your thoughts on the first single?
Well, Tash shouts me out in his verse...