around the globe
South Korea’s preeminent indie hip-hop label
is carving out their own path.
There’s a hip-hop storm brewing in South Korea. Initially introduced in the country towards the end of its authoritarian period in the late ‘80s, the subculture was soon encapsulated into the mainstream by way of K-Pop following the economic crisis of the late ‘90s. Hip-hop music remained underground for nearly a decade following and only in the early 2010s did the cultural format begin breaking into the mainstream Korean music scene as hip-hop. In the last five years, the local hip-hop scene has overtaken the new Korean Wave (sin-hallyu), booming in popularity both domestically and internationally following the arrival of Show Me The Money in 2012, a recurring rap contest show that has become one of the most watched TV programs amongst Korean youth.
One group riding this new wave is MKIT RAIN, the standout indie label that is blending the country’s niche and mainstream hip-hop sensibilities. Made up of five individuals — including Show Me The Money 777 winner Nafla and runner-up Loopy, as well as Bloo, Young West, and Owen — MKIT RAIN’s sound remains immensely diverse. From trap-centric hits to punk-heavy emo rap to crooning R&B love tunes, MKIT RAIN is encapsulating not only Korea’s newfound hip-hop wave, but equally so, the globe’s. The collective, made-up of mainly Korean-Americans from La Crescenta, California, returned to Korea early on in their youth, bringing back a hint of American hip-hop flavor that has helped catapult them into the limelight.
MKIT RAIN recently sat down with HYPEBEAST in their hometown of Seoul to discuss their beginnings, the endless grind as independent artists, Korea’s hip-hop scene, and more.
Name: MKIT RAIN
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Projects: NBA, It’s not Love I’m just Drunk
“It was meant to be. Who else in Korea is doing it better than us. Less talk more skills.”
Can you guys each introduce yourselves?
Owen: I’m Owen, Owen Ovadoz. I grew up in Jersey and I’m 28 years old now, officially. I love hip-hop.
Bloo: I go by the name of BLOO, I’m from a small city called La Crescenta, and I just turned 25, I think. I love music.
Young West: I go by the name of Young West, I’m also from La Crescenta — the 818 — and I also love music.
Nafla: I’m Nafla, I’m from Los Angeles, La Crescenta as well, and now I’m in Korea doing music.
Loopy: Oh yeah I’m Loopy, I’m the youngest one (laughs), and I love girls.
What drew you guys into hip-hop in the first place?
Owen: Freedom of speech. Somehow it frees me from all the other bullsh*t around me, it’s an outlet.
Nafla: I used to listen to a lot of [K-Pop] idols when I was in middle school and a lot of them used to have a hip-hop bedrock on all of their pop songs and sh*t so I grew accustomed to that BPM. Every K-Pop song has a rap portion somewhere within it. It’s been like that since the late ‘90s, since K-Pop started. I watched a lot of TV and I think that got into me because they were always on TV — if they had a rock or dance music backdrop then I’d probably be more into that sound, but since it was more into hip-hop I started to get used to that rhythm. Nowadays I don’t even know what hip-hop is anymore. At this point I’m just doing me. My lifestyle isn’t hip-hop anymore, I’m just doing me because we can’t even define what hip-hop is now.
Loopy: For me, Lil Wayne got me into hip-hop. He gave me swag. Hip-hop is all about meot (swag in Korean), it’s all about cool.
Young West: Not giving a sh*t — other music has these boundaries and a direction that you have to stay in, but hip-hop, especially nowadays and even before, is so diverse stylistically compared to other genres.
What’s the concept behind MKIT RAIN as both a label as well as a rap collective?
Nafla: We just got the name off a strip club. Not directly, but the idea of making it rain and throwing money in a strip club.
Loopy: It’s a dream of countryside boys...
Bloo: In the beginning when we all came to Korea — we were all based in America at one point, where hip-hop was born. In a way we brought that sound with us, that was our concept in the beginning — we were boys from LA and wanted to bring that flavor to Korea. Nowadays there’s so many styles in hip-hop from rock to punk, R&B and singing, and more, it’s gotten so diverse.
Owen: I don’t even think we necessarily had a concept for our label.
Nafla: No we wanted like an ignant name like “Maybach Music” or “Young Money” or “Cash Money” just that ignantness but we were like “Make It Rain.” We didn’t think much. We didn’t overthink it or try too hard we just made something instead of being like, “Oh it has to have some meaning behind it” or something.
How did you guys originally meet?
Nafla: Most of us are from the country area of Los Angeles.
Bloo: Three of us went to the same high school and we made a crew and after that we met.
Loopy: Owen listened to Nafla’s song on SoundCloud and DM’d him.
Nafla: Yeah he slid in my DM’s. I did a song with his homie called “Incredible.”
Owen: Yeah my friend put a mixtape out back then and I listened to it and I wasn’t that impressed (laughs). [Nafla’s] verse came on and I immediately was like, “Who the f*ck is this boy?? I need to work with him!” I slid in his DM’s and told him we needed to work. He was busy at the time and so I waited for a month and all of a sudden he responded saying, “I did this track I want your verse on it.” And then locked and loaded that was it, that’s how we all began working with each other.
Nafla: [Owen] started coming to LA then and began working and meeting with us more, as well as to feel the vibe in the LA area because he was from Jersey. That’s when we were all starting to meet often and Owen just joined in often. It progressed from there and we decided to make something so we started MKIT RAIN.
What’s the inspiration behind each of your rap names?
Owen: I originally got inspired by the bible. There’s a verse that says, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.” In Korean it means, “If someone strikes you on your right cheek, offer your left also” and in Korean right is o-reun-jjok whereas left is woen-jjok, so I put those two together and came up with Owen. Then Ovadoz came along — lots of meaning into that specifically — I wanted people to overdose to my music but I don’t have that name anymore.
Bloo: My name is Bloo, actually Badboy Bloo. All of my favorite rappers have a sort of nickname apart from their rap name so I go the concept off of them. Then my sister’s name was Ruth, right. Everybody called her “Roo” but it was hard for me as a Korean you know, so I changed it to “Loo” and then changed that to Bloo.
Young West: I was in the studio with Nafla and some others, and I always wore this hat that I loved that said “west.” It was a STAMPD hat. I was thinking of a name to come up with and everyone was like Young West, because my first name is “Young” and I was wearing the hat everyday. I’m also from the west.
Nafla: For me it was Sprite — like on Sprite cans it says “100% Natural Flavor” and then I just got it off that, I was thinking about a name and I just chopped portions of “natural flavor” and stuck it as Nafla.
Loopy: I thought my name had to be easy and catchy to remember. In Korea, everyone knows about Loopy from One Piece, so I looked that sh*t up in English and of course it had some drug connotations so I was like, “Oh it fits me.” (Laughs)
Hip-hop in Korea dates back to the ‘80s but only recently has become a mainstream musical format. How does it feel to be at the forefront of Korea’s burgeoning hip-hop wave?
Owen: Destiny. It was meant to be. Who else in Korea is doing it better than us. Less talk more skills.
Young West: Perfect timing.
Owen: For all of us to live in the States and have that opportunity to grow up there and experience hip-hop at its origins and knowing to an extent what it is in that regard. We have more soul in it than people who can’t relate to that context, and that’s why we’ve been able to make it this far, this quick.
Young West: Like every different labels or crews or whatever, when they… like for example Beenzino brought something totally new — that feeling or whatever in the music. I feel like we brought a new type of sh*t that no one’s known about here in Korea. We’re demonstrating that like a teacher, I guess to the Korean hip-hop scene.
Loopy: YouTube and SoundCloud were with us. At that time I think SoundCloud was not famous at all, but we were using that shit all the time.
Owen: If life gives you apples, make apple juice.
Young West: We’re trying to show them what they don’t know — [Korean fans] don’t dig, they only watch TV, so we went on the TV and changed their perspectives.
MKIT RAIN is one of the few indie hip-hop labels in Korea. In Seoul, everyone is fighting over their place within the industry. Do you guys find any challenges in terms of finding your market share?
Nafla: It’s a freelance job. All the freelancers and their concerns of not having security or safety and you have to invest on your own predictions. Like timing, luck, possibilities, we always have to discuss those with our team and get the right perspective of trying to make that happen. I think that’s the hard part because if you have like a business job you have a monthly salary, but we’re trying to do something that’s high risk high return. That’s the most concerning thing about it for us or any indie labels or any freelance job.
With a majority of you being from the States, what’s the biggest challenge about finding a western audience? K-Pop for example has been around for a while but now acts are finally breaking into that sphere.
Nafla: I think the language barrier is finally breaking — Spanish artists are hitting billboards, Korean groups doing so too. I’m really thankful for that, because then I can just do my thing because if it’s good enough then international fans will listen.
Loopy: I’m not sure, but I think in the U.S. there’s a lot of context around hip-hop as a black artform.
Is that a challenge?
Bloo: I think it used to be — but now its getting more relaxed as hip-hop gets bigger across the globe.
Owen: You just gotta prove your worth. Like K-Pop and sh*t, before them we didn’t have a market as Korean hip-hop artists, but now we got an opportunity to actually penetrate into those markets.
Nafla: Music is so fast now that it’s like fast food — it’s quick and easy and used up quick and passed on. There’s so many things that people can be entertained with. So many artists, so many YouTubers, I think that’s the challenge. The audience doesn’t care about music as much as I do, and if they think something else is more attractive they’ll move to this or that. I’m always asking myself, “How do I differentiate myself from the, to be truly authentic and myself.” Music nowadays doesn’t have to be made for five years down the road, it doesn’t have to be made like a Michael Jackson record — like you can rent an Airbnb and record in there and it might go to Billboard, you never know. The quality doesn’t matter as much these days, it could be bad or good, but if its attractive that's what people like.
Bloo: Like everyone is a model these days, everyone's an influencer, a singer, everyone's something, saying, “Hey I’m famous.” That’s everything these days, everyone can be a celebrity — everyone’s trying to say they’re doing something and that they’re attempting to stand out.
All of you have drastically different takes on hip-hop. Can each of you describe your sound and the creative process behind your music?
Owen: I started listening to boom bap and those lyrics are very important to me when I make my music. Around five years ago my brother gave me an old MP3 player with a lot of old grooves and soul in it. There’s certain emotions that type of music brings out that gets me to work. That old school jazz vibe with lyrical wordplay.
Do you think that’s a lot in part too to you being from Jersey
Owen: I’m not sure because I was too young then to really recognize and feel that, I wasn’t even sure of where I was until I came back to Korea and really grew up. I didn’t even know what East and West Coast hip-hop was then. I’m 28 years old now and I think it helps me knowing those roots. I go back and forth now but I didn’t realize I grew up there until people told me I had an accent. I’d always be like, “What accent I don’t have an accent.” My brother I think played a big part in my life musically, he also produces jazz hip-hop. Eight out of 10 of those albums he gave me were all early ‘90s hip-hop, soul-filled sh*t like A Tribe Called Quest, Big L, Jurassic 5, all of those dudes. I can’t classify them, but they all have a distinct jazz-sampled hip-hop sound.
Bloo: For me, I got into hip-hop with 50 Cent. Everyone loved Biggie and Pac and Kendrick and Snoop, all the West Coast dudes. But I got into hip-hop because of 50 because it was so catchy. Then Lil Peep came along and that was when it was really like you can cry and be sad. Now you can say I’m having a hard time. I was shocked when Lil Peep and emo hip-hop came along.
Young West: I get inspired when I hear something new. What’s already done is boring, there’s a lot of people trying to copy or do the same thing. But when I hear a pioneering sound, that’s what I’m trying to do, something people have never heard of, not what’s already been made.
Nafla: For me nowadays, like Owen I stick to my emotions and mood. There’s certain stages of life when you’re super happy or super sad. That’s when I record a shit load. I keep recording because I want to catch the vibe because eventually it’ll fade — I try to make the most of those moments.
Loopy: I’m doing anything I gotta do these days. Like “Loopy you gotta sing,” “Oh ok I’ll sing,” or “Loopy you gotta rap,” I'll be like “Oh ok, I’ll rap.” I’ll do whatever, even if I have to use autotune because these days I prefer to sing. I feel like I almost forgot how to rap (laughs).
How do you think Show Me The Money has brought MKIT RAIN?
Nafla: I don’t know about MKIT RAIN, our audiences aren’t from Show Me The Money I think. Because Loopy and I got more viewership from the show, but they don’t really relate that with MKIT RAIN, they don’t really seem to care about that. I think after the show we got a lot more international fans, but in Korea they don’t really notice us in that regard, there’s specific fans but not mainstream ones.
Loopy: More money more fame, less drugs. Sad sh*t.
Future aspirations for the label?
Owen: Topping charts, I want to top Melon (Korean streaming service). The reality is, I recently found out they manipulate the charts — you pay them and they’ll run fake streams or computers to boost them, I even heard that there’s people who have like hundreds of computers and you can buy them to stream your tracks. So like when a certain artist’s music comes out they’ll put those people on the charts.
Nafla: What the f*ck? We should do that too.
Owen: I wanna get to the top of those charts with my art, authentically. Other than that I want to support myself and my family with music. I also want to go out to the states and make something for Billboard, keep striving for bigger and better things
Bloo: I just want to keep making art. I’m an artist and that's my job as an artist. We always gotta work on making new music that’s good. After that, charts will come along -- all the money, all the number ones. I’m just going to keep working and make good music.
Young West: Being a good son, being a good friend, being a good person. Being a good musician as well. Just keep working until I get up, until I get high so nobody can reach me. Keep striving for the next steps.
Nafla: My goal is to just keep finding myself, I’m still trying to know more about me. That’ll help me make more authentic art that’s me. If I know more about myself I’ll put more out, because that’s me. That’s my life goal, keep doing me.
Loopy: I want to make America great again. I want to go back home to LA, that’s my dream is to be in LA forever and keep smoking weed. So that’s why I’m doing this sh*t so some day I can be in LA forever.
seoul, south korea
For HYPEBEAST's new series Around The Globe, we'll be speaking to musicians outside the English-speaking world, shining a light on up-and-coming artists to established acts outside of the United States.
For HYPEBEAST's new series Around The Globe, we'll be speaking to musicians outside the
English-speaking world, shining a light on
up-and-coming artists to established acts outside of the United States.