Jay Park was born in Seattle, but moved to Seoul, Korea, when he was 18; but no matter where the B-boy dancer-turned-singer lived, he was always exploring his passion for hip-hop and its culture, eventually revealing his undeniable talents behind the mic, which explain his viral social media presence and cult-like fan base. Park’s love for hip-hop inspired him to launch two labels, AOMG (Above Ordinary Music Group or Always On My Grind) and H1GHER MUSIC, both of which have risen to the forefront of rap in Asia, making it feel only right Jay Z would take notice of the 31-year-old star, even signing him to Roc Nation in 2017.
We caught up with Park at the Roc Nation office in Los Angeles recently to discuss his career and experience with Hov.
Where do you fit in the realm of hip-hop and R&B?
That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Not to toot my own horn but I definitely play a big part in Korea; I started two of the biggest R&B/hip-hop labels out there. In terms of Asian hip-hop, I’m very established, very certified. Out here, you definitely don’t see many Asian faces in hip-hop, especially coming from a K-pop background. Of course, there’s BTS and Kris Wu and what not, but that’s very different from me—very, very different. There’s also Rich Brian and the 88 guys, that’s very different from me as well. So you don’t see my type of situation every day out here. I’m trying to pave my own lane and see where I fit in. Of course, I’m going to let the music speak for itself. You can’t really fake authenticity, so you’ll just have to see.
When I interviewed Kris Wu, he mentioned he liked being here because he could walk around more freely, while in China, he’d have to hide because of his crazy fans. I’m wondering how you feel?
I feel good. Even in Korea, I walk around. The worst people can do is ask for pictures. Sometimes I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Sometimes I’m like, “No, not today.” Even if I do get mobbed, it’s not like they’re trying to attack me. It’s not like I’m in danger. I take it as it is and just live my life.
How important is it to come to L.A. as an up-and-coming artist?
Apparently, it’s pretty important. [laughs] That’s why Roc Nation just keeps on, you know, [snaps] “You gotta go to L.A.!” [snaps] “You gotta go to New York!” I guess there’s a lot going on around here, especially if you’re trying to get notoriety and exposure.
What’s your favorite part of Los Angeles?
Just the weather. I’m sure a lot of people don’t like the hot weather, but I really enjoy it. That’s why I like going to Southeast Asia. I like humidity because I don’t sweat that much.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t really like the cold.
You snapped on your freestyle with Sway. You called yourself the “Asian man.” How does it feel being a minority in an urban-dominated industry?
It’s an advantage and disadvantage. Even in Korea, just me being from America was an advantage and disadvantage. Because in Korea, they don’t really look at you as Korean, and over here, they don’t really look at you as American because you’re Asian. I’m in a very weird, weird space. I’m from the K-pop world, but I’m very, very different from the K-pop world, so a lot of K-pop fans don’t listen to my music. Also, a lot of hip-hop fans think I’m K-pop, so they count me out. There is no one like me, so I have the advantage where I’m not really like anybody else. You can’t be like, “Oh, he’s like this dude or he’s like this dude.” Since I’m not like anybody else, people aren’t really looking out for me like this. It’s my job to show and prove.
Your new record “FSU” is fire. Did you mean to create a new acronym?
No. Actually, it’s one of those things where even in Korea, when I started, everyone kind of counted me out. When I started the AOMG thing, still everybody doubted me, like, “This guy from this boy band, how is he gonna do this hip-hop shit?” It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you have it in you—if you eat, live, and breathe this shit—it’s going to show eventually. Basically, I worked hard and did what I did, and people were like, “Oh shit, okay.”
My favorite line is “I do R&B, but they want me to rap, you rappers ain’t doin’ your job right.” Can you expand on this?
[laughs] I expected Roc Nation to be like, “Yo, stay away from the hip-hop stuff. You’re this Asian dude from K-pop, I don’t think it’s gonna work. Do what you’ve been doing.” I thought that’s what they would say, but they were like, “No bro, we like your rap shit. Let’s do this record and this record and this record.” [snaps] I’m like, “Oh okay, cool.” I guess it’s self-explanatory.
G4SHI is the homie. Talk about filming the visual with Rich the Kid. What was the dynamic on set?
G4SHI is very, very good peoples. Very dope music, good energy. I appreciate him because he came out and was down to give it his all and really perform it, instead of feeling like he’s obligated to be there. ‘Cause if it’s like that, it puts everybody in a weird energy. The energy he brought was dope.
You also remind listeners that you started not one, but two, labels in Korea. What do you aim to achieve with these?
It comes very naturally because I have a group of artists or just things that I see that I can put together and connect the dots. It’s a chance and a platform to have everybody shine and grow together, instead of doing it for monetary reasons or just to say, “Oh, I have all the power because I own it.” It’s not really like that. I have to do it because it’s up to me almost. If I’m the one to do it, let’s do it. I make it happen and try to have everyone come up together.
Talk about linking with 2 Chainz on “Soju.”
It was very cool, very Korean-cultured themed. I thought it would be dope to get someone that’s very established and respected in the hip-hop game over here to do it, just because they’re cosigning the Korean culture almost. 2 Chainz hopped on it, loved his verse, filmed the visual together in K-Town in Atlanta. It was a very special moment in terms of hip-hop for Korea and for Asians in general. Ever since I signed to Roc and did the Sway thing and the “Soju” thing, I’ve been getting a lot of comments and messages like, “Yo, you’re putting on for us. [claps] Thank you. Salute. We look up to you.” So it’s very dope.
How do parties in L.A. compare to Korea?
I don’t know, I don’t really go to a lot of parties in L.A. I’m not cool, so I’m not invited. If y’all would invite me…
I don’t even go out in L.A.!
I want to see the Kendall Jenners from afar and be like, “Oh shit, that’s Kendall Jenner.” Just to be there. But Koreans definitely know how to party though. Clubs are open until like 11am.
What’s your drink of choice in the States?
I drink soju in the States. It’s funny because we just had a barbeque/video shoot for one of the artists, Jarv Dee, in Seattle. I think there were only two Asian people there, but everybody was drinking soju. So it’s kind of spreading it out and spreading the word, but a lot of the homies like drinking Jameson.
Have you met with Jay Z?
I have. Just once.
Tell me about that conversation.
It was very short, like five words. He said, “Thank you for trusting in us,” and that was it. It was at the Roc Nation brunch. I understand he’s a very busy man and everybody wanted to talk to him at that time, so I was just kind of like cool. I think it’s one of those things I have to earn. Even a conversation with him, I feel like I have to earn, so I’m willing to put in that work. Instead of, “Yo, you should be doing this for me,” it’s, “Yo, I’ll see you in a little bit.”
What did you do with your first advance?
It’s funny, out here you get an advance from the label and you work on your album and the rest, you do what you want with it. I don’t really do that. I just put everything into my music and then what I achieve with that—I’ll get shows and deals. That’s when I started making money. But the first real big money I spent, I bought my mom and dad a purse and a watch. Now they got a house.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Before I became an entertainer or singer, my goal was just to become a professional breakdancer, like a B-boy. Just go to community college and work a part-time job, and just travel the world doing B-boy competitions. That was my dream. I didn’t aspire to be anything like a doctor.
Are you dancing?
I am. I still battle, still dance—not as good as I used to. I’m older now.
Aside from the music, what do you like to do for fun? How do you chill?
This is what I do for fun. This is fun. I play basketball, go to MMA training sessions, play “StarCraft.” But everything I do kind of revolves around being with people and doing things with people. Even that in itself is work—maintaining those relationships, keeping those relationships alive and moving. Even that in itself is all part of this job, so almost everything I do relates to work. But for me, it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy doing what I do.
Three things you need in the studio?
I don’t need anything. I just need the mic and an engineer, that’s it. I’m not one of those people that’s like, “I need 10 girls, a drink…”
Do you smoke?
I don’t smoke. Out there, you can’t. This dude just got sent to jail just for smoking weed. A rapper. I didn’t smoke anyways. Even though in Seattle, it’s legal. It’s become a huge weed state. But I don’t really rely on those things to get creative or do music. Time is very precious to me. I don’t like to just go to the studio and just lounge there, talk to people for five hours and maybe catch a vibe. No, if I go there, I’m going to get something done. I don’t want to waste any time because there are a lot of things I have to do, a lot of people that want to see me, a lot of people I have to talk to.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
As of right now, probably Avatar Darko because I gotta check his mixes and shit. [laughs]
I love how much you support your artists.
For sure. I play my stuff and all of our artists’ stuff just because it’s dope, and we gotta check if everything is sounding good. Other artists, I really like, the “Boo’d Up” song and I like Daniel Caesar. I like Meek Mill.
I have the biggest soft spot for Meek Mill.
I been rocking with Meek since 2012, his Dreamchasers 2.
He’s with Roc right?
I think he’s managed by Roc, so if they could take the hint—a collab could go up. [laughs]
As of right now, probably Jay Z. To get that collab would be the ultimate accomplishment.
What advice do you have for an aspiring Jay Park?
For me, it’s very cliché, it’s very corny, it’s very overly said, but I’m living proof: If you really are determined and have that grit to stick through it, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, you can do it. All you have to do is work hard, but work smart as well. Anybody can work hard, but you need to know why you’re doing this, what goals you want to attain, and how, by doing this, how far you’re getting to your goal. You have to take it step by step. Just stay determined, stay focused, work hard, but work smart.
Jay Park’s EP Ask ‘Bout Me is out now.