By Caroline Li
Northwest Asian Weekly
A Hip Hop group from Koreatown in Los Angeles, the guys of Far*East Movement (FM) have been extremely busy. Their following grows bigger and bigger with each step they take in making a name for themselves in today’s Hip Hop scene.
In the past five years, they’ve completed two world tours and signed distribution deals in Japan and Korea. They were the first Asian act to perform at the Sundance Film Festival’s prestigious Music Café Gala; they have also been a featured act at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The name may sound new to Seattle residents now, but the talented artists think big.
Their first album, “Folk Music,” was released in 2006. The first single from the album, “Round Round,” was featured in the 2006 summer blockbuster “Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift.”
Their second album, Animal, released last fall, includes guest appearances by Lil Rob, artist Baby Bash, and up-and-coming Warner Brothers artist Wiz Khalifa. They’ve landed product endorsements with McDonald’s and Verizon Wireless.
Group members Kev Nish (Kevin Nishimura), Prohgress (James Roh), and J-Splif (Jae Choung) met in high school. Later, DJ Virman became the official DJ for FM. The group shows how they can spread from one city to another and give a place for Asians in Hip Hop. They’ve managed to do this both in the United States and abroad. As producers, FM worked with South Korean pop icon Se7en, as well as Chinese American rap pioneer Jin the Emcee.
This Saturday, they will team up with one of the biggest Asian Hip Hop groups in the world, Korean superstars Epik High, to finish off their U.S. tour.
FM’s ability to connect with overseas artists have gained recognition for Asian Hip Hop artists and further defines what Asians and Asian Americans can musically bring to the table.
Even in the middle of their rigorous touring schedule, the guys of FM took some time out to talk about their success, the global scene, and super heroes.
NWAW: Your music is fun and upbeat. What are some of the influences on your lyrics and production?
Kev Nish: Thank you. Since our mission as the Far*East Movement is to make music that can hang on top 40 and mainstream media, we make sure to keep our influences current on lyrical style and production. We always tune in to the radio [and go to] clubs and parties to keep in touch with what the DJs are spinning.
Asia is second home to FM. How would you describe your fan base there?
J-Splif: Our fan base in Asia is a movement, representing all countries that are out there. They are definitely open-minded. Asians rapping in English is still a new and different concept to many people in [Asia].
You guys have collaborated with a lot of other Asian artists and Asian influencers across industries, both in the U.S. and internationally. How big or small would you say the community of Asian influencers/role models is now compared to just five years ago?
Prohgress: There have always been great Asian influencers from the Asian countries … ever since pop music became big out there. But it has only been in the last two or three years that the U.S. media has started to slowly recognize the Asian face through reality shows — contests like America’s Best Dance Crew and American Idol — and changing roles in movies.
Musicians may have a tougher time though, since the U.S. has a standard of music that is authentic to American lifestyle and an organic way of discovering it. In my own experience, the music industry in the U.S. has a tougher time understanding Asian American artists and how to market them. But they are learning. The major recording companies have groups like us along with big artists from Asia on their radar, as artists of influence.
Seattle audiences aren’t as familiar with Asian Hip Hop groups as Los Angeles audiences. How can we change that?
DJ Virman: Just like growing something in any city. In order for the city to recognize the movement outside of our own community, the demand has to be shown. Our community in Los Angeles play a huge role in influencing major radio stations like Power 106 in LA who consistently play Far*East Movement’s music.
FM reached a huge milestone for U.S. radio by becoming the No. 1 song in Los Angeles on the countdown. Before us, no Asian American artist or group had ever reached that far in one of the top markets in America. Worth more than any amount of company marketing dollars are the fans in each city, spreading the word online and by mouth. It’s more effective and has a longer lasting effect than any magazine ad.
As a group, you hope to create a face for Asian Americans in entertainment. What does that face look like and stand for?
Kev Nish: That face represents the new lifestyle that Asian American youth are growing up in today — a generation and lifestyle where all Asian ethnic backgrounds are proud of their own individual culture, but open-minded and innovative enough to bridge the differences and represent. …
It is a face that is not defined by stereotypes but defined by our dynamic lifestyles as Americans. We feel our community is homeless, meaning when we’re out in Asia, we’re considered “those American guys,” but when we’re in the U.S. which we consider home, we’re considered Asians first.
So where is our home then? We grew up in the melting pot of Los Angeles where we were raised on tacos and burgers just as much as rice and raw fish. We’re hoping to shine a brighter light on this lifestyle that many Asian American’s are currently living in … [but the] media defines them by their stereotypes first.
Sometimes, Asians can be their own biggest critics. What do you say to that?
Prohgress: It’s understandable. Asian Americans have never had a representative in mainstream music or diverse roles in TV and movies, so they are very critical on how they are represented. It’s good to be critical and help nurture the scene so it can grow, but it’s important that they keep [an] open-mind on how they critique, just as Asian’s demand an open mind from other races on our own culture.
Sometimes, your own community may say, “You need to speak about Asian issues in your music,” before [saying]
“Why does this artist need to sound ‘smart’ or talk about Asian issues just because they are Asian?”
I say, why can’t there be Asian American artists that are just having fun along with deep political or conscious artists?
There is definitely room for both, and that’s what makes music music. Once everyone in our community can understand the balance, it will really allow this scene to grow further, and new Asian American artists will be less scared to experiment outside of their own skin and push the boundaries.
Out of all three of you, who would you say is the best dressed?
FM: DJ Virman is the best dressed. He’s always up on all the new shoes and fresh street wear. He surprises us with something new at every show.
And best looking?
FM: We all look damn good. Just kidding. … We’re only good-looking to our mamas, so you might have to ask them.
Who is most likely to have superhero powers?
FM: Each of us do have a special superhero power, and when we all come together, we form FM-TRON, aka the Far*East Movement.
What would your moms say about your music?
FM: Our moms are our biggest supporters and always say they wish they had Asian American [artists] they could dance to on the radio. Thanks, moms. ♦
The “Map the Soul” Tour, featuring Epik High, MYK, Kero One, and Far*East Movement, will take place on May 23 at the King Cat Theatre at 2130 Sixth Ave., Seattle.
Caroline Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.