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Unmasked Ep.3: MTV’s Rich Tu speaks on life during quarantine

MTV’s Rich Tu remembers the days just before the shutdowns. He went to work in Times Square, shortly before it got turned into a dead zone.

Tu works for ViacomCBS as VP Digital Designer for MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo. He lives in Brooklyn, which in April was marked the most dangerous county in the U.S for COVID-19.

And much like many other Americans, he’s now stuck working in a make-shift home office. Yet the craziness has made for some serious inspiration. 

“I started doing what I do best as an artist and creator, just making work that was responsive to [COVID-19. I also wanted to kind of put a positive spin on my feelings towards the Coronavirus and something of that kind of uplifting content, so the way that manifests itself would be in visuals.”

Art and creation have become mediums for normalcy during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many artists have been outspoken on the impacts of quarantine on their work, from family life to exhibit cancelations.

Some organizations have begun providing awards for artists during the pandemic, like Getty Images’ ‘Creatives in Quarantine’ grant that rewards 10 select winners with $2000.

For those in a creative block, Tu recommends keeping the element of control.

“I would say that we’re at a unique time. So what happens now though, we do have an element of control in terms of how we maintain our sense of balance, and how we maintain our schedules, and how we maintain the way that we interact with each other.”

Studies have linked daily routines to mental health improvements, including a study published in 2018 linking them to healthier sleeping habits. Online, many influencers and others have taken to sharing their routines with friends and family.

For Tu, his day begins with creativity. A 6 am wake up call gets his day started, after which he spends 1-2 hours getting creative.

Then, Tu goes for a run and spends the rest of his day at his home office. Tu notes that this time spent creating helps him maintain good mental health during the lockdown.

“When I have those personal creative hours in the morning or on the weekend, I’ll usually make work that tries to help maintain my own mental health because I’m expressing myself. It’s also something that my audience can feel good about or at least reinforced social distancing.”

Although quarantine is difficult, the best that can be done is learning to manage the present and to look onward to a 2020-free future.

“We’re in a new normal, so there’s an intermingling of everything. My personal energy, my personal work, it’s pretty much going to stay the same. The way that I go about it, I’ll just try to be responsive to it. I look forward to being able to have a more conventional work life experience, whatever that might mean in 2020 and beyond.”

Check out the last episode of UNMASKED below

The New York Sings Along initiative is bringing us together through music

The Peace of Heart Choir is a community choir based in NYC, formed shortly after 9/11. They provide free performances for communities in need. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, that community was all of New York. 

Across the city, businesses and public places were shutting down. Large social gatherings were being canceled. For a non-profit choir that performs in hospitals, nursing homes, and soup kitchens, the shutdowns meant the choir’s planned events were being benched. 


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Who are you singing with on Thursday? Of course, in a socially/physically distanced and safe way only, please! . Thursday, May 14, 2020. 7:02pm EST. Tune in to @wkcr or @wbai99.5. S I N G! S H A R E. Y O U R. V I D E O by tagging us and using the hashtag #NewYorkSingsAlong! . And – as always – please #spreadtheword 💜! . . . . #peaceofheartchoir #pohc #robertrenegalvan #nycchoir #instachoir #instamusic #choir #singers #pohcsingers #music #choralmusic #newyorkchoir #choirfun #chorus #livemusic #livechoir #sing #musicisourlife #musicislife #outreachconcert #musicbringsustogether #musicforthesoul #healingwithmusic #charity #coronavirus #newyorktough #somegoodnews [📸credit: @peaceofheartchoir]

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“Our last performance was actually in Port Authority,” said Gary Baker, choir member of 12 years and co-founder of New York Sings Along.

“To people streaming by on their way to what is now an empty place, on their way to and from their home. We very quickly realized that we simply couldn’t do that anymore.”

In early April, the Facebook page for their new initiative, New York Sings Along, went live. On April 16, their first song–Frank Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York”–was broadcast city-wide

“New York Sings Along was really inspired by public singing that we saw around the world,” said Robert Hornsby, fellow choir member, and co-founder. “

There was a group of Italians who were hanging from the terraces of their piazza, and Gary saw that and brought that to my attention. It’s fabulous, but we don’t have piazzas in New York…so we started thinking about what we could do that fits with our mission to bring people together for music.” 

The public reception was very positive: across New York City, people were filming themselves singing out their windows, on their balconies, and on the streets of New York.

They continued for five Thursdays in April and May, shortly following the nightly “Clap Because We Care” tribute that honored New York’s essential workers. 


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The @peaceofheartchoir is back with it’s #newyorksingsalong event for our second city-wide sing-along! . Join us after the #clapbecausewecare at 7 pm EST on Thursday, April 23. . After last week’s phenomenal success, let’s see what else we can do: . This week – Bill Withers’ iconic “Lean on Me”! A karaoke favorite with a message for our times. And a truly fun song to sing. . Last week, we noticed that many people participated from all around the country and the world. So this week, our goal is to take our event NATIONAL! If you’re not in New York City, don’t worry. But do join us! . Link in bio 🔝 to sign up, follow our main New York Sings Along FB page, and watch this space for more info before Thursday. . And – as always – please #spreadtheword 💜! . #peaceofheartchoir #pohc #robertrenegalvan #nycchoir #instachoir #instamusic #choir #singers #pohcsingers #music #choralmusic #newyorkchoir #singing #chorus #livemusic #livechoir #sing #mixedchoir #musicisourlife #musicislife #outreachconcert #musicbringsustogether #musicforthesoul #healingwithmusic #charity #coronavirus #newyorktough [📸credit: @carriecharlot]

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By the end of the initiative’s run, the choir saw over 30,000 participants and were provided support from around the world. Their Facebook page reached nearly 500,000 people and has almost 9,000 followers. 

“If you look at some of the videos that people have posted after the performances, they’re really amazing,” said Baker.

“They’re very heartwarming. In some cases, they’re heartbreaking because you see a lot of pain, but you also see people coming together. You see people taking joy in music, sharing it with their neighbors with their pets, and tons of people. You can really see the impact of these videos.”

The performances were also broadcast on Columbia University’s campus radio station, WKCR (89.9 FM), as well as independent radio station WBAI (99.5 FM). 

Hornsby and Baker were both blown away by the initiative’s impact, and news outlets like NBC, CBS, and Reuters have picked up on the viral sensation. As the choir approaches their 20th anniversary next years, Hornsby hopes that they will be able to perform together again

“It will really depend upon what health experts think is safe and what we’ll be allowed to do,” said Hornsby.

“We’ve had a long relationship With the 9/11 Museum, and we’ve performed there many times for first responder families. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we’ll be able to come together and help the city put the COVID behind us to the extent that we can.”

Be sure to check out their website, for more information on their performances!

Not enough bank for a NYC therapist? Samata Health has got you covered

Most therapists across the US cost between $112 and $157 per session. For cities like New York, the cost is upwards of $250.

Samata Health Founder and CEO Elizabeth Henderson works with therapists to cut this cost in half. The platform—which officially launched this March—provides New Yorkers with diverse and affordable therapy options, both in-person and remote.

The problem with insurance

“When I moved to New York, I had not been able to find a therapist who took my insurance to save my life. I learned through this experience that it’s a huge challenge in the whole country, especially in New York, that only half of mental health providers accept insurance.”

Although both the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 expanded insurance coverage over mental health problems, patient advocates note that claims are often outmaneuvered by insurance companies through selective standards of necessity.

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Therapy shouldn’t break the bank, so we’re here to help. Schedule a session today! 📅 #samatahealth

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The lack of access shows. Based on 2017 statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, of those diagnosed with a mental illness, less than half received mental health services. According to the NY Office of Mental Health, more than 1 in every 5 New Yorkers shows symptoms for mental health problems.

Finding the right provider is hard. Samata Health works with patients, therapists, and employers to simplify the process.

Therapy during COVID-19

Merely a few weeks after Samata’s launch, NY was on house arrest: the NY on Pause order released March 22 required the closure of all non-essential businesses and asked all non-essential citizens to remain indoors and abide by social distancing regulations.

Across the nation, people were in a state of panic. Calls to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Hotline jumped by over 800% in comparison to March of last year, and the UN warns the pandemic could be the start of a worldwide mental health crisis.

Samata offered a 50 percent discount that ended a few weeks ago in response to the climbing anxiety. Although the discount ended, Henderson’s goal is to continue providing New York with the care it needs.

“We’re still a small self funded team, so the 50% off discount wasn’t something we were able to continue on a sustained basis. But we think we were able to really help people have an access point to therapy during that time and sort of get some support during the very most critical point of the crisis.”

Diversity is key

In 2015, SAMHSA released a study that showed only seven to eight percent of Hispanics and black adults utilized mental health services, less than half in comparison to whites, American Indian, Alaska Native, and those reporting two or more races (15 to 17 percent). Asian adults had the lowest turnout with less than five percent reporting use of services.

New York is diverse. A little over half the state’s population identifies as a race other than white, a quarter of which is black or African American. Samata’s site offers the option to specify ethnicity, race, and religious background. Henderson believes this could help NY access a more personalized experience in therapy.

“A lot of research shows that it can be really hard for people of color or a certain religious background to find a therapist who understands their cultural needs…and the therapeutic relationship for many people can be much more effective if you have that common baseline. We made sure to have a really representative and diverse team of therapists and you can book sessions right on the platform.”

F*ck with Korean rap: 5 hip-hop artists from Korea you should be bumping

You’ve heard of K-Pop. But South Korea has another musical movement that deserves the limelight. 

It started in the late 80s. South Korea’s rap and hip hop scenes were born from night clubs, and the subculture went on to take a lot of influence from American gangster rap and underground hip-hop of the 90s.

Many of Korea’s top rappers are able to come up through the rap survival show “Show Me the Money,” as well as it’s female-only counterpart “Unpretty Rapstar”. 

If you’re looking for some diverse new sounds, here are some of Korea’s best rappers and hip hop artists that are killing the game. 



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Mr. with @verbal_ambush by @hypebeastkr

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Kwon Min Sik, known by his stage name Sik-k, was a contestant on the fourth season of Show Me The Money. He was born in Seoul but lived in Vancouver, Canada for four years.

Although most of his top songs have more smooth, jazzy undertones, his recent work has gotten heavier. His new 2020 album, Officially OG, features some hard bops like SOAP SEOUL and NO HOOK, which also featured fellow Korean hip hop stars Paloalto and The Quiett. 



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Sydney got me feelin some typa way

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Jessi, born Jessica Ho, is an Unpretty Rapstar prodigy. She won second place the first season and returned as a mentor in 2015. The best part? She’s a tri-state native. Jessi was born in New York and grew up in Jersey, moving to Korea when she was 15 years old.

Her top song on Spotify, “Gucci,” has over 11 million streams, and remains one of her most iconic bops. 



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A post shared by Gonzo Gaviola (@dok2gonzo) on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:10am PST

Dok2 is one of Korea’s greatest. He co-founded Illionaire Records, a Korean rap and hip hop music label. He has been a judge on Show Me the Money and was in a producer team season six with big-time Korean-American artist Jay Park.

He’s got music with strong messages, including his song “ENDXIETY” featuring vocals by Ann One. The song talks about the challenges of anxiety, and his own experience with panic disorder.

His 2015 album MULTIMILLIONAIRE, however, deserves some recognition for seriously impressive beats. 


Son of a politician and only 19 years old, Jang Yong Joon first caught the spotlight on one of South Korea’s “High School Rapper,” another one of South Korea’s rap survival shows.

He was recently indicted for drunk driving and an attempted cover-up. He’s certainly seen his fair share of controversies, but problems aside, this kid has skill. His last album release was in 2018, and provides some of his most impressive tracks like “00 (DOUBLE O)” and “LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOCA.” 



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@ grayground.

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He may not have a lot of hard rap tracks under his belt, but his production skills are unmatched. Lee Seong-Hwa–known by his stage name GRAY–made waves last year when he produced 119 Remix, a rap which included not one, not five, but 51 artists from the Korean rap scene.

GRAY is signed under AOMG, a label that Jay Park founded back in 2013. His name is scattered all across the Korean hip hop genre, either as a producer or featured artist. 

Tap in and check out more Korean rap below.

The dark reality for struggling youth fighting for stability in quarantine

Calls to crisis hotlines have spiked by over 800% nationwide. Although virtual resources are accessible, youth programs for those in foster care, juvenile detention, and homeless shelters have a harder time providing resources to help them deal with the stress caused by quarantine.

“These circumstances parallel,” Bronwyn Huggins, Psychiatry Resident from SUNY Downstate, said.

“There’s not a lot of control in foster care… There’s a lot of adversity they face on a regular basis. They need to reinforce they have some sort of agency.”

Thinning Resources

In 2017, the Children’s Bureau under the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 437,465 kids were in foster care, a number that had been increasing in the thousands since 2012. A year later, the Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) of America found that 80% of foster children have a significant mental health issue.

“There’s no proper funds, unemployment issues, community youth services diminished,” Rinn Cronin-Kleinman, chapter leader at youth advocacy organization The Mockingbird Society in WA, said. The organization focuses on foster youths experiencing foster care or homelessness.

“No one is handling things the way they should be.” 

Kleinman also works at Oasis Youth Center, an LGBTQ+ support center in Tacoma. She expressed concern for the LGBTQ+ community,  as social distancing regulations have many trapped at home in unsafe situations. 

LGBTQ+ individuals were found 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared with heterosexuals, according to a report by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Stress is Everywhere

“Prior to COVID-19, the US was already experiencing some of the highest levels of anxiety in the world,” Dr. Anthony Rao, a renowned child psychologist from Boston, said. Rao published The Power of Agency in March 2019, a book exploring the impacts of rising anxiety in America.

“These are challenges that really push mental issues to the wall; the idea of contamination, as well as isolation. These are twin currents of damaging conditions that only make things much worse.” 

Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) is one of the nation’s largest non-profit agencies that provide community-based alternatives to youth prison and congregate residential treatment. They’ve also faced complications in providing youths with the emotional support they need during isolation.

“YAP program youth — who would otherwise be incarcerated or in out-of-home placement — struggle to manage these emotions during normal times,” Jennifer Drake, National Director of Behavioral Health Services with YAP, said.

“But now they aren’t able to as easily access the support they usually turn to. They are also struggling with the inability to remove themselves from stressful situations… Everyone’s triggers are more heightened, and communication and conflict resolution tools are strained.”

The agency provides its services to 29 states, including New York, where the average day sees 143 juveniles in detention facilities. 

Children and adolescents of lower socioeconomic status (SES) are at higher risk for developing mental health problems, due in part to the high volume of life stressors they face, including financial crises and loss of employment according to a study released March 2019. 

Unfortunately, resources are getting scarcer. Crisis Intervention walk-in services at NY’s Coalition for the Homeless have closed, as well as most offices operating under Safe Horizon, including their Counseling Center. 

“A huge part of all of us surviving this experience extends to knowing and recognizing when we need help,” Huggins said. “Use the resources available, even when it feels like you don’t have any.”

Virtual Communication Could Help

YAP seems to have taken up the challenge through virtual programs and conferences. One of these programs is a group for teen girls through video chat. A delivery of a snack and session materials are sent to the girls’ homes each week.

They meet virtually to discuss the lesson. Other programs drop off a care package with toiletries, food, and items for telehealth sessions that involve specific activities, such as craft supplies. 

“Staff have been exceptionally creative in the services they provide,” Drake said. “YAP’s goal is strengthening the youth’s foundation so that they can be safely home. That’s at the center of our mission. The only difference now is that we’re facilitating these kinds of communications using video and other telehealth technology, instead of in-person meetings.”

Although the world seems to have shut down, the virtual world continues to keep us connected. For organizations trying to provide resources to struggling youth, a connection is essential. 

“Being in the same physical space and having full view of body language, true and uninterrupted eye contact, there’s no substitute,” Rao said.

“For checking in and information exchange, it’s a blessing. Isolation would be so much more painful without it.”

Quarantine has us all stressed out. Can teletherapy actually help?

More than 4 out of 10 adults reported negative mental health impacts due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For many seeking help alleviating, stress, and battling pandemic-related anxiety, teletherapy, and virtual engagement have become primary outlets. But does it work? 

The Pros

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Many therapists and counseling services took their practices online or over the phone as a result of office closures. Yet virtual therapy isn’t new on the industry’s radar.

The American Psychological Association published an article about the teletherapy service BetterHelp in 2017, and the educational non-profit, Telebehaviorial Health Institute, opened up their virtual learning facility over 10 years ago.

Founder of the teletherapy project Do It Different, Grisha Samus, notes that the internet is a game-changer when it comes to staying connected. 

“With similar pandemics in the past, the main issue was lack of community and communication,” Samus said. “With the internet, we have that.”

Another mental health advocate and personal blogger Hannah Blum sees the internet as an opportunity for those with experience with mental health issues to reach out to others during the pandemic. She was diagnosed with bipolar in her early 20s and encourages people to seek out guidance and support through other advocates online.

“Many people are experiencing symptoms of mental illness that they have never experienced before,” said Blum. “[Virtual therapy] makes it more accessible and easier…you’re at home, and you’re comfortable.”

The Cons

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Experts emphasize that, although virtual therapy and engagement makes things easier, it’s incomparable in-person treatment.

In-person therapy is still the gold standard,” Elizabeth Henderson, founder of the startup therapy company Samata Health. “A lot of communication is nonverbal. With some, you could miss cues, ticks, hygiene, all of this is easier to hide in a remote session.”

Nonverbal communication is a key element in psychotherapy. Noting the different means of expression is a valued skill in counseling, and the lack of more direct contact makes it more difficult for therapists to notice the things their patients can’t put into words.

Child psychology expert, Dr. Anthony Rao, made similar references to the value of body language and nonverbal communication in therapy. Although his transition to remote conferencing with his patient was relatively easy, he is most concerned with first-timers.

“The biggest concern is a new patient,” Dr. Rao said. “Not having that real, in the office time together, it’s harder to bond and communicate effectively. But now we don’t have a choice.”

The Answer?

That's A Good Answer GIF by Mike | Gfycat

Virtual therapy is certainly an asset during social distancing. But although it is a good resource for check-ins, there is a massive nonverbal gap when conducting remote sessions.

There are success stories… A study from 2006 showed improvement in the mental health of patients receiving teletherapy–yet traditional in-person treatment remains the top choice.

Choices during quarantine, however, aren’t what they used to be.

Virtual music and theatre: Will it be good or bad for business?

Performers in the era of social distancing are facing a new virtual reality in Music and Theatre. iHeartRadio’s Living Room Concert for America is a charity concert that went down March 29, aimed at raising funds in support of musicians impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Virtual concerts have started giving artists the opportunity to stay in touch with their fans. But many music and entertainment venues, as well as musicians who depend on in-person performances, still have to find new ways to make bank. 

“The issues are financial,”  Founding Arts Director for non-profit arts organization HERE, Kristin Marting, said. “The money we ask for goes to artists, and freelance artists are in an especially bad position.” 

Online Concerts

After seeing a bunch of their planned concerts canceled, Long Island music group The Big Happy jumped online to stay connected with their base. They streamed a live performance March 18 titled ‘Lemons2Lemonade’, which intended to bring people together in wake of the pandemic. 

“That’s kinda the approach and the message we’re trying to give,” Austin Morgan, the band’s MC and percussionist, said. “Stay positive, be happy, and turn all these lemons to lemonade.”

Digital Jamming

Fellow vocalist for the band, Nikki Silva, runs an independent project on Facebook coined ‘Collab Party’, where some of Long Island’s singers and musicians come together and share their talents. 

“I choose a song, and anybody and everybody who possibly can go outside or inside sing the song and record it, then I cut together a video of everyone,” Silva said. “It’s cool because it keeps people connected.”

Both Morgan and Silva are teachers, and Joseph Baquet, one of the band’s vocalists, shared that most of the members have jobs outside of the group. The lack of in-person performances, however, means the band sees no reinvestment.

Bags are Limited

Between southern Westchester and the end of Long Island, there are over 125,000 arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses according to data provided by the US Census. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ‘New York State on PAUSE’ order declared all non-essential businesses–which includes all these venues–temporarily closed. 

Pauline Damiani has owned Revolution Bar and Music Hall in Amityville, NY for over 18 years and admits that she’s never seen anything like it. 

“It’s like the whole world shut down,” Damiani said. “We’re trying to reschedule later, to May and June, but we don’t know if we can get [those performances] back. Even if they said we could open tomorrow, it would still take a week for us, so we’d be really behind.”

Revolution Bar and Music Hall had eight music events scheduled in the month of April, with 28 bands set to perform.

The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, located in West Village, also had to cut their season short, canceling in-person performances of their show ‘The Siblings Play’. Though their last in-person show was March 14, the theater didn’t completely pull the cord. The performers moved the show to a virtual experience, sharing it with ticket-holding patrons.

“For performers, the fact they had to stop performing was incredibly disappointing,” Rattlestick’s Artistic Director, Daniella Topol, said. “In light of complex issues, the opportunity to at least share the play was really a gift. A number of people were grateful the work was seen and reviewed, and able to make income.”

VR is the New Norm

To some in the industry, the adaption to virtual engagement marks a new era of interaction for artists and performers. 

“This is a big wake up call for this industry,” Seth Soloway, Director at the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, said. “It is incumbent for leadership to not look at this as a bandaid, but as something we are maintaining. We need to be prepared because this–on and off–could be the next two years of our lives.”

The Purchase Performing Arts Center has introduced a variety of virtual conversations and other content for their initiative, “The PAC in Your Living Room.” Soloway had announced the vision in June 2019 as a means of making the center a new ‘living room for the community.’ 

HERE has also introduced new and creative means of virtual engagement through collaborative sequential videos, called ‘co-videos’. It begins with a 10-second clip, with the last frame of the first becoming the first frame of the next.

“First was on social distancing, using a glove as a prop,” Marting said. “It’s a super fun collaboration. Puppeteers, musicians, performers, everyone gets involved.”

Virtual engagement has spiked to 20,000 since March 16. The organization continues to look into new ways to innovate while the theater remains closed.

Marting shared, “Everyone is uncertain on when we can reopen. Will people come? Will they feel comfortable? This has been existential for the field, but we’re looking for ways we can service the community when we can’t do what we normally do.” 

Monetization and financing remain key issues as more organizations turn to virtual platforms. However, the potential engagement and outreach the transition provides to the art community inspire hope. 

“There’s a great amount of innovation within these limitations,” Topol said. “The innovation will ultimately be really inspiring for future theatrical work.” 


How Korean-American rapper Absint is paving his own lane in South Korea

Meet Absint. He’s a Jersey-born Korean rapper and hip-hop artist who appeared on the sixth season of Show Me the Money, a Korean television series that showcases hidden hip hop talents via rap competitions.

Now, he’s an independent rapper whose ready to refocus on his love for music.

He’s lived everywhere but the journey began in Korea, where he completed elementary school, then he went on to Hong Kong and back to Korea to attend an international school in Yongsan. The plan was to go to Michigan State University, where he enrolled as a sports marketing major. I had the chance to talk with Absint where he told me,

“I kept switching [majors] around until I was like…what am I doing here? I took some years off, spent time with friends who were producers and got into music. At first, it was for fun, but then they said I was getting good…so I just went to L.A. No money, no place to stay, so I just crashed at my high school friend’s place and worked two part-time jobs.”

Absint soon found himself on Show Me the Money, where he was given the option to either compete on the show or to attend an event in New York, where a panel of judges would critique his rapping skills. He decided on New York and ended up getting judged by Swizz Beatz — legendary record producer, rapper, DJ and art collector from the Bronx — who complimented his bars.

Later, Absint signed to Cycadelic Records, a label based in L.A. that represents a number of Korean rappers. He then left Cycadelic to pursue his music independently and recently joined the underground group Three Feet Deep which includes DJs, producers, tattoo artists, and multiple other independent talents. He told me,

“I used to always be about money. People with Three Feet are very passionate…everything I do now is out of pocket, so I pay a lot more attention to what I do. I want to get my money’s worth. Now, I’m not chasing money…or anything, really. I just want to be happy, and I want success but not through my music. My music should be for fun because I enjoy it.”

Since the start of Show Me the Money, there was a surge in Korean public interest towards hip-hop and rap culture. Unpretty Rapstar — the female take on the popular rap competition — has also added to the rise of hip-hop in South Korea.

Though Korean pop music has made massive headway in the West, Korean hip-hop has also gained traction. In 2015, K-hip hop’s biggest artist, Jay Park, signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation. This posed to many Korean rappers and hip hop artists as a sign of the potential for the Korean underground industry. Absint said,

“Hip-hop is being seen as positive. It was a great turn around for the industry. There’s a lot of Korean hip-hop on the charts here in Korea, lots of collaborations, and now it’s being recognized in the public. It’s like breaking down a wall, and at the end of the day, it’s better for the artists and the people. The artists get to make money, and the public now has a better understanding of what rap and hip-hop really is.”

Many popular Korean artists include English in their verses and sometimes release entire songs in English. Korean hip-hop is no exception, and in a number of cases, the artists grow up outside of South Korea. Jay Park himself was born and raised in Seattle, and the artist Ness who once collaborated with Jay was born in New Jersey.

For Absint, who has lived all across the world, identity is something that he hopes his career as a Korean-American artist can challenge.

“As a Korean-American, I was always searching for my identity. Now I believe I’m just an international kid. I rap in two languages, and sometimes I mix languages when I speak because one language doesn’t have the right word for what I’m feeling. That’s just who I am. I hope to reach out to those who don’t know who they are because now a lot of kids are growing up international. We’re all the same, and we’re all trying to express who we are by the way we live.”

In the future, Absint wants to organize social events for various artists to meet and collaborate. He has hosted events before, but feels that they are very repetitive, and aims to organize events that are unique and include a wider variety of artists and entrepreneurs.

When asked what he would like to say to Korean underground artists, fans, and readers, Absint added this:

“Don’t be lazy. Have fun, go out more, see more, and if my music can bring you somewhere new that that’s awesome. Every fan counts, and you can’t put a price on them because they’re your partners for life. And remember, don’t limit yourself by what you’re surrounded by…live young, and enjoy life.”

Meet Changstarr, Korea’s psychedelic rapper with an Ivy League degree

South Korean pop music might have made waves, yet there is talent in Korea that deserves the spotlight. It hides in the underground: vivid street fashion, edgy art styles, and a flourishing rap and hip-hop scene.

Within this hidden world, experimental artists break traditional roles in music and image. Paul Chan Chang — known as Changstarr — is one of these artists.

Chang has lived on the edge of his identity, born in Texas to a Korean family and spending his middle school years in Korea. He returned to the United States for high school and went on to major in Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, a highly acclaimed ivy league school located in New Hampshire.

The plan was law school. Becoming a music artist, let alone a rapper, was something he had only ever considered a dream. In an interview with Kulture Hub, he said,

“Rapping definitely wasn’t even in my vision. It was just something I really liked to do, something I was passionate about, but I never really thought of myself as a rapper. But senior year in college I interned at a pretty big law firm in Korea and I absolutely hated it. No matter how much money I could make out of it, I knew I wouldn’t be happy.”


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Chang noticed the underground rap world in Korea was growing, and after realizing he wasn’t meant for an office, he went on to join the new movement.

Since the rise of hip hop culture in the West, South Korea has shown huge interest in the music genre. Television shows such as Show Me the Money and Unpretty Rapstar, both of which first aired within the past decade, are pushing hip-hop and rap further into the lens of the South Korean public.

The rise of rap and hip-hop in South Korea has opened doors for more creativity in the industry like never before. Changstarr is one of those artists who decided to create his own lane, forming an image that was blended with the hippie, psychedelic vibes of Woodstock with the rhythm and beats of the Bronx.

“I wasn’t really very hippie until senior year in college when I started growing out my hair. I traveled a lot with my friends, and for a graduation trip we drove from Alaska to L.A. During that time I fell in love with hippie culture, and on the road, we took turns reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac in the car. It influenced me a lot in terms of perspective and how I view my life. After that, I just fell in love with the psychedelic lifestyle, and I feel like it makes me a lot more unique.”

Though the Korean underground has been indulging in mainstream hip-hop, Chang admits it’s hard for artists that challenge the status quo. Korea is still new to hip-hop culture and rappers that attack more sensitive or controversial material in their music are often looked down upon.

This has a lot to do with the Korean music industry, says Chang, where pop artists are held to high standards in terms of expression of opinion. The music industry, based mostly on manufactured talent and strategic planning, created a culture of silence where artists no longer have to freedom to fully express themselves. He told me,

“People are very sensitive to the lyrics because they’re not used to the expression used in hip-hop. A lot of lines can sound misogynistic or materialistic, but that’s part of the hip-hop culture. It’s a way of expressing sexuality and personality that normally seems offensive but can be spoken through rap. There’s a lot of things you have to be careful about here as a rapper, especially since there’s a certain way these artists are expected to be. You have to care a lot about what the public thinks because of these standards. Being too different or too unique doesn’t work here, so a lot of it seems artificial.”

In Changstarr’s newest album, Vagabonds, the nuance artist hopes to encourage more expression and individuality in Korean rap. In his album, there is a suggestion of discussion regarding drug culture, something that is highly controversial in South Korea.

“People are going to make choices that society may not accept, but f**k that. If you’re not hurting anybody, then it’s fine. When there are more people getting comfortable talking about it — obviously, you have to be indirect, like we’re doing right now — through music and style, Korea may have a sort of cultural renaissance. People just need to chill out, be yourself, do whatever the f**k you want. In Korean hip-hop, it’s like the exact opposite of what Korean society wants you to be, and so now people are getting a lot more comfortable being themselves.”

In contrast to the overwhelming presence of the major Korean pop music industry, Chang notes that the Korean hip-hop industry boasts expression and uniqueness in their artists.

There is a stronger sense of individuality and freedom, whereas the mass-marketed Korean pop industry places high standards and regulation upon their artists for their commercialization.


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Following the release of his new album, Chang has seen a surge in his popularity, landing a number of gigs across Seoul. Aside from his own music, Chang has appeared in an online documentary called “Lust,” which investigates the Korean underground rap world.

He also has plans to organize a crew for future collaborative works and has been hosting his own event called “Vagabonds Party” to feature other artists and DJs from the underground in South Korea.

Changstarr is one of the many underground artists that is dominating the Korean hip-hop scene, yet he is one of the few looking for a change. He has high prospects for the future of Korean hip-hop, and it’s about time it followed the rest of the music industry West. K-pop made it to the top, and now, K-hip-hop is sure to explode next.

Peep Changstarr’s latest project Vagabonds here:

From the military to streetwear, the journey of a South Korean fashion designer

Wook-Il Choi started with only a needle and thread. A few years later, he’s the owner of the fashion company COKIE, and it all began while he was working for the South Korean military.

The South Korean government has had a conscription requirement in place since 1957, where all Korean men perform compulsory military service for two years.

Choi spent six months working as a soldier per the South Korean conscription requirement but was planning on entering fashion school after leaving the service the whole time. That is until he fully thought it out. Choi explained,

“The amount of money it would take to go into fashion school was a lot, so I decided to just start a company. I already had plans for it.”

Choi reflected on the times while he was in the service. He had used the sewing kit intended for fixing uniforms to make an arrangement of bags and eventually got permission for a sewing machine from his higher-ups.

Many of his peers were convinced that his company would flop and that his plans for fashion were not reasonable. Sporting his aesthetic, gangster-style label from head to toe, Choi challenged that arguing,

“In Korean society, it’s all about how much money you’ll make, or if you’ll be successful. You can’t really be creative unless it’s profitable.”

South Korea is notorious for its high-pressure working culture, with Koreans laboring nearly 240 hours more than the average American per year.


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Socially, there is an expectation for individuals to work towards the goal of a civil service job, which is considered a more secure option compared to other forms of work. Koreans strive for the security of income — something that fields such as fashion can’t necessarily provide. Choi described how Japan and Europe, unlike South Korea, boasts a more promising environment for a career in high-end fashion. He said,

“I have visited Japan and Europe, and the fashion was a bit disappointing. In Korea, there are a lot of talented people in street fashion, but society prevents many of them from expressing themselves. When people try going into fashion, people around them really just care about the money rather than the creativity.”

After leaving the military, Choi moved from his hometown of Ansan to Seoul alongside his friend to start his company. With only 200,000 won (about $200), Choi began working at a department store and learned about the business behind organizing his new line.

He was heavily undermined by those he spoke with from the department store as many of them said that starting his own company would be “impossible.” He then left Seoul and went to Dongdaemun. There Choi observed their infamous street markets where vendors sold their merchandise at bargain prices.

Choi’s style is based mostly on practicality, and he incorporates a lot of pockets and bags into his work. During the interview, Choi fashioned numerous different items from his label, including a multi-pocketed, heavy-duty backpack and shoes tailored with a strapped on pocket for storing extra cash or other items. He went on to explain what it is that inspires him when he’s creating saying,

“I try not to look at other brands or buy other brands, and most of my inspiration comes from my mood. I like to incorporate bags to make things more useful.”

Now, Choi has already gotten his line on Artist Runway in a collaboration with various other artists. The runway was aimed at incorporating the personalities of the models. The swanky event included different artists, tattooists, and rappers. Choi mentioned one act they incorporated on the runway.

“We had the models hold a flower and throw it at the end of the walk. The flower meant ‘potential talent’, and when we burned all the flowers at the end of the show — it was meant as a way to show that your talent shouldn’t be silent. It should be shown and expressed for the world to see.”

During the building of the runway, a storm came through and tore down much of the layout. The director, however, said to leave the damage: it retained the uniqueness of the show and gave it another layer of artistic expression.

Since the runway’s production, Choi has been looking towards the future for his company. He has even been contacted by some VMC music directors to discuss concepts and potential collaboration on future music videos.

Choi joked about directors who came from LA and wanted to meet him. They struggled to find him and ended up reaching out to him from a police station. They connected through Instagram, and are still discussing future plans.

Choi admits, happily, that this collaboration offers his company the prime opportunity of expanding West.

“I never intended to make my company in Korea, but it just happened. The plan is to move West and build the company there.”

He also hopes to launch a new brand named “Searching for Meaning,” coined “SEARCH,” yet he is still deliberating on the concept. The final destination, however, will be a fashion magazine. He says,

“I want a magazine to promote artists. When I was in the military, there was nothing like that for people to read. I want to create something where artists are able to express themselves and get the attention they deserve.”

The name he plans to give the magazine roughly translates to “Nevertheless,” meaning that no matter what, artists should continue working towards their goals. Choi told me lastly,

“I don’t care about money when I consider collaborating with someone. And it doesn’t have to be just in fashion. I want to work with someone who shows pure passion as an artist. Someone with no self-limit with their abilities. That’s what matters.”

Translations by Guest Translator Ka-eun Yun