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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.”