Interview with Drunken Tiger

interview - 03.03.2010 15:15

Drunken Tiger talks about his origins, music, international fans, and his goals for the future.

In June of 2009, hip-hop artist Drunken Tiger released his eighth album and it sold over 100,000 copies. He was selected as Korea's top hip-hop artist of the year, but he hasn't let his success go to his head. Taking the time to grant us an interview, he tells us about his journey and his mindset.


Could you introduce yourself to KoME?

Drunken Tiger: What it do my fam from another land! I am Drunken Tiger JK, aka Tiger JK aka Jaguatirica 51 aka Pedro Gustavo aka Ol' Drunken Tiger.

Thank you for this interview. Welcome to the "ghood" side of my mind!

How did you get into hip-hop and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?

DT: I've been a big fan of hip-hop ever since I was little. I was exposed to what was playing on the radio of course -- pop music, rock, metal, dance -- whatever was charting. But it was a mind sparking experience when I heard hip-hop music in the streets -- beats were raw, what these rappers were saying felt more real. These rappers dressed like how we did (or visa versa), they talked fresh, they got what they call now 'swagger'. The way they expressed their thoughts -- using rhymes and metaphors so freely -- got to me. I guess in my adolescent mind it seemed mad cool, being able to talk about anything, not sugar coating nothing, you are in that rebellious stage and age. Then I got into it more, realized there's more to it then just talking shit about somebody or about some girl's booty. It was poetic -- hip-hop allows you to express yourself through the words and the rhythm. What I realized was with hip-hop, you could be fresh as long as you got your own style. You could be short, fat, scarred up -- as long as you're dope, you could be a star talking (or rather rapping) about what's happening around you or in your mind.

Where does the name Drunken Tiger come from?

DT: I was born in the Year of the Tiger. Because I was born with a crazy wrinkle on my face resembling a tiger cub, people just naturally started calling me "Tiger." Now fastforward my story to LA. Alcoholic beverages aka '40s' was big -- it was a big bottle of beer with 40% alcohol (that was the thing back then). Well, the rappers - The Alcoholiks and the Likwid Crew -- they were running things in LA. I was a big fan of theirs and of course boom! the whole Wu Tang Movement was crazy too. So naturally, they influenced me. But what really hit me was the kung-fu flick, "The Drunken Master." I was all up in it, like how Wu Tang Clan was into these old school kung-fu flicks and how they be referencing their philosophy in their rhymes. Sounds typical but being an Asian, it felt like as Wu got big, I could get big also. So when they say Wu's "for the children", it's real, HA! Anyway, in the movie, "Drunken Master", whenever the fighter gets drunk, he fights better. I took that lyrically and started calling our crew "Drunken Tiger." Whenever we were drunk, we flowed better, we wrote better, we felt stronger, and the girls looked better -- we were a bunch of fools. ;)

Drunken Tiger has been influential for the Korean hip-hop scene, but who or what is it that influenced you?

DT: Hip-hop as a culture, the lifestyle, and what it meant for a dude like me that didn't quite fit in -- it gave me an outlet. Hip-hop was really a way of life -- waiting for Yo! MTV Raps to be on to tape my favorite videos, being in the circle just catching freestyle, cyphering, house parties, waiting in line to watch a concert -- it was just exciting times man. Fashion was fun, everything was fun about it. From 2Live Crew joking about sex (one of their members was Chinese!) to NWA blasting about gangbanging to Slick Rick's silly storytelling. Das EFX was iggity and then there was ATCQ (A Tribe Called Quest), De La Soul, the Zulu Nation, and Public Enemy tapping the political tip. And sometimes I wander off to reggae music and dancehall to just some good ole soul music to the East Coast sounds of The Roots and Mos Def to the West Coast grooves of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg -- got a whole book full of MCs I'd love to name but I don't think this interview long enough to do that.

Even though you have played a big role in changing some parts of the Korean music industry, not all of our readers know you. Which song would you pick to show them who Drunken Tiger is, and why that song?

DT: Not everyone knows me here either (well that might've changed a bit after my eighth album dropped). It's been almost 15 years. I look back on it, I was a kid just doing what I thought was dope then and I cherish my memories -- the good times and bad times all together. I am proud of what I have done, of all my works in the past, but not necessarily because I think they were all good. Some of the old stuff I hear, I just wanna delete them out my memory bank in my brain.

But after all that "rah rah", "I'm this and that", and after all that braggadocious rhymes, the track that lingers as truth in my heart -- I would pick 8:45 Heaven, the song I wrote for my grandma.



Having said that, I got 8 albums (not including all the guest appearances over 10 years). I tend to be affected by what I'm going through at the moment or seasons when I'm making my records. I have this schizophrenic sort of personality -- I got many characters which I guess are embedded in my mind from all types of music I listened to growing up. I feel like a thug sometimes but I feel like just a dork at a bar getting dissed by all them girls.

On my 7th album, I express what I want hip-hop to be and on my 8th, I split my personality in half --my "feel good" and "feel hood" side -- hence it's called "feel ghood muzik." It's very hard to pick one particular song to describe Drunken Tiger. I say go to iTunes and download my 8th album and y’all tell me! (LOL)

Can we expect any new releases from you soon?

DT: Right now at Jungle Entertainment, we are concentrating on Tasha's new album. It's gonna be a hip-hop album. After that, I got many projects I'm working on -- a semi-reggae hip-hop album, working on a project group album with me, Ann, Tasha, and also Roscoe Umali. You're gonna see a lot of collabs with acts from the US.

If you had the opportunity to collaborate with an American or European artist, who would that be?

DT: I got the chance when God MC Rakim featured on my 8th album -- that was like a historical moment for me (WHAT?!) Rakim blessed me with his verse on Monster, Rakka from Dilated Peoples was on it, Stylistic Jones from the Likwid Crew -- I couldn't believe my ears. I wanna keep building, I don't want it to be just a one time thing, I would love to work with these great artists again.

Also, I'd love to work with Damian Marley, it would be crazy to get Slick Rick on my album, Mos Def, The Roots, get a track from Dr. Dre -- hahah! -- that'd be amazing. Wu Tang Clan and Drunken Tiger -- it just sounds right -- I'd like to see that happen, get a track from RZA, get the whole Wu in the building (smile). Hey, why not Beyonce, Erika Badu, Jill Scott, Qtip, Primo, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, MIA? The lists goes on and on...
typical answer i guess but who knows, maybe one of these artists might read this interview and holla at me. LOL

As far as European artists, a lot of my Twitter friends are sending me links educating me on em.

There are many many great talents out there I wanna work with who are not necessarily celebs.

Plus, get all them Asian brothers and sisters and represent!

What is your opinion about today's Korean and international music industries?

DT: I used to be against the industry. I was a young blood hating everything about it. It was corny to me and I hated the fact that I was outcasted. My album was banned most of the time and I couldn't get on a TV show to save my life.

But I embrace it now, not in a "I'm a godfather, I give my blessing to y’all" way, but I'm older now and being in this biz for a long time, I'm able to understand what the up and coming K-Pop kids go through. These kids are dedicated and they really work hard at it to get to where they are now.

However, I think that the K-Pop shows need more musical diversity. Groups are starting to look alike as if these factories are cloning them, and songs are starting to sound like they are remixing each others' songs. I know so many amazing acts from so many different genres of music that just rocking shows in small clubs, barely making ends meet -- they need more breaks to break out.

I realized that K-Pop's grown into something big with massive fandoms overseas -- I had no idea till I got on Twitter (hahah!). But seriously, there are so many more music talents you guys got to get to know. Hopefully, I can do my part to introduce you to some of them...

As the leader of The Movement Crew, what does The Movement represent to you in one word?

DT: I'm not the leader, I'm just the oldest of the bunch. The Movement represents being true to the hip-hop culture and being true to yourself, making good music and letting it expand to many (and make a living doing what you love to do). The Movement started because we couldn't get any support from the Korean media -- no TV, no radio, there weren't any shows to rock. Even our clothes, we wore what people didn't understand.

But there were a few clubs that played hip-hop music, where b-boys hung out at, and MCs used to have open mic nights. 20 to 30 people gathered around to watch us perform -- that became The Movement. We went out to the streets and started booking our own gigs, we'd giveaway stickers and tapes, never thought that we were gonna grow this big, let alone see the day to talk about it in the interviews.

What do you like most and least about being a famous artist?

DT: I was never affected by it, maybe because I never thought of myself as being famous. I don't live in the city of Seoul. I live outside the city so if I be out doing my thing, people holla at me, I holla at them back. They know who I am, where I live, where I record at even. People in my town, they're like my family. They all root for me like I'm one of their kids. I record, drop my album, and I'm on the road rocking shows from city to city, crowds go buck wild, and l love the energy -- it's like Woodstock. I live for that moment and when it's done, I'm home chilling.

I've never really been in the mass media spotlight. Sometimes, I wonder where these people come from to fill the arena when I rock shows. But with this 8th album, I opened up a little and they opened to me. I did get on some TV shows, and yes, a lot of people seem to recognize me when I go out to the city but nothing's changed. I appreciate all the love and support I get. And my loyal fans are happy that I'm gettin some recognition after 10 years of grinding in the industry.

Only thing about fame that's putting weight on my shoulders is that I gotta be responsible. I can't be acting a fool in the public thinkin that's "keeping it real". I need to learn to control my thoughts as well as my temper. Can't jump out the car wit a bat just cuz somebody cut me off. YouTube’s watching you...

Do you have any plans or wishes to perform overseas?

DT: Yes. But I don't wanna go out there unless I'm 100%.

I love rocking shows -- that's my passion. I was inspired by Busta Rhymes, The Roots, Mos Def, Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde. When it comes to rocking shows, I want to make people levitate. I don't wanna go out there feeling like I'm auditioning for "American Idol" in front of Simon and The Gang.

Most of my songs are in Korean, but music is the universal language that brings peeps together no matter where you grind at. I just found out recently that I had some fans overseas -- I'm networking with them, reintroducing myself and my music to them. And as I build the relationships with my fans, I’m feeling the moment might be right to fly out there and connect with them.

In your career of 10+ years, which moment would you pick as the most unforgettable one?

DT: A) My first TV show. DJ gave me 30 seconds to do whatever I want because one of them boybands didn't make it. Everybody was leaving, credit rolling and all. I jumped on the stage and started rocking the mic. This was at a time when the fandoms were even more hardcore than they are nowadays. I was nobody's nobody. Some flippin fingers at me as they were leaving but three kids from that crowd stayed to hear what I got to say on the mic. During my 30 seconds of fame, they became my first fan club, Tiger Balm. We still stay in touch.

B) The day I woke up paralyzed. I couldn't move, I was rushed to the hospital, had a spinal tap, MRI, all that funky stuff. Myelitis is what it was -- thought my life was over.

C) The day I was walking again without the cane.

D) And probably now is that unforgettable moment -- I'm living it.

On a Korean talk show, you said you wanted to be famous, right? I see that you are gaining more Brazilian and other international fans via Twitter. Have you ever seriously considered using this kind of tool to achieve fame and recognition?

DT: Fame's an illusion but that illusion becomes the tool to get what you need easier. And when that fades, people who thought that was real would loose their mind.

Personally, I could do without fame. I got peeps that dig my music that won't come to those TV chart shows to make me look good to save my life, LOL. But they come to my concert.

The tricky thing with TV, when I needed to be heard, when I had important messages not just to my fans but to everybody, I had no juice. It was a dead end. I had no outlet to do so. TV only cares about what makes them money. And money to them was catering to these big labels with huge fandoms.

But this time around, I got on some TV shows to let people know that I exist and contrary to popular belief, that I wasn’t a thug going around jumping people, LOL.

Kidding aside, I embraced digital media tools like Twitter because I was tired of my press kit being dumped in trashcans or my message being distorted and chopped up by the mass media spin machines.

A good friend of mine opened up a Twitter account for me and kept buggin me to be on that. I wasn't too interested. One night, he came through my studio and opened up his Macbook and he was like, “J, trust me and just write something.” That's what happened.

I soon realized there were peeps out there that knew who I was. Peeps from the Philippines to UK talking to me. It was good to connect with people I thought never existed. And I got to show my other side, the "feel good side" - shameless plug, sorry (smiles). Didn't take it too seriously in a sense that I wasn't on it to promote or to jump nobody on Twitter, LOL. Just took it as a chatting tool with whoever was interested in my pointless ramblings. It was a good tool to let people know that I wasn't a thug going around jumpin people for no reason. And I don't need to write a long press kit and wait around to be heard. I can talk to my people direct.

Fans in Brazil happened one night. It started with this one person sorta like the day I started Tiger Balm with three people, talkin bout Paulo Coelho’s quote, "Haters are confused admirers who can't understand why everyone loves you." We started talkin bout that quote back and forth, and I wrote a couple of words in Portuguese, and boom, she and a couple of others started Jaguatirica51, my Brazilian fan club. Much love to them and hopefully I could be big enough to afford a ticket to fly out there to rock shows.

Going back to the Korean audience, they tend to react better to "trends" like hook songs and dance moves?

DT: Not to piss nobody off, that so-called "hook song" was always part of hip-hop music. We were doing that way back in the 90s -- I hear a lot of lyrics or concepts nowadays that many of these MCs done back in the day. Never got props. PDs used to clown us, tellin us that it ain't music. It was big among our fans and peeps used to go buck wild in the club. But since it wasn't televised, none of the masses knew about it.

Having said that, I’m open to any fresh ideas or trend. I enjoy them, my baby enjoys them. There are times for some conscientious materials and sometimes you just wanna bump something that makes everyone smile. To me, hip-hop's about setting trends, not following them. MCs and b-boys, DJs and artists -- they’re all trendsetters.

Do you think you will ever do something like that to get to the top of the game?

DT: All depends on how I feel when I’m in the studio I guess. Who knows one day, I might bust some moves. I’m thinkin bout making a song with nothing but hooks right now -- it's gonna go "@drunkentigerjk @drunknetigerjk @drunkentigerjk (30x)."

Which would you prefer? A soda like contemporary music that is a major hit for a short period of time (eg, idol music), or the kind that may not be everyone's cup of tea at the time, but is remembered by the most people for a long period of time.

DT: Both. You wanna make that hit as an entertainer where everybody's singing or humming your song. But as an artist, you want that record that transcends time.

What I want to do and what's possible I think is up to y’all.

2010, the year of the tiger. Are there any specific goals you hope to achieve for your music and yourself?

DT: There are so many. I really want to meet a genie in a bottle in person, LOL. I want Tasha's record to be blown up worldwide cuz I really think she's the one. We ain't from no major label -- don't have the major means to push her music out here or there but I think she deserves the chance. Ann and Roscoe Umali are also from Jungle Ent -- they’re due for some mad recognition, they are incredible artists.

I’m working on building a nursing home for people suffering rare illnesses like Lou Gehrig’s disease, myelitis, and such. I wanna raise enough money and awareness to complete my goals. This probably will take mad time and effort, it's an ongoing project. Hopefully, one day I'll see the day this goal is accomplished.

But all in all, I think 2010 is gonna be the year, for all of us.

And last but not least, I want world peace and an iPad for myself. ;)

The relationship between a star and fans can be awkward especially when encountered in real life. As you know with idols, young fangirls run up to them screaming and often things turn into chaos. Or they take a picture of you without asking. That brings me to ask, what kind of treatment do you hope to receive from your fans?

DT: I need love. If girls run up to me, I enjoy that very much -- minas please do run up and give me some love, wurd! LOL

Usually with my fans, dudes give me a pound and girls give me rubs. But I mos def don't want nobody hurting themselves. Just be cool and show your love. I don't mind pictures either, just not when I’m pickin my nose please. And not when I’m out chillin wit my baby. Don't run up like you gonna hurt me -- just ask.

International fans know a lot about you and your music but not necessarily your culture, which is rather unfortunate when it comes to food! Which Korean dish would you recommend for them to try?

DT: You can't go wrong with chicken. People know about ‘kalbi’ (Korean ribs) but not many people talk about how Korea's got crazy chicken dishes. Try samgaetang -- it's healthy food as well. And the way we be frying chicken these days, man it tastes soooo good.

Is it alright if we ask a question about your son, Jordan? Since you and your wife, T, are bilingual (Korean and English), how about Jordan? Are you teaching him both languages or trying to concentrate on just one to begin with?

DT: I want Jordan to learn as many languages as possible. My brother-in-law is from Brazil, one of Jordan's uncles is French, my sister speaks Spanish, Uncle Roscoe Umali is Filipino, one of Jordan's aunties is Jamaican, Tasha's father got a huge, huge family -- grandmas and cousins and uncles from Washington DC -- they are all so proud of Jordan. And my physical therapist is Chinese -- don't speak a lick of Korean. I don't know how she's treating me. When I get out to the US, some people think I speak Chinese and they refuse to believe we speak different languages. Anyway, why not learn Chinese and Japanese? :) Above all, I just want Jordan to be a healthy and loving child. And I want him to grow up to be a healthy and a purposeful man.

Congratulations on the recent photoshoot with actor Jang Dong-gun for a fashion label. The image of a Mr. Nice Guy, "Hoon nam", suits you perfectly and helps fans to approach hip-hop with more ease. Now that there are more people in The Movement Crew active in Korean Entertainment programs, do you think people's opinion on hip-hop is going to change? If so, do you think it is for good?

DT: It makes hip-hop less threatening I guess. The bigger the market, the better it is for all of us. But not everyone’s built to think like that. All the other opportunities I’m getting is to put food on the table for my family. I’m not forced to do it, I enjoy exploring the other side of the world out there and I don't half-step. But in the end, it comes down to music. Comes down to expressing yourself. And you gotta do it right.

I believe that everybody’s gonna get their turn. It's what you do with it when it hits you. You could let it feed your ego and be gone when that ish pops or you could feed your bank account. Or you could let it feed your soul as well so it lasts longer and transforms to something else. Let it open doors for the other world for you to step in while it leaves the door open for others who been waiting for that space you are in. Live and let live.

Do you have any final messages for our readers?

DT: Thank you for reading this interview. Hopefully by now, you are in so much love with me that you have no other choice but to go get my album and tell your friends about me to do the same. Hope you find whatever you’ve been searching for, and if not, you’re almost there. Happy belated Lunar New Year and best wishes to y’all.

KoME would like to thank Drunken Tiger and Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective for making this interview. Music is available from the Drunken Tiger iTunes store.
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