On a rainy summer day in July, Jay Park is wrapping up interviews for his new seven-song capsule Ask Bout Me at the Roc Nation fices in Manhattan. An entourage consisting Above Ordinary Music Group (AOMG)’s business manager Charles Kwon and two artists signed to his H1GHR MUSIC label – Ted Park from Madison, Wisconsin, and Avatar Darko from Seattle, Washington – accompany him for Park’s first promotional run in the United States. The 31-year-old multi-hyphenate announced his new deal with Roc Nation in July 2017, and in that one year, he's drawn lots interest in his debut as the label’s first Asian-American artist.
At the time, Park noted on Instagram that signing with Roc Nation was a win for Korea, Asian Americans, and for “the overlooked and underappreciated.” Certainly, Park is hoping to add another win with his latest single “Soju,” which is an ode to the social drink Korea and features 2 Chainz. The video, shot in Atlanta’s Koreatown, is bridging two worlds not ten seen in rap – a famous idol among K-pop fans and one Atlanta’s standard-bearers joining forces.
Jay Park (no relation to Ted Park) is nearly a decade removed from his days as the leader 2PM, the South Korean boy band created by JYP Entertainment. He has since established himself as a solo artist, dropping several albums in both Korean and English. He is also the co-founder two popular record labels in Korea — AOMG, founded in 2013, and H1GHR MUSIC, which was created in 2017. Ted Park is the newest addition to H1GHR, signing with Jay in March 2018 after he DM’ed him about liking his “Me Oh My” video and arranging a meeting in Korea.
“What really got me to join Jay and H1GHR MUSIC was that as a Korean-American, he understands me and what I’ve been through,” Ted Park tells Billboard. “And also, all the obstacles he overcame, he pushed through it and I feel like he is not going to give up on my stuff either. It has been a great relationship so far in a short amount time.”
As an artist and label executive, Jay Park has built a solid foundation for himself, where he has proven to be on par with rap’s new guard through confident freestyles on Sway in the Morning, Whoolywood Shuffle, and many more. Now with Roc Nation backing him and Ask Bout Me releasing today (July 20), Park wants to really break new ground in hip-hop, already getting co-signs from Chainz, Gashi, Rich the Kid, and Vic Mensa, whom all appear on the capsule.
But you shouldn’t sleep on his pop songs either. “Yacht” has the potential to be a summer smash – the original Korean version featuring Sik-K has been reworked with English lyrics dedicated to his “baby” and a sizzling verse by Mensa. “Sexy 4 Eva” is another that would fit with the uptempo vibes throwback Jay Park records including “All I Wanna Do” and “Me Like Yuh.”
In our conversation, Park discusses the making Ask Bout Me, his B-boying background, signing to Roc Nation, meeting JAY-Z and Beyoncé, the artists he wants to work with, and more.
Your last album, Everything You Wanted, was heavily R&B and featured you singing lyrics that were in English and Korean. How would you describe the progression this capsule from your earlier work?
The last one was like 10 songs in English and nine songs in Korean. So I was kind testing the waters on how people receive my English stuff. Luckily, they really fuck with it. They really started listening to my English stuff – even though it was getting no push out here at all. “Me Like Yuh” got like 20 million plays on Spotify. They don’t have Spotify in Korea. So it got 20 million plays with like, nothing. I was like, "OK, cool." But this one there’s more a variety genres – there’s singing, there’s more pop stuff. There’s rap stuff. And we got the major features on there, which I never had before.
Talk about those collaborations—Rich the Kid is hot now.
Yeah, he definitely is. At the time when I got the verse, he wasn’t as hot as he was right now, which is crazy. So it worked out well for me, thank God. The good people at Roc Nation made it all happen. I don’t really have links to these guys. I didn’t know them personally until we shot the music videos. I guess they heard the tracks and they fucked with it and they hopped on.
The video for “Yacht” is out today and it features Vic Mensa.
Yeah, we shot that one in Hawaii and L.A. All these videos with features on it, it’s hard to make it happen. It’s like you gotta get the director, and the schedules have to match. It’s a lot scrambling, a lot chaotic panicking, but we somehow finessed it and made it all happen. If you’ve seen the video, it looks beautiful. The scenery, the backdrop looks amazing. It goes perfect with the summer vibes.
What is your favorite song f the capsule now?
I like all the songs. I personally picked all the beats. I wrote all the songs, so it is like I think all them are dope. My favorite one, it depends. As far as rap wise, I like “Ask ‘Bout Me.” I like that one. It’s like a statement, this is who I am. This is why I’m here. If you don’t know, you’re about to find out. In terms what I think is going to be the most popular f the capsule, I think “Sexy 4 Eva” is going to the most well-received, translated the best to everybody. It doesn’t matter which race, anybody can kind relate to being confident and having that attitude and feeling good about yourself.
I want to break down some your lyrics. On “FSU,” you rap, “I do R&B, but they want me to rap/ You rappers ain’t doing your job right/ The Roc called me in to come up and just pick up your slack.” Rap is a competitive sport – and you know rappers who hear this lyric are going to feel like they need to step up their bars.
You gotta step up your bars! Look, I run two labels. I sing, I dance. I don’t spend all my time rapping. It was just one those things where I thought Roc Nation would want me to do more pop, R&B stuff because it is an easier route, it is more safe than an Asian dude from K-pop doing rap shit. But they thought the rap shit was dope, and so they let me rock with it. Of course, I’ve been hip-hop since the second grade. It’s very natural to me. It is not like I am trying to be something I am not. It comes natural to me. It’s kind one those low-key flexing on everybody.
On the title track, you rap, “Hope you wish me well, but a lot motherfuckers don’t / Wanna take my place, but another motherfucker won’t / I don’t want no beef man, I rather be up on a boat / Something like a lung cancer patient, I don’t want no smoke.” Can you elaborate? You’re flexing, but again, you’re saying you don’t want the smoke.
I’m flexing as where it is like a humble flex. I’m just speaking the truth. There are probably people that will support me, but there might be some people that don’t. Maybe they feel like I don’t deserve it. Maybe because I am from a K-pop background. I am Asian or whatever. Whatever it may be, they feel like I might not deserve it. But I’m very confident in myself. No one can take away what I’ve done in this game. Everything I’ve done, I’ve earned it so far. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and now I get signed to Roc Nation. Nobody ever cut me no slack.
But I’m not a confrontational type dude. I don’t like to waste my time doing that because I have so many things that I need to do and so many people that I have to look after and so many goals that I have to accomplish. I don’t want to waste my time going after people or beefing over petty shit. Like, "He said my name in an interview and now I have to write four songs about him and think about him for a week, two weeks." It’s like, "Nah, I don’t want no smoke." Everybody let’s all live our best lives and try to uplift the people around us. And little by little, we can change the world.
Is authenticity pretty important to you?
Of course, not just in hip-hop, but in anything it is very important. Just because you have to be authentic to really do something with a purpose. If it is just to get money, if it is just to get fame, what are you really doing it for? After fame and money, then what? 'Cause fame disappears. Money you can spend it. You get like 10 cars, and then what? You drive it and it is over, you know? It’s cool. I’m not saying don’t get money, don’t buy cars and shit. But if that is the only purpose, is just to get fame or whatever, you are kind doing it for the wrong reasons. You have to really have a purpose in doing whatever you’re doing. You gotta know why you’re moving, what moves you? Why are you waking up everyday? And why are you doing this? Why are you making these songs? Why are you grinding?
You’re from Seattle and come from a B-boying background, which is part your authenticity. What does being from that city and that scene mean to you?
It means a lot. I’m still in that scene. I’m not in it as I was before, but I still battle. I still have the same crew. We always still kick it when I go back to Seattle. We still enter battles. It really shaped who I am today. Having the crew mentality that I do now, and just having that purist mindset when it comes to hip-hop. That’s why I don’t cut any corners, that’s why I don’t take shortcuts. I don’t expect anyone to give me easy props. Like, "Oh yeah, he has a big following or whatever." Or he is famous in Korea. I don’t expect anyone to cut me any slack. That’s why I go out and earn. Everything I do. The B-boy community really instilled that in me.
Your B-boy crew is Art Movement. How long have you been with them?
Since 2002, so it has been 16 years. We battle at least once a year – all together. They’re still battling and stuff like that, but me, myself, I still battle once a year, twice a year.
Did you do one this year?
I did do one this year. We lost in the first round. But still! To some people, it is about winning because they train pretty hard. But for me, it is another opportunity for me to get down with the crew and go back. That energy and that adrenaline rush is like no other.
Being in that crew is how you met Cha Cha Malone?
That’s how I met Cha Cha Malone. That’s how I met all my friends today.
What’s your creative relationship with him like? He’s on a lot your projects.
He’s a very talented guy. We were in the same B-boy crew and it turned out he did music as well. When I departed from the group 2PM] and went back to Seattle, I was like, "Yo, do you want to try out a song together?" So we worked on music together and I really liked what the outcome was. And ever since then, it’s been history. We have platinum singles over in Korea]. He has a big name too. He does merch and it always sells out. “I Need a Cha Cha Beat Boy” is a like a slogan, and everybody knows it out there.
What did he produce on the capsule?
He did “Sexy 4 Eva” and he did “Yacht.” And he also executive produced everything. He helped me along with Law Lawrence “Law” Parker, A&R at Roc Nation]. I sent him all the songs, he tweaked a lot mixes and masters and stuff like that. He has a very good ear as well. He is a very good engineer as well.
Would you consider K-pop your past and hip-hop/R&B your new frontier?
It isn’t even like I’m K-pop these days. People consider me more hip-hop/R&B over there. It’s just what I do. It is what it is. But a lot people may not know very many details my career. They might just consider me K-pop. The music I do is kind very far from K-pop. For the past two-three years, it’s just very different. I have been putting out full hip-hop, rap albums with 20 features on there.
I’ve been kind doing this. I started two the biggest hip-hop/R&B labels in Korea. My resume and track record kind speaks for itself. But me, I just consider myself me. I don’t like to put myself in barriers because if you set barriers for yourself, what if you want to outgrow those barriers? It stunts growth. I don’t want to be like, "I’m just a rapper, I just want to do hip-hop. I just want to be in the States." I want to be an artist that translates globally.
What’s the difference between your labels AOMG and H1GHR MUSIC?
AOMG, we started f with Loco, Gray, and Simon Dominic. Now we have Woo Won-jae, Hoody, Elo, Ugly Duck, and Code Kunst. Cha Cha, everybody. It has really established its name and its flavor. Right now, it is very mainstream. Everybody knows who AOMG is. It’s a household name.
H1GHR MUSIC, the difference is, we have Korean artists, but we also have U.S. artists. Ted Park, Avatar Darko from Seattle. I feel like H1GHR MUSIC is a little more edgy. If you look at the music that they do and the moves we are doing on H1GHR MUSIC, it is very innovative. It has never been done before. You don’t ever see a whole label where it is Korean artists and U.S. artists going on a tour together. You don’t really see shit like that.
How did Roc Nation discover you?
I had an AOMG tour in 2016, and New York was one the stops. It was a sold-out show; it was at the PlayStation Theater. Maybe 85 percent the crowd was non-Asian. So Jason Kpana, Artist & Label Relations at Tidal] came over and he saw the show. He didn’t know what to expect, saw the show and was kind blown away. He thought I was a dope artist. He was like, "Yo, you got to work with Tidal. Let me introduce you to Roc Nation."
He] introduced me to Chaka Pilgrim] and Law. And then they saw what I was about and, coincidentally, I put out an album at that time. Right when I was in talks with them. That was Everything You Wanted. They heard the album and I was just putting out hella visuals, choreography videos, and music videos like back-to-back-to-back-to-back. He was like, "Wow, what the fuck? He is really rolling shit out." They were impressed by that. At first it was distribution and it turned into a label deal. Now they really fuck with me.
How was meeting JAY-Z and Beyoncé at the Roc Nation Brunch?
It was surreal. To see everybody else, it was cool. Like, "Oh shit, Big Sean is here." Not to take anything away from them, they’re all dope artists. Hov and B, that’s some different shit. That’s a different entity. They are the celebrities among the celebrities. When they came into the room, everybody was kind gravitating towards them. I was like, "Ah, that’s JAY-Z!" Cause Cha Cha was with me at the time. He was like, "Oh shit bro, he’s right there! We gotta get a picture. That’s all I need, I don’t care about anything else." We just waited around for 45 minutes to get a picture with him. And he was like, "Thank you for trusting in us." And he was on his way and did what he had to do.
Who are you excited to work with on the roster?
Whoever wants to work with me. I am down to work with whoever. If you want to work, Jay Park is down to work. I’ve worked with Young Paris. Me and Casanova have a good relationship. We haven’t done any songs together, but he is really supportive my stuff and vice versa. And that’s like pro – me and him are from very different backgrounds and do very different types music. But he’s a good dude. I’m a good dude. That’s why we clicked. Of course, who doesn’t want to work with Rihanna or J. Cole or JAY-Z? I feel like I have to get my weight up and that’s a conversation we’ll have.