Massively hip in sound, mightily confused in looks

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Massively hip in sound, mightily confused in looks

There is East Coast rap, there is West Coast rap, old school and new school, and then there is CB Mass.

"Our music is about han, Korean soul," says Gaeko, a lanky 21-year-old who is leaning against a big mirror that dominates the recording studio. Two other members of CB Mass, Curbin, 24, and Choiza, 21, both taller and bigger, flank him. "It's our story, our soul and it's totally different," Gaeko adds.

"Han rap," as CB Mass, short for critical brain mass, describes it, is not filled with materialism or braggadocio like much U.S. hip-hop, but focuses instead on Korean sounds and life experiences. Their first album used traditional Korean instruments, from the daegeum, or large flute, to the pulpiri, a grass harp. The second album, "Mass-matics," does not use Korean instruments, but relies on sounds from artists such as Wreckx, Korea's top scratch deejay, to Lee Tzsche, a soul singer.

The lyrics also sound like a journal. "It's about the little things in life," Gaeko says, "from ideas we gather after talking, to friends and family and watching movies." "Watch Out," about betrayed love, is Curbin's story. "When it happened," Gaeko says while Curbin looks away, "it was such a drama." Another song, "CB Massneun Nae Chingu" ("CB Mass is My Friend" in English), starts off like a morning routine list: "Wake up, brush your teeth, go to school, hang out in the playground ... a girl walks by with nicotine stains on her teeth."

But the most talked about song is "Get Up," which points to problems in the music industry. When the album was released two months ago, the song caused a scandal. The band dared to criticize two powerful entertainment giants by name. In "Get Up," they rap, "SM and Sidus have Midas hands and fat paychecks by copying Japanese songs."

Both companies declined to comment on the song. "We said what we had to say," Gaeko explains. "We didn't do anything wrong." But their production company, Cream Entertainment, has since edited the offending lyrics out of the song.

While the members are unhappy with the corporate decision, they still cheekily list "Mass-matics" as one of their top five most listened to albums. Choiza's afro shakes as he laughs and explains: "We're getting ready for our concert and we have to make sure we know the lyrics." Also in their top five is Marvin Gaye, Lina, Musiq Soulchild and Jazzfanastees. "Oldies are goodies," says Gaeko, adding that the group may next experiment with reggae.

The group first gained a following through word of mouth on the Internet, then an unusual concept. This time around, they made 500 LPs of "Mass-matics," also an unusual move in an age when people are starting to prefer MP3 players over CD players, never mind turntables.

These quirks are all part of the CB Mass appeal, a bit off kilter, but approachable. Gaeko says, "We don't want to be known as a group that looks funky, but a group that is funky."

All three help compose the songs and all three rap. Their fan base is people their age, college students, but it also extends to middle school students and to adults. "An ajeosi (middle-aged man) once asked for my autograph," Gaeko says.

In addition, they actually like each other, which may be due to how they met - three years ago, hanging out at Master Plan, a club in Hongdae (recently renamed "Jungle"). "One day, we just became friends," Choiza says.

"You were thinner back then," Curbin reminds Choiza.

"I don't think we would have succeeded if we had devastating good looks," Curbin adds.

"Pranksters, fun guys," is how their manager, Kim Yong-bum, later describes them. Curbin is looking for his sunglasses to prepare for a photo shoot. The three walk to a soundproof room and strike comical poses. After each pose, they keep moving forward, toward the camera.

When the photographer tries to get them to stand in a straight line, all three refuse, saying, "That's not our style."

The winter concert series starts Saturday at Mesa Popcorn Hall in Dongdaemun. For more information, call 02-2128-5327.

by Joe Yong-hee

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