Rapper relishes maverick roleMC Sniper signed a record deal with Ponycanyon Korea in 2002, and since then he’s been on a tear. He has released two studio albums and a limited edition box set. He’s had several songs banned from the airwaves, and he’s been invited to collaborate with Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Oscar-winning composer for the movie “The Last Emperor,” on a new album.
Mr. Sakamoto breaks almost a decade of silence to release “Chasm,” which was prompted by the war in Iraq. It’s due out in Japan today, alongside two of Sniper’s studio albums that have been picked up by Warner Music Japan.
MC Sniper has been amassing fans in the Hongik University club scene with live performances over the past five years. Dubbed the “Pride of Korea,” MC Sniper takes a lush, cinemagraphic approach to hip hop, evoking at times the image of a hanbok clad stranger gazing out of an ancient pagoda, at times the shadow of the ills of 21st century Korea.
The hip-hop star, who recently performed in Japan with Mr. Sakamoto, will be returning to Korea later this week to release a new album in March.
Q: Do you remember the first time you listened to Sakamoto?
A: The rain scene in “The Last Emperor.” I rented the movie in 1996, and stopped everything I was doing when I heard that music. Sakamoto is an inspiration to many musicians, including Lee Hyun-do of Deux. I would never even have dreamed of working with Sakamoto.
How did the single, “Undercooled,” on “Chasm” come about?
Last year, I asked Sakamoto’s permission to sample “The Sheltering Sky” for a song titled “Baby Don’t Cry.” Consequently, he sent me a letter about his aspirations for a new project that touched my heart. And he asked me to rap in my own language.
I wanted to share the pains of real people, not on the latest economic and political news. So my lyrics focus on children who have lost their parents, are battered and hungry. When I sent the lyrics to Sakamoto, he told me it was beautiful, even too poetic.
What’s your view on war?
Even if it has a clear purpose and the intent is noble, killing people is unacceptable. War cannot be an alternative to peace.
What do you think about the end to the ban on Japanese music?
Didn’t it come a little late? If the music industry is shaken up here, it could become that much greater. The Korean music scene still needs to develop, and Japan is the cutting edge in beats and rhythm. But Korean rappers, they’ve got skills.
What’s the future of hip hop in Korea?
Hip hop is thriving internationally and in Korea. Take a look at the Billboard charts, there’s always a black musician in the top 10. I was at a Korean night club recently, and it’s changed so much. It’s 80 percent hip hop, and that trend is spreading from south of the river to north of the river. Korean dance music, ballads ― they have to go.
You started in Hongdae, and now you’re working with one of Japan’s master composers. How do you keep it real?
Internationally, some hip-hop musicians start out poor, and when they become rich and famous, they don’t know how to handle it. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll look in the mirror one day and realize I’ve become a different person.
More than opening my hands and accepting from others, I want to give back and be responsible for my family. So today, I still ride the subway.
Do you consider yourself the voice of your generation?
If you listen to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, you can see the social climate of their times, drug problems, religious persecution, political agendas. It’s great music. I write only about my experiences or my reaction to current events, from being banned on the media, the debate between money and art, political problems, the kidnapping of young children, and heartbreak.
How did you react to being banned by the media?
I felt a need to stay faithful to my philosophy. Certain issues need to be raised. And there’s a certain power in explicit language. They convey that much more emotion.
What can we expect from the album that’s due out March?
It’s about sadness and happiness. I’m tired of listening to songs about girls getting smashed and saying, “Oppa take me home.”
That’s not love. What about Romeo and Juliet, or holding a pen for hours so you can write a letter, or being lost in the brilliance of someone’s eyes?
by Joe Yong-hee