Vinxen finds freedom in hip-hop : The young rapper has been open and honest about having depression

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Vinxen finds freedom in hip-hop : The young rapper has been open and honest about having depression


Teenage rapper Lee Byung-jae, also known by his stage name Vinxen, has become one of the hottest rappers in Korea after appearing on Mnet’s “High School Rapper 2.” [ROMANTIC FACTORY]

When 18-year-old Lee Byung-jae first appeared on Mnet’s “High School Rapper 2” with his long bangs covering his eyes, viewers had no idea that he would pour out his energy with rhymes as powerful and captivating as any rapper in the Korean hip-hop scene. Lee, also known by his stage name Vinxen, has been topping the charts with songs that he performed during the show such as “Bar Code,” “Not At All” and “Fault,” in which he expressed his deepest feelings that swept away any doubts about his musical talent that may have lingered because of his young teenage facade.

What struck the audience more than his lyrical dexterity and strong voice was that he wasn’t afraid to reveal his scarred wrist filled with strokes of pain he inflicted on himself while suffering from depression for years, and he was not afraid to speak about his suffering in his lyrics either. The audience was drawn to the rapper’s honest soul and fans are eager to follow the young rapper’s career.

“I’m not going to compete with other people through my music,” said Lee. “I started the whole thing thinking that I’d make it with my music even if nobody listens to it. Even I am curious about what kind of music I will be making in the future.”

In an interview with Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, Lee shared stories of his experience on the rap competition show and discussed how his life has changed now that he’s become one of the hottest names in Korea. The following are edited excerpts.

Q. How have your days been since “High School Rapper 2” wrapped on April 13?

. I didn’t have a particular routine. When I was shooting [the show], I had to be there for more than 24 hours from the moment I got there at 8 in the morning. It was really difficult for me that there was so much competition inside [“High School Rapper 2”]. But I think I developed an immunity back then, because it’s a lot easier for me to pull off the other things on my schedule these days.

What was it like to be a part of a TV show?

I decided to be on the show because I wanted to be responsible for my future, but to be honest, I think it might have been better for me to not have been on it. It might be because I never thought highly of the television industry. For me, hip-hop is about being free, without covering things up and being honest and straight-forward, but television needs to be censored and certain things need to be done. It was hard for me to mix those things with music.

You wrote in one of your songs, that “misfortunes filled the track.” Why did you say that?

That’s what I actually think. I have a lot of lines about my emotions, because the reason I started music was because I wrote down the things I couldn’t tell people while I was depressed. That’s why I wrote that misfortunes made my tracks.

How do you feel when you see your songs high up on the charts?

I actually don’t care much about music charts, and I’d like to just keep on with my music like [I am doing] now. I’m grateful that there’s people who listen to the things I want to say. I’d be grateful if people regard my music for talking about certain feelings without trying to figure out who the music was intended for.

What are some downsides of having your songs out in the public?

There are some negative sides. I think it may be a little stressful to have my music judged [by people]. I started music for myself, and it’s frankly quite tiring to see people fight over it. I know that I don’t need to convince anyone of anything, but it might be a little hard for me because I’m that type of person who needs to say no to things that are wrong.

Some people have said that your depression is just part of an artistic concept. Is that true?

When people say that something’s a part of a concept, they’re saying to me, “You’re talking about something that’s not you.” But that’s really not the case. That’s why I really don’t like it when people say it’s just a concept. It just sounds so negative to me. I just write the things that I feel. I have a lot of depressing songs, but some of them are uplifting. Just because I sing something bright in a happy situation, that doesn’t mean I’ve changed.

Some people believe that rappers get rich after appearing on competition shows. Is that true?

I believe that being a rapper is a job that doesn’t earn you money. Making money in hip-hop without being on television is impossible. I actually have no idea why people believe that rappers are rich. Some may bluff and brag about their money because rappers are people who talk about themselves. I think that’s where all the misunderstanding comes from.

Do you think you’ll be writing songs about money when you get rich?

Probably, if I make a lot of money. You can write songs about anything, and so yes, I think maybe one day.

You’ve been doing a lot of collaborations lately. How does that feel?

I really wanted to meet [production duo] Groovy Room and meeting with them has gotten me the opportunity to meet other, more famous people. But it wasn’t that groundbreaking or surprising when I met them. I met Zico, and he just felt like one of the other musicians. I don’t think they are so out-of-this-world or distant from us.


'고등래퍼2' 이병재 ”좋아서 하는 음악, 차트 1위 관심없어”

이병재(빈첸)는 Mnet '고등래퍼2' 종영 후 주변은 180도 바뀌었다. 음악이 좋아서 시작한 랩으로 인기를 얻었고 돈을 벌 수 있게 됐다. 인터뷰 당일에도 팬들이 찾아와 핫한 인기를 실감하게 했다. 하지만 이병재는 "크게 달라진게 없는 것 같아요"라고 말했다. 인기와 돈에 연연하기보다는 "'고등래퍼2'에 안 나갔어도 좋았겠다고 생각해요"라고 지금의 반응들을 걱정했다.
미래에 대한 불안은 있지만 음악에 대한 열정은 확고했다. "음악으로 경쟁할 생각은 없어요. 아무도 들어주지 않아도 내 음악하겠다는 마음으로 시작한 일이고요. 앞으로 제가 어떤 노래들을 만들지 저도 궁금해요"라며 수줍게 웃었다.

-'고등래퍼2' 종영 후 일상은.
"특별히 정해진 패턴이 없다. 이틀에 한 번씩 잘 때도 많다. 촬영할 때는 아침 8시에 불러서 24시간 넘게 있는다. 그 안에서도 경쟁이 있다는 것도 힘들었다. 그때 면역이 생겼는지 요즘 스케줄은 다니기 수월하다."

-방송 해본 소감은.
"책임감 때문에 출연을 결정했지만 솔직한 심정은 안 나왔어도 좋았겠다라고 생각한다. 원래 방송을 안 좋게 보던 사람이라서 그런 생각이 든다. 내가 생각하는 힙합은 꾸미지 않는 자유로운 맛이 있었고 직설적이면서도 날 것의 느낌을 말하는 거라 생각했는데, 방송은 심의도 있고 경쟁이고 요구하는게 있으니까. 그런 걸 음악이랑 접목시킨다는 게 나한테 힘들었던 것 같다."

-불행이 트랙을 채웠다는 가사가 인상적이었다.
"실제로 그렇게 생각한다. 그런 내용으로 쓴 가사가 많은 편이기도 하고. 음악을 시작한 이유도 우울할 때 말할 수 있는 사람이 없어서 공책에 가사로 쓰다가 한 거였다. 그래서 불행이 내 트랙을 만들었다는 표현을 썼다."

-차트에 오르면 행복하지 않나.
"음원차트도 관심없고 그냥 지금처럼만 음악하고 싶다. 하고 싶은 이야기하고 들어주는 분이 있으면 감사하고, 누구를 위한 음악을 하지 않아도 얘는 이런 감정이구나 생각해주시면 고마울 것 같다."

-동시에 부담도 될 것 같다.
"부정적인 부분도 분명 있다. 내 음악이 평가를 받는다는 것이 스트레스가 될 수 있을 것 같다. 나 좋으려고 한 음악인데 그것을 놓고 싸우는 등 그런 걸 보고 있으면 착잡하다. 설득할 필요 없다는 건 알지만 그럼에도 하나하나 아니라고 말해주고 싶은 타입이라 스트레스가 될 것 같다."

-컨셉트라는 말에 예민한 것 같다.
"사람들이 말하는 컨셉트는 '넌 그런 사람이 아니면서, 랩은 왜 그래. 네가 아닌 이야기를 하는거야'라고 한다. 그런데 그런 건 정말 아니다. 그게 너무 싫다. 컨셉트라는 말이 그래서 짜증난다. 부정적으로만 받아들여질 뿐이다. 나는 내가 느끼는 감정을 가사로 낸다. 우울한 분위기의 노래가 많지만 밝은 것도 있다. 내가 지금 상황에서 밝은 노래를 낸다고 해서 변한 게 아닌데, 편견없이 들어봐주셨으면 한다."

-서바이벌 이후 돈방석에 앉은 래퍼들이 많더라.
"나는 래퍼는 돈을 못 버는 직업이라 생각한다. 힙합으로 돈을 번다는 건 방송에 나오지 않는 이상 불가능한 일이다. 그런데도 왜 사람들이 래퍼는 돈이 많다고 느끼는지 궁금하다. 래퍼는 자기 이야기를 전하는 사람이니까 돈자랑을 할 수도 있고 자신의 허세를 가사로 부릴 수도 있다. 그래서 그걸 듣고 래퍼는 돈이 많다는 오해가 생기는 것 같다."

-만약 본인도 돈방석에 앉는다면 그런 가사를 쓸까.
"돈 많이 벌면 나도 쓰지 않을까. 가사나 곡은 뭐로도 만들 수 있으니까 언젠가 만들 것 같다."

-요즘 많은 가수들과 협업하는데 기분이 어떤가.
"그루비룸 형들을 만나고 싶었는데 형들을 만나니까 그걸 통해서 더 다른 유명한 분을 만나게 된다. 그렇게 만나도 놀라거나 신기하진 않았다. 지코 형도 만났는데 막상 만나니까 음악하는 형 같았다. 불편하거나 신기하거나 엄청 먼 세상사람 같거나 그런 느낌이 들지 않는다."

-좋아하는 가수가 있나.
"현아 좋아한다. 그냥 멋있어서 좋아한다. 무대 보는데 끌어당기는 매력이 멋있는 것 같다. 김심야, 빈지노 형님도 좋아하고 장르 구분없이 음악이 좋으면 좋다. 넬도 좋아한다. 여러 장르 다 들어본다."

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