Drunken Tiger
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Drunken Tiger

Seoul, Seoul, South Korea | INDIE

Seoul, Seoul, South Korea | INDIE
Band Hip Hop


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Korea's Rap 'N' Roll Phenomenon"

SEOUL: One moment the notes waft soft and gentle, next the rappers dance and prance, half talking, half chanting, then the drummer and guitarist pick up the beat and a line of girls rock on across the screen. Call it derivative, a throwback to Western programs of two or three decades ago, but it all falls under the rubric of "K-pop," for Korean pop, and it's sweeping China and penetrating Japan, the ethnocentric home of the "J-pop" to which critics say "K-pop" owes its inspiration.

It's K-pop, that is, to foreigners who can think of no other way to label the confection of fast and slow, punk and rock, hip-hop and rap that South Korea's music producers are packaging and presenting everywhere in Asia except for North Korea, hermetically sealed from any cultural inroads.

"Koreans don't use that word," says James Whang, executive director of Do Re Mi Music Producing Co., founded 24 years ago and for the past decade South Korea's largest music production company. Maybe, he says, that's because Koreans are so mesmerized by the formulaic numbers blaring from the country's four music TV channels that they have yet to consider them as an overall phenomenon deserving of a label reflecting the country of origin.

"K-pop is Korean rap," says Whang, searching for a definition. "K-pop is like a ballad, the ballad is the number one portion, and after that is the dance, hip-hop and rap." The ballad, he notes, often reflects traditional Korean folk music, modernized and sweetened as a prelude to the jumping and gyrating that brings hordes of young fans, notably teenage girls, to their feet in screaming adoration.

Try to dismiss K-pop as K-rap, though, and you overlook the most remarkable aspect of the phenomenon, the fast-spreading popularity of this pop form to China, the communist giant that seems to welcome the invasion as long as it is pop, and not political.

"We licensed one title to China, and they reported the sale of 200,000 CD's," Whang says. "That means they sold 2 million, since 90 percent is copied illegally."

The popularity of K-pop in China seems to reflect a natural affinity between China and Korea, bound culturally for thousands of years. "The Chinese always like simple melodies," Whang says. "Korean songs add a little sharp spark. So the result is they love our music." Then too, he adds, "China and Korea feel like brother countries," so much so that China's 1,800 TV stations "want to buy our programs all the time, and we are going to open an office in Beijing."

Two of the K-pop sensations who have done most to bring the genre to China are the lead singers of "Drunken Tiger," which synthesizes American and Korean influences befitting their backgrounds as Korean-American kids from those breeding grounds of American pop, New York and Los Angeles.

"Hip-hop is going crazy here," says J.K. Suh, the Tiger of the group, reflecting the nickname he got from his father, a journalist who moved to Los Angeles when he was 6. "In China, it's just getting started. When we first went there, it was so small, Chinese artists asked us, 'How do you rap?"'

The Chinese thought rap "sounded so dumb in Chinese," Tiger says. "Really, there was no Chinese rap," he goes on in mock disbelief, as if such a large portion of the world's population could possibly endure without it. "Now when we go there we're constantly hearing more and more Chinese rap."

Tiger's lead partner, DJ Shine, a.k.a. Mark Yun, from a middle-class home in Queens, New York, says simplicity and optimism are the qualities of K-pop that make it a hit in China.

"K-pop has its own style of very sweet melodies, Western and European," Shine says. "We're hard-core hip hop artists. We got recognized for what we do and love." It all began, he adds, when he and Tiger met in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

"'We wanted to show that hip-hop was universal," Shine says. "It was really rare then that Asians went to hip-hop. We played in Los Angeles and New York. We just wanted to do our music. That was the most important thing. We grew up on the music, that's all we know."

When they were asked to bring their group, whose size varies but can include a disc jockey, one or two more rappers and some musicians, to South Korea for the first time, they were reluctant. "We just went around to the clubs, to let people know the hip-hop genre existed," Tiger says. "We were the first ones to make it appealing to Koreans. The commercial people have accepted us for what we are."

But critics of K-pop claim that "Drunken Tiger" is an exception. "There's a huge focus on marketing," says Scott Burgeson, editor of the music magazine Bug, which is published in Korean and English.

"The independent bands get totally ignored," says Burgeson, who has been covering the pop scene here for several years. "They can't get on TV. The ones on TV are chosen because they look better. One singer became a star after she had cosmetic surgery. Her music sounds like watered-down Ma - International Herald Tribune (03.14.2002)

"Sobered By Pain, Drunken Tiger Still Burns Bright"

The godfather of Korean hip-hop, Drunken Tiger JK, whose real name is Seo Jeong-gwon, was there at its beginning and at its peak. Diagnosed with myelitis last February, the 32-year-old rapper was devastated when his doctor told him a full recovery was impossible. But instead of giving up, Tiger embraced the world and his music even more fiercely than ever, managing to release his seventh album in more than two years: “Sky Is the Limit.”

“I felt I was being increasingly tied down within the gigantic premise of hip-hop. I didn’t want to be restricted by the conventional framework, I just wanted to be honest and talk about my story from beginning till end. And this album is the fruit of all the suffering and pain I went though. Of course, such difficulties can be a ‘gift’ for musicians.”

Contrary to today’s hip-hop that mixes rapid-fire raps with powerful refrains, Tiger JK completely immerses the listener with candid confessions that are deep and far reaching. There is not a whiff of pretense or disguise. His lyrics are utterly honest, revealing every inch of his brittle life: “Looking at myself sick, old, and dying, I thought the bone-wrenching pain’d never go away, I didn’t want to be alive again. I had to hold back my cries, my tears; I clenched my jaws, my fist all because I’m a man.”

At first he was reluctant to mention his illness. “I don’t want to be misperceived as cashing in on people’s sympathies,” he said. But as he talked about his songs, his suffering and pain came forward only too naturally. “Suddenly the bottom half of my body was paralyzed. When I was taking a shower in hot water, it felt cold. The myelitis was playing with my nerves. Sometimes I was sure I was walking but I was on the ground, fallen.” The cane he now always carries is a minimal safety measure for unpredictable emergencies that might arise.

His doctors prescribed steroids though a full recovery was highly unlikely. He had no other choice but to be careful and pray that the condition wouldn’t get any worse. But perhaps because of the side-effects of the steroids, he started to swell up to almost 100 kg, becoming unrecognizable even to his mother, and he was constantly light-headed. Barely able even to stand that way, he went against his doctor’s instructions and devoted himself completely to exercise. In just ten days of running and weight-lifting, he returned to his usual weight. “I figured it was the same in the end whether I die this way or the other.” He is not completely healed but now leads almost a normal life. “More than anything, it’s the mental power that’s most important,” JK said. “Ever since I started to live with the disease, I was able to see myself objectively, from a short distance away. That has made me more relaxed about my life.”

On stage, JK becomes the howling tiger his name suggests. In real life, however, he is an introvert. “Music is the only way for me to communicate with the world,” he said. He wants to experiment in other musical genres, too, like reggae and folk. To JK, hip-hop is a modern version of pansori, a narrative music form unique to Korea. “When you play pansori to famous musicians in the States, they are really surprised. It’s because both hip-hop and pansori share similar sentiments. Pansori’s Han, roughly translating to ‘resentment’ in English, is what moves people. In this vein, I think I can say Korean people are naturally drawn to hip-hop.”

http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200709/200709100015.html - Chosun Ilbo (09.10.2007)

"Tiger JK Has Now Become A Music Video Director"

After making a come back with Drunken Tiger’s 7th album ‘Sky is the Limit’, JK in person took part in the shooting for the music video of the title song ‘8:45 Heaven’. At a recent interview, he had claimed “I want to secure my position as a multiple entertainer dealing with all sorts of things from rap and composition to producing video clips. I plan to make all the songs in the 7th album into music videos.”

One interesting thing is that this music video was produced with ‘super-low budget’ that only amounts to 650 thousand won. The camera had been rented from a store at Yong San, and the studio was used only for a while early in the morning. The smog in the video clip was made by 2 managers smoking 3∼4 cigarettes at once.

Tiger JK jocularly explained “The key strategy to making this music video was the originality of the idea rather than the budget. Although we did not have much money, we will soon come up with a magnificent music video. Please wait and see.”

http://www.segye.com/Articles/News/Entertainments/Article.asp?aid=20070915000199&ctg1=01&ctg2=00&subctg1=01&subctg2=00&cid=0101060100000&dataid=200709151929000290 - Segye Ilbo (09.14.2007)

"Silence Makes The Beat Grow Stronger"

Korea's top HipHop MC was arrested, charged, tortured, and convicted of smoking crank, despite any real evidence against him. His real crime? Rapping.

A sedan glides out of Kimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea. As the driver pulls onto the highway, she twists her head toward the backseat. "Top secret," she says, pressing an index finger to her pursed lips, a black knit skullcap pulled low over her forehead. She doesn't look back again until she cuts the engine an hour later, stopping in front of an apartment complex on the edge of the city. "Out," she says. Chunky housing projects crowd each other, and in the courtyard among them sit four red-clay badminton courts, empty, their nets bouncing in a humid wind. The elevator smells like rotting kimchee as it ratchets up 12 floors. Its doors open into the lackness, and a motion sensor triggers a fluorescent tube. The light catches two eyes peeking through a crack in a door. Tasha Reid, a popular Korean MC, is waiting.

Reid, half-black, half-Korean, opens the door, revealing a tight mound of ginger curls, and pads into a small room with a bed and a desk. She sits on a thin mattress and rubs her hands together in anticipation of a smuggled gift. At the sight of a veined old paperback, Eldridge Cleaver's prison memoir, Soul on Ice, Reid smiles with disbelief. She carefully leafs through the yellowed pages, pausing at an underlined passage about an ailing man who lies beside the road to die, only to be revived by the sight of a delicate, resplendent bird.

"'He knows intuitively in his clinging to life that if the bird remains, he will regain his strength and health--and live.'" Reid lets the book fall to her lap. "This feels like JK's talking to me," she says, inhaling as though she would suck up the room. "He's the only friend I got."

Twenty-four hours earlier, in the L.A. apartment where the korean-born rapper spent most of his adolescence, JK slipped the book into a messenger's hands. "That's my life," he said, tapping the faded cover. Suh Jung Kwon, also known as Tiger JK of the Korean hip-hop act Drunken Tiger, is now at the will of the Korean judicial system. He is a convict on probation, Tasha Reid is a fugitive, and if they establish contact, JK subjects himself to jail time. "I feel helpless," he says. "And that's the worst feeling when you're a man. All I can think about is my girl."

In May, Seoul investigators pulled JK, 26, off a tour promoting Drunken Tiger's second album, The Great Rebirth, and accused him of smoking methamphetamine. When JK refused to sign a confession under crushing interrogation tactics, prosecutors presented a court case against him that lacked a single piece of material evidence. He was found guilty by a judge in July, the decision based solely on the mismatched testimony of a rival, less influential rap group, whose members were facing jail time after confessing to their own drug use.

The string of events roused JK's supporters, who embraced the sense of social outrage that had made Drunken Tiger the most popular hip-hop group in Korea. Protesters staged rallies in Seoul, "Free JK" websites popped up on the Internet, fans flooded the prosecutor's office with letters demanding his release. But they couldn't sway the outcome. "In America, [first-time drug users] get fined, but that's not the case in Korea," says Park Sung-jin, the government lawyer who prosecuted JK. "Koreans are very disgusted by it."

And the disgust is pervasive. JK's real punishment lay not in his actual sentence (the standard two year's probation) but in the nationwide ban from radio and TV that followed. He and Drunken Tiger can play shows, but they have ceased to exist outside a few closet clubs, their music and image deemed unfit for public consumption. "It's a Confucian thing in Korea," says Bernie Cho, a producer for MTV Korea. "If you're accused of drugs, you're not just going to get tainted. You're immediately yanked off TV, you're immediately yanked off radio. You're blacked out."

Early in May, while living in Seoul, JK learned that police had arrested members of Uptown, a softcore rap group that he knew well, on a series of drug charges. Uptown's influence on Korean music had dwindled to almost nothing after four records, but Drunken Tiger, with The Great Rebirth climbing the charts, had established itself as "the first commercially successful true hip-hop group," according to Donemany, the owner of a Seoul hip-hop club. Their latest single, "Fettucini," was the most requested video on M.Net, a Korean music channel, and because of them, an increasing number of Korean kids were greeting each other by saying, "Yo, what up nigga?"

Then a spike popped the balloon as investigators leaked word that they were looking for JK. He didn't know what to think. He'd experienced his share of substances--marijuana, mushrooms, Ecstasy, cocaine--but claims he wasn't dumb enough to get high in Korea and that his usage was behind him. If the poli - Spin Magazine (11.2000)


- Sky Is The Limit (2007)
- 1945 Independence (2005)
- One Is Not A Lonely Word (2004)
- Foundation (2003)
- The Legend Of...(2001)
- The Great Rebirth (2000)
- Year Of The Tiger (1999)

- Condition of Happiness (2007)
- 8:45 Heaven (2007)
- Love Song That Won't Get Banned (2005)
- Isolated Ones, Left Foot Forward! (2005)
- Convenience Store (2004)
- Singer Wannabe/Liquor Shots (2004)
- Thumb (2003)
- Because I'm A Man (2003)
- Is Ack Hizay (2001)
- Good Life (2001)
- The Great Rebirth (2000)
- Do You Know Hip-Hop? (1999)
- I Want You (1999)




Just back from a week-long spell in the hospital and able to take a break from his schedule, it is late on a Friday night just before Christmas that I get the keenly awaited call from Tiger JK.

Its 6am, he says sounding tired but upbeat. I didnt sleep to make sure I could call you. Is it is a good time?

For anyone who does not yet know who he is, Tiger JK (Jung-Kwon Suh) is the front man for Drunken Tiger. Often referred to as the Godfather of Korean Hip-Hop, he was first noticed in LA at a show aimed to promote racial harmony that took place just after the riots of 1992. It wasnt until 1999 however that the line up of JK, DJ Shine, DJ Jhig, Mickie and Roscoe became Drunken Tiger and the first album The Great Rebirth was dropped, breaking the mold of coordinated dances, make-up and matching outfits that was the trend. It was not an easy road to travel, but after a few changes in the line-up, Tiger JK released 6 albums altogether, gaining in popularity and respect.

After 7 years with DoReMi Records, Tiger JK formed Jungle Entertainment his own label for people with the common goal to finally get to make the music they want to make. Then, right when he had an opportunity to really do things his own way, he got sick and was out for two years - constantly hospitalized with myelitis, an inflammation of the spine that disrupts nerve signals and can lead to paralysis and permanent disability.

I was in a really dark place.
The doctors told him his career was over, that he should go home and rest, forget about doing much else. His weight ballooned by 30 pounds because of the steroids and pills he had to take, and it reached the point where he was not recognized and was even discriminated against. He too thought it was all over until one day he saw the light and went against doctors advice, exercising to reduce his weight back down to normal. It was from this dark place that the concept for his 7th album was born.

Sky Is the Limit is truly a personal album, the first released on his own Jungle Entertainment label, and while the title is, as he admits, a touch clich, it is the only one that fits the concept of the album and what he hoped to achieve with it. He wanted to take a break from the expectations fans had of him and to be free to express himself musically once more, much like he had done at the start of his career. It represents his hopes and dreams, that there should be no limit on what he can do or want to achieve despite whatever setbacks life and his health throw at him.

So, if fans thought JK would reappear with an up-to-date modern sound, they would have been wrong. Instead, he stripped hip-hop down to its roots once more, looking back to the 90s when the sound was young and fresh and exciting, a time when it was inspirational and fun. I had been ambitious to change the scene, make a difference. The attitude was there and the lyrics, but the music wasnt.

He always enjoys the creative process, able to forget the world and lose himself in the task at hand, but coming from such a dark place, the more he worked on the album, the more personal it became. Regarding himself as a modern day Pansori, a musical storyteller, the songs tell of scenes and chapters of his life, each one intertwining like parts of a movie. Mutant, the second track on the album, is a good example of this part-inspired by the movie The Host, it represents the toxins he felt had been injected into his life how the steroids and pills made him feel and how different to others his Myelitis made him feel.

Its not the first time that he has been inspired by movies; Old Boy was one that formed the basis for a music video from the 5th album. At the start of the interview too, he mentioned how he wanted to create the same feel as Taxi Driver, that starred Robert De Niro, to echo the simplistic style of that era. Films of course are not the only influence on this album.

Fights are my alarm clock
The roots of hip-hop lie in life in the American ghettos, a way of communicating the situation they were in and to talk about the world they were living in. Living just outside of Seoul, the ghettos of America are a far distance away and the projects near the army base are not the glamorous life of a celebrity. A glamorous lifestyle is not one he wants though, in case it would get him to lose touch with his musical roots and sell out to commercial success. As the album progressed, JK found that the music he was creating was relating to his immediate environment more and to the lives and stories of the neighbors he socializes with. To his neighbors, he is not a celebrity, and I get the impression that makes him happy.