Seoul Rapper and MC, The Prime Minister of Sound, waxes on the big push with Superfly and The Electric Boulevard,on his school days, inspiration, evolution, and local artistic community.
Fresh off making a video for his single Superfly for his upcoming album The Electric Boulevard, Alex Reede, aka Prime Minister, took time on a warm afternoon in Haebangchun to chat with Elect Row staff writer Dr. Dave. In a chill mood, sportin’ a gold chain and his wide brim, Prime opened up and shared a lot of his story. Hegrew up in a musical family, and studied piano beginning at age five, continuing into his teenage years, even going so far as to catalog the beats-per-minute of the vinyl records in his parents’ collections. His father played guitar and sang, while both his parents listened to popular rock and soul bands of the 70’s & 80’s – Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, and the funk sounds of James Brown and Ella Fitzgerald. He and his younger, extremely naturally talented brother (1 year separation) began working their chops at a local public park, hangin’ out with some local, older guys who were trading ‘cyphers’ and chasing rhymes back and forth. As a result of using some pretty heavy vocabulary and words that sounded politically aware, he was dubbed the ‘Prime Minister’ because of his likeliness of growing up to become Prime Minister of Canada. And he has kept the name, and seems to enjoy it.
ER: For the production of the Superfly video, you solicited the help of friends, associates, and even the general public. How did that work out for you?Did everyone perform to your satisfaction? Were you happy with the results of the group you worked with?
Prime: Oh, definitely. You know, any time you work on a project like that, with the help of the other people in the community, it’s a really heart-warming feeling. And I think I can say truthfully, that myself, I’ve been, you know, willing to give back in any way that I can. I’ve been in some people’s videos where I was on the set for twelve goddamn hours on a Sunday when I’m hungover…you know what I mean? But I stayed ‘til the end, or I go to a show and pay the $15 even though I was really tired. And it’s really important, and it really makes you feel like you’re involved in the community. All the people that came out that day, I would say, besides the people who came from Craigslist – which was actually Sonny’s doing [Sonny was the Xcut Media producer for the entire video shoot:ER], so I can’t take credit for that – what happened was we were a little short on women, we didn’t want it to be all dudes in the video, and so we needed three, four more girls to turn out, because I had my fiancée and her friend, we had a couple of Korean girls, but still, like, most of the guys who came were fellow rappers, or fellow MC’s, or my coworkers, et cetera. But yeah, the people who came out did a fantastic job, and I think the video will reflect that the vibe was spread successfully, you know, and that the people did get into it. And, I think I can take a small amount of credit for that, because the space that we found for the shoot was conducive to creating that energy, but I gotta give most of the credit for that to Sonny, Man. He is the boss, and he knows what he is doing.
ER: Can you explain what it was like to have the artistic vision in your mind’s eye and then how it worked out in real form and flow in the video studio?
Prime: See, here’s the thing. I created that song without any ideas about the video. Actually, that song Superfly, was one of the first songs I recorded. I recorded that song before I recorded my first album. That song is like, 5 years old. I just dug it out; I found it randomly on an old USB, took it off, mastered it, you know, kind of got it goin’ again, and it fit perfectly with the kind of vibe that I was creating, and that was one of my earliest beats, it was one of my best ones, but sometimes that just happens, you know, beginner’s luck. It was just kind of lucky. Also, one of the other beats, me and an artist Saul Goode, who is in the video actually, are working on another beat we found in the same folder, so it’s turning out to be just fantastic, ‘cuz we’ll work that beat, too. Um, but, Sonny came up with the concept and I agreed; we kind of talked about what it was going to look like, in a 10-second by 10-second clip of what’s going to be there, but in terms of how it actually turned out and stuff, you can never really know until the people show up and everybody’s in the studio, and that’s completely Sonny’s doing. Like, I had an idea about the energy I wanted to create with it, but Sonny created the story for that. So, I had a vibe, a kind of image that I wanted to project with that song. The idea that I had originally, which was a street-style video with a funky crew walking behind me doing strange things, but Sonny was like, yeah, we can do that, but what about this? And he showed me the concept plan for the one that we [finally…:ER] did, and we ended up choosing it, and I was like, it sounds fucking fantastic, especially the twist at the end, you know, where it was me who was like, the crazy one all along.
ER: So it was Sonny’s concept, and it worked out that you enjoyed it quite a bit.
Prime: And I found that it kind of played to my image, and it was a bit goofier, the video is a bit goofy. So I told Sonny I wanna look cool, but not TOO cool, because I’m not that cool. I have kind of a goofy persona…and partly what I kind of get off on being a hip-hop artist is like, the other night I’m playing a bar, and we were sitting with a big group of Americans, and I said I’m gonna get up there, and they said what do you do, sing? And I said no, I rap. And they were like, really? You’re a ‘rapper’? And every time, I can just tell…so I get up there and I give ‘em my best, and when I get back to the table, and you have no idea how many times I’ve heard this, ‘Man, we were not expecting THAT!’…you know what I mean? And I like that, because you can never tell the talent of an MC, you can never judge a book by its cover.And also that comes through in the style of my music, too, because a lot of the guys who are around here making music are kind of stuck with the original script of hip-hop, and I’m trying to like, break that a little bit. And you know, the kind of funkiness, and a little bit of the electronic sound, the fusion, and the different kinds of music, and the style of my lyrics, which is sometimes aggressive, a bit cocky, a bit showmanship, also, just kind of like, clever and bordering on intellectual in some cases – NOT with Superfly, but…
ER: So this album is a commercial effort.
Prime: Yes. This is my first major push, because, since I own everything, I can do whatever I want with it. I own the lyrics, I own the beats, and you know, there are a couple of small samples that may have to be changed, and maybe infringing on someone, but we’ll see about that later. I don’t think so, but it’s possible.
ER: So we’ll be seeing it on store shelves, and…
Prime: Yeah, it’ll be on iTunes, and all the major sites you can purchase music from, and then, I’ll be printing CD’s. But what I tried to do last time and I’m hoping to do again this time, which really just depends on costs, is to set it up on USB. If you come to my show and you wanna buy my album, you pay ten bucks, but you get a USB, which can be used for whatever you want afterward, but it has all my music on it. So you get the four albums, plus you get the video, and it’s all properly labeled, and CD’s are DEAD. And the thing is, people will come and, it’s nice to have a CD, I mean it’s nice and clean and it’s got a nice image on the cover, but the problem with USB’s is, of course, you know, CD’s are about a buck and a half to produce with everything included – the label and artwork and all in a nice cellophane wrapper, it looks nice and professional – now the USB is more, um, more enticing in the sense that you can use it for anything, you can put everything on it at once, but [production costs], that’s the problem. last time I did that, it was about $5.50 per, and you know, when you’re selling for ten bucks, that’s $4.50. I would have to sell 200 just to get my recording costs back. But if I got CD’s, with 200, I’d already be turning a profit…You really have to budget, Man, because like, for this album, by the time I’m done, I’ll be [in…:ER]…deep.But the big plan right now is, we’re gonna finish up the video, the album should drop in about six weeks, and then I’m going to have, like I did last year, a huge release party, which will be happening here at Club LiveWire here in Itaewon I’m hoping about the beginning of July. And what happens then is, you know, this one is my major push, and once a year, I do a show that’s completely mine, I organize it from top to bottom, I rent the club out, I get a sponsor, I do the posters, I poster the places everywhere, I solicit opening and closing acts, I do a huge setup myself, I hire a DJ…last year I hired my girlfriend and her Russian girlfriend to go serve drinks to the crowd, you know, and stuff like that. But the plan is, like you were talking earlier about the budget, is on that night, I’m hoping to recuperate half my production costs in one night, BUT, I’m making a deal with the club where they get all of the bar, and then I charge $10.00 for the entrance, but they get a CD copy of the album. So they get the CD, and it’s like using the CD to sell records, and ten bucks per is what I would charge, so I get to keep the profits from that, and that goes straight into the bank and used for the next project. I actually have a bank account that I use for music, okay, and every time that I make money, I put it in there, and it goes back to the music.
ER: Any plan for another video, maybe, on the boards?
Prime: Well actually, yeah. There’s gonna be a video in progress for after the release, which I will…Superfly will release before the album, you know, this is the single, this is the promotion. Most artists do that, it’s like I’m coming, here’s the single, it entices people, and Superfly’s purpose is to serve that. Then the album drops, and in the meantime, we’re going to make a video for the title track, The Electric Boulevard, which I’ll let you listen to after this. And that’ll kind of follow up to it, and you know, and put more attention on it after the initial excitement has died down. And then, get started on the next one, Man.
ER: How is it that you are able to work both the performance side and the production side of the house, when these are two different aspects of the entertainment industry? Are you working that hard to learn it all? Do you have a mentor?
Prime: Yeah. Like, when people think about what it is to be a hip-hop artist that aren’t familiar with it, they think, well, you write some lyrics, you go into the studio, you make a track, and then if you get a show, you do it. it’s so much more complicated than that. [laughs :ER] And you know, I have a very good studio producer […] and most of the hip-hop artists, semi-professionals go to him, it’s Black Swan Audio. He’s amazing, I mean, he can make your shit sound fresh, even if it started out real rough, you know. I record up there, and he takes care of the mixing and mastering. Basically, I guess, you just have to stay disciplined and take one thing at a time. if you focus on all the aspects of creating an album at once, you’re sure, you’re just gonna overload. [my fiancée], She’s definitely supportive of it; she knows that it’s important to me. Now, does it create friction? Sometimes, of course, because I have to spend so much time on it. It’s about making sure that I have time for her, you know, et cetera. One way she does help me a lot, is if she comes to the show, I’m twice as on, like, if your girl is at the show sittin’ in the front row, you make sure you give it everything you’ve got. Another way she supports me is, for example, the video, she’s a model and a dancer, and she brought some good looking girls and said come support the cause, you know.
ER: That’s gotta help a lot, ‘cuz it’s always nice to have some eye candy, right?
Prime: Well, that’s the thing. There have been times when I’ve gotten off stage and been approached by girls and stuff like that, but you know, I love my girlfriend obviously tremendously otherwise we wouldn’t be getting married. I think that a lot of guys put way too much focus on that, you know, like, you don’t need to be surrounded by hot women in order to have your talent recognized or your energy felt. And so, having a really hot Russian fiancée has its benefits, of course, not just in hip-hop. She’s beautiful but, I don’t count other people’s beauty, or the fact that many women are looking at me to bolster my image.
ER: Judging by your social media, you have been a busy young rapper here in Korea. Can you share your motivation and inspiration for your work?Do you just get off on rapping and bustin’ out rhymes?What motivates you to be a rapper?
Prime:I was involved with music from a young age. My parents put me in piano classes when I was about five and I stayed with that for about ten years. I hated almost every minute of it. I went into it voluntarily to begin with, but then, as Iwas becoming a teenager, I didn’t want to go the music classes, and I hated my teacher, which didn’t help. So I eventually quit after about ten years of that. And then what happened next was I got a turntable and collected some vinyl and started DJ’ing parties. And um, but this was like before Serato and all those electric vinyl programs where, you know, there was automatic beat matching and you could download Mp3’s and put them straightto the vinyl. I collected all the vinyl, I carried crates wherever I…yeah, I carried the wax, Man, and also, I would like, catalog the BPM’s of the songs, and have like, lists of them on like a card, like a beat counter, and so I would have to prepare sets in advance because there was no doin’ it on the fly. And so, I still do it when I have the chance, but obviously coming to Korea there’s no carrying your wax with you or anything, so uh…and then, actually before I started DJ’ing, me and my little brother would go and hang out in this local park where freestyle cyphers were going on.
ER: A what? What is a cypher?
Prime: A cypher is just like a group of MC’s who you know, kind of stand in the traditional circle and passthe rhyme back and forth, like freestyle.
ER: like public oration, public poetry?
Prime: Yeah, but it’s all in rhyme, all, and it’s all freestyle, most often there would be a beat, on some kind of like…we used to do it with a CD Walkman, and the little jack, the earphone jack and some computer speakers, runnin’ on the big ‘ole batteries, Man, and then if they would run out – which would happen quite often, nobody had the bucks to buy new ones…it’s called a c-y-p-h-e-r, which is a term that most rappers are familiar with, it’s like…basically there’d be one instrumental (track or loop) would be put on, and rappers would, you know, nobody would like, bogart the beat too much, but you know, you would go on until you were ready to pass it, and the next person drops in immediately after you. And if the beat runs out, then you kind of decide on the next one and go for it. But the beat box would begin and you would just pass it back and forth…and, you know, my little brother, was actually the one who was into it in the first place and kinda convinced me to go down and check it out. And my little brother is really an amazing freestyler, an amazing freestyle battle rapper,he is amazing…he was fourteen when he started and I was fifteen, I’m a year older than him. Yeah, we’re pretty close, and really good friends, too. The guys puttin’ down the cypher were mostly in high school, whereas we were still in middle school, actually they were older than that because my neighborhood was not a particularly good neighborhood, a lot of people did not move away from home, did not go to university, things like that, and so there would be a lot of older guys, too, and so, you know, of course in that situation, the park environment, in the summertime, well, there was always cheap beer floatin around, massive amounts of marijuana around, you know, bein’ from Canada and not having it be such a big deal like in the States, and uh, we were too young for that stuff, of course, at least in the beginning. And my little brother, I can remember his being so nervous the first time, we would just watch at first…and I remember him being so nervous the first time that he went in, to the cypher, like, everyone’s like, you know, who’s this?…my little brother was the chubby, like, little white kid, and you know, and we knew some of the guys, buy nobody was kind of expecting that, and then my little brother was like, can I try?…anyway, he killed it. He just like, he was talking about things the other rappers had just talked about, building up, yeah Man, he had balls! And so, it was probably like two or three months before my first battle, not battle, but entrance into the world of freestyle and that environment, and my first like, two times, I was like, sooo nervous, and it was just terrible! And they were like…hey uh, your brother, he’s not cut from the same cloth as you[talking about Prime’s little brother…:ER]. So, that’s kind of where my determination first came from, it was some sibling rivalry…and need to prove myself in there. And it was about the same time we started listening to hip-hop music. I got my first hip-hop albums; I got three at the same time, two of them from one friend and one of them from my older brother. One of them was Big Willy Style, by Will Smith, on cassette, and we like,had a ghetto-blaster and my mom didn’t want us listening to hip-hop music, so we used to listen to it, like, when they weren’t home, or kind of, in our Walkman’s…she would be like, ‘what areyou two listening to?’ and we’d be like, Queen, or Rolling Stones, shit that my Dad would listen to…and also Black on Both Sides, by Mos Def, and the Lucy Ford EP’s by Atmosphere. Yeah, those were my first three ones. They were very clean, you know, compared to a lot of kind of like, gangster and West Coast stuff.
ER: So that’s where you got it, right there.
Prime: That’s where I got it. A lot of the motivation and inspiration came from those three rappers, to begin with, who had like, a funky, creative style; it wasn’t like gangster, or, and it appealed to my like, my lifestyle and mentality at the time more than somebody like Tupac could do for a 15 year-old white boy, you know, who wasn’t at all doin’ drugs and slingin’ guns…but, you know, we were, it was more poetic, it was fun, it was funky…it really made the, made the music, like …I felt the music a lot different than the classic rock and kinda jazz that I was brought up on. It really got my head boppin’, I felt it.
ER: You said you were a piano player…your rapping is all about finding the rhythm. Were you comfortable getting more into the rhythmic stuff of the piano playing, or were you more into the lyrical and sliding notes of the piano?
Prime: You know, piano taught me how to be musical. And I was raised in a musical family – not in the sense like, my parents were in bands or traveling artists or something, but my Dad would sing and play the guitar, and we grew up listening to a lot of music in the house. And when I was growing up my favorite kind of music that my parents also liked was funk, so, the funk like James Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Commodores, ya know, The Incredible Bongo Band, those were the ones, Earth, Wind and Fire of course, they were the ones that first got like, you know, ‘cuz like, hip-hop has its roots in like, funk, like GrandMaster Flash came out, disco, and so it was kind of was like a lineage, my Mom was into Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, my Dad was into the Rolling Stones, and classic rock, and then they showed me this funk thing, and it continued from there. As far as the rhythm goes, I think it appealed to me but, being able to speak in the improvisational style over beat is something you can have a talent for…but it’s not something that, like, it takes hours, hundreds of hours of practice to be able to be any good at it, you know? You need to build up vocabulary in your in your rhymes, and have, you know, a fluidity of thought, because, you know, anybody who tries to freestyle, or if I asked you to try right now, you would only be concentrating on finding a word that rhymes with the word that you finished the sentence with, but you have to do much more than that, you have to really demonstrate, you know, creativity. But yeah, I think being musical, and having the musical background helped, but I definitely wasn’t a natural, yeah. My brother’s a natural, but I had to work at it.
ER: That’s an interesting thing that I think a lot of us will want to know, that it took a lot of work on your part…
Prime: an INSANE amount of work, AN INSANE AMOUNT OF WORK, like, I freestyled for four or five years before I decided to put out my first album, you know. But I have to say that the inspiration comes from the first three hip-hop albums because that was the style that made hip-hop magnetic to me, and also my little brother by, like, showing up big, older guys, just stepping in there, like, you know, it showed me that you didn’t need the style, or the aggressiveness, you just needed the mind for it, and that appealed to me too, because you know, we didn’t have that – all we had was the smarts, the vocabulary, the words, and after we started to develop that, we saw that, the style and all that shit, anybody can have that…but what takes work and what takes talent is being able to think off the top of your head and say things that people just aren’t expecting you to say. And like, draw on the situation and like, use your surroundings to create, like a…a kind of a…not necessarily a story, but like an idea, an image, you know what I mean?
ER: The word ‘ambience’ comes to mind – you’re setting the mood, the atmosphere, and everyone is in on the vibe with you. Ok, so, are you trying to evolve as an artist, grow with learning new skills, and improve your talent?
Prime: Oh my god, definitely! If you are an artist and you think you’ve come to the pinnacle of your career, it’s time to get the fuck out right now, you know. I don’t think any artist is truly satisfied with any project that they make, you know? And if I look back to my first mixtape, to where I, you know, I made three mixtapes and this one [ref. to The Electric Boulevard, Prime’s upcoming commercial album :ER] is my first real album. And from where I was back then ‘til now, there’s such a huge difference, not only in the style, but in like, you know, the creativeness, on the creative level, and like, also my talent –like my rhymes have gotten better, my flow’s gotten better, my presence on the microphone on the track has gotten deeper and better, and you know, uh, practice is – it’s not something like piano where you gotta sit down and practice your scales, I mean, practicing freestyle helps you come up with ideas, it helps you keep your mind sharp, helps you keep that like, fluidity, the stuff that I was talking about. But it’s also just as simple as like, writing, like every night. I try to turn out three to four verses a week. So every other night just sit down and write out a verse and practice.
ER: You’re consciously developing and trying to improve as an artist…and continue to develop…
Prime: ALL the time.
ER: OK. Let me ask you this: you have several mixtapes. And Scholar’s Hustle is an album or a mixtape?
Prime: Mixtape, right. Generally when rappers start out, they’ll make a mixtape, which is where they take beats from other famous hip-hop artists, or beats that you could never buy yourself, you know, you don’t have rights to them, but you FEEL this music, and then you do your own thing over it. It’s kind of like a re-mix of different hip-hop tracks that you like. So you take the instrumental of something famous, say, Jay-Z, and you do your own rendition of it. And it kind of demonstrates, not really your style…I meant, it does, because it’s your miracle style, but, because the music isn’t original to you, it’s just a way to show that you know, you CAN flow. So the first three were all, um, the first one was this dude named DJ GrumbleI found on YouTube, and all of the first album were beats by him, I just put a thing together and made a song to like, 13 different tracks; the second one was by this famous dance DJ, an electronic DJ named Chromatic, who’s always been one of my favorites, that was a soundtrack, a mixtape and they were all from him, but you know, he has millions of hits on YouTube, I can’t afford to ask him to like, give me some of his beats, you know? Those mixtape projects are purely to demonstrate that you are doing something that you have the style, but they’re not for sale, you can’t sell them right, because it’s just for promotional purposes.
ER: So in the commercial sense, it’s not commercial. It’s an artistic and individual development.
Prime: And what’s important about it is that you can perform to these tracks all you want as much as you want as long as you’re not making money off them because of copyrights. But it’s more than just doing a show, because you wanna be able to, you know, if you meet someone, you wanna be able to brag, you wanna be able to show how you can do it, you know? So it’s about having something that’s on a computer, that’s on the Internet, that’s on YouTube or whatever. You don’t need to sell it in the beginning, you know, you’re not worried about making money. You have something to show people.
ER: Scholar’s Hustle is your third mixtape, and you now are past the 2-album hurdle that most folks get stuck at. Did you get over a hump, or do you just stick with it?
Prime: I think a lot of guys put a lot of work into a project, and it’s a TON of work, like, to make an album, like, I had no idea of what I was getting into when I started making them, you know? Um, but it’s literally just as simple as you want to keep progressing and you wanna keep, you know, because what happens is, when you finish an album, by the time you’ve done it, you’re sick of the music you just made because you’ve heard it ten thousand times, but nobody’s heard it yet, but you’ve worked on it, and you’ve heard it, and it’s like, you know, most of the albums I make take between nine and twelve months to make, and I’ve put out one every year for the last four years. And, I’ve put out like five tracks and you get tired, and it’s like fuck it, I just wanna like, rip it over this beat, so you just throw it out there, maybe a couple of songs. I did a series called Freestyle That Collected Dust, which was just like, when I got bored,[Oh, that’s what that was!…:ER]I would just, like, write for, and then release a track to a famous beat, like you know, and do a different take on it, but, by the time you’ve done it, you’re just already filled with new ideas on what you wanna do next – that’s happened to me at least – so, every time when I’m done, I’m like, alright, that one’s done. That’s kind of a weakness that I have, as far as taking things more seriously and promoting yourself, ‘cuz I’m like, this one was garbage compared to what I’m gonna do next. But you gotta stand by what you just made, you know what I mean? So, I haven’t promoted Scholar’s Hustle nearly in the way that I should have, because I decided to make a full album and produce all the beats myself, and I became much more excited about that. But in terms of like, the 2-album hurdle that you’re talking about, if two albums is your hurdle, then you’ve had a stint as an artist, you’re not a real artist. ‘Cause an artist, to put it in my opinion, you’ve gotta create or die, you gotta get it out of you or something is wrong, you know what I mean?
ER: That helps to understand the motivation and the purpose, that it’s not just like ‘I’ll give it a go and see where it takes me’. It’s dedication…
Prime: There’s dedication, but it’s also, it’s a passion, but it’s also kind of like an addiction almost. Yeah, I mean uh, sometimes my girlfriend, now my fiancée, will be like, ‘listen, you’re in the studio three days this week and we haven’t gotten together a lot, and let’s do Sunday?’, and I’ll say, ‘No, I gotta go to the studio. I have this schedule, I have this idea, I gotta get it out’. You can never lose the momentum…but when I said that I didn’t mean to say at all that there arenotother more important things to me that I wouldn’t sacrifice my music for; however, it’s like, I gotta, I feel like I gotta keep a little part of my life, it’s kind of like a therapy, you know, it relieves a lot of the stress, you know, and people who have creative energy, like, there’s too many who don’t have that outlet for it, and it causes a lot of like, uh, I don’t know, it causes a lot of anxiety, you know, like there’s no release, you know what I mean? And so, I’ve found mine and I love it and I’m gonna keep doin’ it, for sure. This won’t be the last one either, Man.
ER: Do you strive to make a connection with your audience?
Prime: Yeah, and like, that’s something that I’ve gotten a lot better at since I came to Seoul. Tho’ before that, um, I, you know what, I think everyone who’s a performer has this inherent fear in the beginning because art is personal, and that it is going to be ill-received, because artists take it as a reflection of ‘you don’t like who I am as a person, like, you don’t like the thoughts and feelings that I’ve chosen to share with you’, so, the energy, the ambience, like you said, that I’m trying to create, and [when… :ER]people react negatively to that, it can really hurt your self-esteem and your confidence. And so I think in the beginning I was trying to like, put it out there, but I wasn’t really putting myself on the line, and therefore the audience would hear my sound but they wouldn’t hear ME, they wouldn’t feel ME. And so one thing that I’ve been working on is like, if you’re confident in your music and in your sound and you’re looking people in the eyes, and you know, you’re going even up to people and you’re picking people out of the crowd and you’re drawing them in and you’re getting them involved, it doesn’t even matter really what you’re rapping about, as long as the music is good and you’ve got that energy, the crowd will still appreciate it. And honestly, when you’re doing live hip-hop shows, only the real hip-hop heads are taking in what you’re saying. When I go to a rap show, I listen to the lyrics as much as anything else. The average listener who just likes hip-hop, you know, in the normal kind of way, and not in a junkie kind of way, they’re not really listening to what you’re saying, they might catch that punchline at the end of the verse where the beat drops, but they’re not really listening to you. They’re just watching you and feeling the music, and having a good time and going about their business, like being at a concert, right? So, that energy is almost more important than the music itself.
ER: Help me understand why you feel more connected here in Seoul. Is it different venues to perform in?
Prime: Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily being here in Seoul, Korea. I mean, there is a hugecommunity of artists who are really supportive of each other here, and so there’s like, he does it, so I can do it, too. Whereas at home, I found that Canada was small. I was living in cities that were not nearly as big, as concentrated or as dense, so when you went to a show you didn’t know anybody, and they’re kind of wondering who you are and all that kind of stuff, whereas here you always have those people who make it feel like, you’re just in the room by them, except you’re on a stage now, you know what I mean?
ER: Perfect. You have several YouTube videos and more than a few tracks with featured artists where you share the stage and songs with folks like Black Moss and Louisiana Purpose, and for sure many more shared stage appearances. Is the Korean hip-hop scene one of collaboration or more of a solo show?
Prime: So, one thing that’s amazing about the artistic community in Seoul is that there’s a huge amount of talent, and like, even within in this neighborhood. The amount of videographers, and photographers, and dancers, and actors, and hip-hop artists, and singers and DJ’s, and beat producers that I’ve been introduced to, yeah, like there’s so many of them, and so many talented ones, and definitely people are very interested in collaborating and drawing on each other’s vibe, and you know, and inspiration, and working with artists who they feel like they would have good energy with and stuff, uh, that being said, I think you can’t deny that there’s an aspect of competition…and everybody’s trying to…you know, we’re all trying to make it one way or another. Now there are some who do it purely for the fun of it. I am not one of those. I DO it for the fun of it, but I also do it for, you know, sometime in the future, hopefully in the next couple of years, I’ll be able to make a move away from, you know, a day job, and do music at least part-time, work part-time to begin with, and then full-time music. And you know, when you have that ambition, and it’s not about making money, it’s not about blowing up and getting a contract and being signed to a record label, I mean of course that would be nice, but it just means being able to support yourself and be comfortable enough to devote yourself to the thing you are most passionate about and like. In order to do that, you do have to make money. Gotta pay rent, I’m getting’ married, so you know, I gotta find some way to make money. So definitely people are supportive, but at the same time, there’s like, um, everyone’s trying to become a part of the elite group. And there definitely is one that has established itself above the others, who kind of take it as a hobby or just simply purely take it as a hobby; there are some who are kind of in between. And there are a lot of people, in my opinion, in Seoul, who THINK they’re taking it seriously, but they don’t work hard enough. If you wanna, like, you gotta put out tracks, you gotta be at those shows, and not even performing at those shows, just be at those shows. Because, if you wanna be heard, you gotta be seen, too. You gotta have a presence in the scene. So, I make an effort to go to, like, to as many shows and support as many people a possible, because when it comes time for MY show…it’s not exactly like, tit-for-tat, you know, like, I’ll come to your show and you come to my show, but you show people you’re supportive of what they’re doing and hope you get some of that back in return.
ER: That’s a great explanation for that, thanks. Have you ever done a battle with a Korean rapper, where he/she is in Hangul and you’re in English?
Prime: No, that hasn’t happened yet. The thing is, there was a kind of forum for battling before I came here, about three years ago, which kind of petered out as the people who ran it moved away, and actually I should mention the one who kind of introduced me and got me into the scene here, his name is Jeremy Rondell, the CEO of Icons Media. They were looking for new talent, people who were serious about it, and would come and perform, come to the sound checks, you know, who were hungry to get up on stage, and not too worried about making money at the door, and blah, blah, blah. I was one of those guys, and so he actually started, maybe almost a year ago already, the Hip-Hop All-Stars League, so HHAS. And they’ve had beat-box battles, but they’re purely English, like expat versus expat. Now, as far as the Korean underground scene goes, because of my, you know, language barrier, I’m not very involved with them – I ‘m aware of some of the shows they do because, there’s one dude named Way-up, who’s bi-lingual, I’ve been to some of the Korean shows, and I support a lot of the Korean artists, we’ve performed together. There’s a show called ‘Seoul Streets’, and that was always half and half, half Korean and half expat, so I had the pleasure of taking part in that, several times. Yeah, but as far as Korean battling, and Korean-expat battling, I’m not aware of any for that, in Seoul at this time.
ER: I’m curious if a few Hangul lyrics might come out from you. It goes a long way to bring a smile and drop the guard, so to speak.
Prime: There’s been times where I’ve performed at clubs that were predominately Korean, however, when I get out on stage, I’ll say something in Korean. You know, I’ll say ‘Hello everybody, make some applause for this Korean rapper’. I’ve performed at my first day at a chic hip-hop club and I’ve said, you know, ‘my father’s here from Canada’ and ‘today’s my first day’, and you know, just very little things. You know what, sometimes there’s very few Koreans and it’s not necessary, but a lot of the times it’ll be half and half, so I always try to at least say a couple of things. And a couple of the guys who are very successful here in Seoul, particularly a guy named Jake Pains, he’s host of like, an MTV segment, and has had enormous success here, he incorporates a lot of Korean. Anyway, he’s fantastic at that, although he really has a Korean style and a Korean vibe, he dresses more in the Korean style, which helps him appeal to the Korean audience and stuff. Now, in terms of will I start to make songs in Korean, NO, but uh, I think that, in my next album will be songs where I will leave a bar, at the end of a verse or something, where I’ll take out the English, and just add a line in Korean where the beat drops, to just draw out the Korean crowd. So in terms of becoming fluent in the Korean language, and that type of thing, I don’t think I’ll be in Korea TOO much longer; and I mean, I really like it here but I don’t love it, particularly. We’re performing for the majority, here in Itaewon and in Hongdae, where people, you know, I think, are coming to see foreigners. People know that Itaewon is the mecca for foreigners, and what’s different about it is where there’s a burger joint on every corner, not gamjatang places, and that’s what draws the crowd into this corner, international culture. That being said, they come to see this foreign style of rap and hip-hop, but, when you give them that little bit of, you know, we recognize we’re in your country and we’re happy to be here and we welcome all of you who came out to see the show, I think that’s a huge bonus to your credibility and to having them remember you. I try to do as much of that as possible, but like you said, it’s a son-of-a-bitch to learn, for sure.
ER:Let’s talk about your stage name – you have more than a few stage names; The Professor, Mister Minister, Prime, Prime Minister, Prime Minister of Sound – is that a progression, your stage persona?
Prime: Yeah, well, this is kind of a story in and of itself. Originally, the reason I was dubbed the ‘Prime Minister’ was because, taking it back to that ‘cypher’, I would use words that the ‘average joe’ wouldn’t even understand, you know? I was kind of using a more advanced vocabulary, and uh, I was rapping about different things, and also, I was, I did extremely well in school compared to most of my peers. And so when everybody was worried about things like that, I was doing music and not studying at all, and so they were always joking like, one day you’re gonna be Prime Minister. And so it originally was like…also, I wanted to take international development studies, which I did, and international politics. I never have, like, a kind of political feeling to my music because, not that I think that’s not important, but for me that wasn’t the venue or the type of expression I thought for those kind of ideas, it was more for the academic side, which I did do. But for me, music was fun, and about the energy, and you know, I was involved in other campaigns and other things in the university…
ER: So they slapped the moniker on you and it stuck.
Prime: That’s right…and then I came up with ‘Prime Minister of Sound’, which was kind of catchy. Now the reason why I kind of transformed and everything was, the name was too long to fit on posters, you know what I mean, even too long for people to remember, so I wanted something shorter, something that had more bite, something that was catchy-er, so in my second album, I decided to change it to ‘The Professor’, um, I don’t know, but it’s like, this name was given to me, and I feel like changing it, from who I am and how it came about, is kind of like, you can’t give yourself a name, you know what I mean? I thought about changing my name for this album, because it represents such a huge stepping stone for me – it’s my first real album, that’s full length, for my new one that’s coming out, that I’ve titled The Electric Boulevard. This is my fourth project, this is what Superfly is for, it’s the single for the new album, which I produced entirely by myself, which, kind of makes it more meaningful and more me because I had, not [just…:ER] a hand in, but completely controlled the direction of the sound, and like, I wanted it to sound cohesive. Because what happens a lot in mixtapes is, you’re attracted to different kinds of beats from different producers, and it kind of ends up feeling like…hoopee-cake, like, disjointed. Like, you took this one and it doesn’t really have a sound, and so this one I kind of stuck with, and you wanna have enough variation that it’s not boring or monotonous, but you also want it to sound like these sounds go together.Like, it comes from way back, and you’re identified as this, but actually, I toyed around a million times with changing my name to something more catchy, and I just don’t think it’s gonna happen, Man. I’m Prime, I’m Prime, and I’ll be Prime ‘til the fucking end…
ER: You teach English as well. Are your students fans of yours? Do you share your social media with your students? What about sharing with coworkers, associates, and other folks in academia?
Prime: Here’s the thing. most of the children that I teach are much too young to appreciate that, and also, with a song like Superfly, where the lyrics are clean, I showed my oldest students the video, and they were like, we had no idea you did this! But in general, even 15, 16 year-old students, at a school or in the context of an institution, they can’t be playing the music. They know about the fuck word, okay, they know the ‘F’ word, they can recognize it, you know what I mean? In terms of my coworkers, and people that I’ve connected with through being an English teacher, definitely, and that’s everything from making connections…but the students are not at that level. If I was in university, or even a high school, I could perhaps be like, come to my show, it’s in Hongdae, you can meet my friends, practice your English, it would be good for you, but not for students at the level I’m teaching. With the oldest students, I’ll give them links to my stuff, you can find it on the Internet, you know what I mean? But no, the students, I’m not relying on them to be part of my network.
ER: Can I ask you what success is, or means, or how you measure it?
Prime: Well, I can tell you that I have three goals, where I will have reached where I originally wanted to be, and after that, I’m gonna make new goals. The three goals are as follows: #1) I wanna perform in front of a crowd of more than one thousand people. The biggest crowd I’ve performed in front of would be around three hundred-ish, which is a huge thrill, but I still wanna play, like a festival, or a big concert outdoors…yeah, that’s one of my big dreams, you know, to get up there and see it, feel it, really get into it, have a big stage all to myself, but that’s one goal. The second goal, #2) is I wanna go on tour. I feel like the dream of being a musician has a lot to do with sharing, you know, you want to share with other people what you love doing, and having grown up on classic rock and all that shit, it feels like, going to those different cities, and having those crazy nights, and performing when you’re tired, and having the fights with the manager of the venue, and being drunk and being out with the rest of the sound guys, and makin love in the bathroom, and all that kind of stuff, that’s…you know, the DREAM, and that’s how you really share it in multiple places, so the second one is to go on a good tour, maybe with another group, but, you know, a band, taking it around, different venues, show after show, bangin’ em out for a month and then comin’ home – that’s the dream, you know? And the third MOST IMPORTANT dream, #3) is, I wanna be interviewed by Nardwuar[aka: the Human Serviette :ER]. Do you know who Nardwuar is?
ER: I do know who that is. I came across him while preparing for this interview…flashy and eccentric dude who does a stack of interviews?
Prime: Yeah, he’s got this song, and a whole bunch of schtick, too, where at the end of the interview he goes like this… [gestures somehow!?!…:ER] , anyway all of the people that, uh, well I wouldn’t say all, because he’s done some people that I just don’t have a lot of admiration for, who are candy rappers, bubblegum rappers, who just got the time because they had the look, you know, or a connection, he’s also interviewed some of the greats of hip-hop, and I think that if you’ve been interviewed by Nardwuar, he’s chosen to interview you, and all of his interviews get hundreds of thousands or even millions of hits, also he’s from Vancouver, Canada, which is where I used to live and where I’ve performed before, so once I get interviewed by Nardwuar, that’s like, my dream, that’s my dream, Man, those three things. Once I get to that point, new dreams will happen. They’re written on a big mirror in my home.
ER: Thanks for your time and attention to this interview. Elect Row hopes you continue to kick it hard in the ROK, and best of luck in everything.