Asked what position he would like his team XXX to occupy in the Korean hip-hop scene, rapper Kim Ximya was quiet but confident in his response.
“Tupac,” he answered, referring to the iconic American rapper, as he sat down for an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday at the group’s studio in Seogyo-dong, Seoul.
“By that I mean that I hope people, whether they know a lot about music or not, wouldn’t dare judge our music easily.”
Music duo XXX, which consists of rapper Kim Ximya, 23, and composer FRNK, 25, has been creating a stir among hip-hop fanatics both in and outside Korea.
When XXX debuted with the album “Kyomi” in July 2016, the combination of FRNK’s trendy tunes and Kim Ximya’s explicit lyrics excited hip-hop enthusiasts, who buzzed at the emergence of new talent. International music outlets heralded their music as a stylish yet unapologetic type of hip-hop atypical in Korea.
The group returned last week from performing at MIDEM, the world’s largest annual music festival and market that took place in Cannes, France from June 6-9, and at a party for French fashion brand Kitsune. In March, XXX was invited to play at South by Southwest, another major annual music festival in Austin, Texas.
“The American audience liked really heavy, hard-core hip-hop songs that aren’t popular with Korean audiences,” said Kim Ximya, whose real name is Kim Dong-hyun.
The French, on the other hand, “reacted well to more hip, danceable tunes” such as “Dior Homme,” a sparse track that pokes fun at brand-toting fashionistas, said FRNK, whose real name is Park Jin-su.
FRNK (left) and Kim Ximya pose for a photo before an interview at their studio in Seogyo-dong, Seoul, Thursday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Though labeled as a hip-hop group, XXX’s sounds contain everything from electronic synth to hints of trap. FRNK says he’s been an avid listener of all types of music since elementary school and cites Detroit-based soul-hip-hop artist J Dilla as a major influence.
After dabbling in classical composition in high school, FRNK joined an online community of underground hip-hop artists where he met Kim Ximya, who had been writing rap lyrics since middle school.
“I’m annoyed with the world,” said Kim Ximya on the reasons for his expletive-filled, ironic lyrics.
“Flight Attendant,” the lead track off XXX’s debut album, is a commentary on the polished appearances and fabricated behavior of flight attendants. The lyrics were inspired by his frequent flights abroad as a youngster, said Kim Ximya, who spent part of his school years in Australia.
Why are his lyrics so aggressive? A lack of confidence in his physical appearance colors a lot of his rap, Kim Ximya says.
“I used to hang around with a lot of good-looking people. A lot of maddening things happened to me because of that inferiority complex.”
This idea is strongly expressed in “Liquor,” a rant against both women and men, drunkenness and debauchery, he said. “If you write about your own experiences, then the controversy that follows should be tolerated.”
FRNK says that while XXX’s music reflects part of his personality, he hopes to branch out into different types of music as well.
“I love all genres. I love folk, ambient music. Many hip-hoppers tend to be angry and on edge. Our music may seem violent but actually, I’m somebody who enjoys love and peace.”
Kim Ximya added that he too is increasingly distancing himself from his lyrics. “I’ve changed a lot while making this album.”
The title of the album “Kyomi,” which in Korean means “mating,” reflects the visceral, instinctive process involved in making XXX’s music, he said.
Nothing is discussed in advance. FRNK comes up with a beat; Kim Ximya writes lyrics inspired by the sound and records the rap; the song is then edited and altered. One track undergoes numerous rounds of revision before it is completed.
“That’s how we work. We try this and that, but nothing is planned ahead.”
XXX is increasingly garnering attention for its music, but the two say they haven’t felt the impact of fame yet -- neither in their everyday lives nor in their bank accounts, they joked.
Are they willing to expand into mainstream celebrity status should the opportunity arise?
“I don’t think so,” Kim Ximya replied. “There is too much to compromise in order to make profitable, ‘successful’ music in Korea.”
Referring to the simultaneous desire for success and artistic integrity, FRNK said, “It’s a paradox.”
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Korea Herald is introducing Korean singers, musicians and actors poised to join the next wave of top stars in a twice-monthly series. -- Ed.