Far East ushering in a new Movement
Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 23:05
They are the Asian-American hip-hop sensations that have taken Los Angeles and the rest of the country by storm and dominated the Billboard and iTunes charts. Last year, they toured internationally with Lady Gaga and also have performed alongside Jay-Z and the Black Eyed Peas. Their name comes from a new cultural movement that they also like to call "free wired." It's hard to pinpoint what this movement is, but in the same way that the Grateful Dead paved the way for the hippie movement or the Sex Pistols created their own punk subculture, Far East Movement is the spearhead for a new, multicultural identity in 2011. Like many recent artists, no single genre defines Far East Movement's music. Words like "hitronica," "electro-hop" or "techno-pop" may give one a sense of their style-but this fails to capture the core energy that drives Far East Movement's clothing and partying style as well. According to Kev Nish (Kevin Nishimura), essentially the front man of the group, "free wired" means two things: That they are free to be their own selves and create the music they want, and they are wired-always partying, staying up late and always on the Internet. Many interviewers have asked them if their lifestyle reflects a certain cultural background. Kev Nish is of Japanese and Chinese descent, Prohgress (James Roh) and J-Splif (Jae Choung) are of Korean descent and DJ Virman (Virman Coquia) is of Filipino descent. Do accolades, then, like "Top-Ten Greatest Asian-American Rappers of All Time" or "First Breakout Mainstream Asian-American Act" express the Far East Movement's musical goals?
On one hand, they never sing about race. Ethnicity takes a backseat to partying hard on the dance floor and getting slizzard (drunk). Consider these lyrics from their first hit, "Girls on the Dance Floor": "I'mma get you drunk and make you lose control/Gotta arch your back, swing your hair/Just like that, I don't care." These are young people enjoying their life to the fullest in clubs all over the world-they just returned from a hectic tour in Asia-with or without the intention to pave the way for Asian-Americans in popular culture.
"We never really made race our basis," Kev Nish told the Dallas Morning News. "We just grew up as L.A. kids. ... 95 percent of the kids just want to party rock and they don't care about race. They just want to wild out. That's refreshing to us."
On the other hand, Far East Movement has always stressed the importance of coming from the L.A. Koreatown music scene. They began their careers performing at charities, such as Movementality, that benefitted Southeast Asian communities and networked with important industry members over Korean barbeque in downtown L.A.
Like the hip-hop scene that emerged in Brooklyn in the late '90s and early 2000s, the recent Asian-American music scene in L.A. has created an environment where "people are pushing themselves up at the same time," Prohgress said in an interview with soompi.com, commenting on the recent flood of Asian-American artists emerging out of Koreatown. "You're constantly inspiring each other." It's hard to say exactly what movement the members of Far East Movement represents, but they have always cited the people who influenced them in the community. They're huge fans of rappers like Lyrics Born and Bambu and have given nods to YouTube stars like David Choi. They've known Koreatown rappers like Roscoe Umali and Dumbfounded for years.
Officially formed in 2003, Far East Movement's path to mainstream success had its ups and downs. In the beginning, it was like most other emerging artists in the area. The crew brought their gear to the back of Prohgress' parents' house and spent the day making beats and jamming out to them. After a few hours, they'd listen to their work and post it online on aznraps.com and hollafront.com and wait for replies. If someone wrote that it was okay, then they'd say, "Hey! He thought it was a'ight!" If others thought their rhymes were corny, then they'd take the criticism and use it as inspiration for the next jam. It wasn't until after countless tracks posted online, repeated complaints from Kev Nish's girlfriend at the time that they were "losers" and hours of waiting for feedback that aznraps.com finally featured their song, "That Feels Good," as an "A+" track on the website's main page.
They performed at open mics and charity events until their first big break came in 2006 with the inclusion of "Round, Round" in the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Deals began to come in and their music appeared on TV shows like CSI: Miami, Gossip Girl and Entourage. DJ Virman became their official disc jockey, and they struck collaborations with The Stereotypes, Bruno Mars and Wiz Khalifa and teamed up with Wong Fu Productions in concerts titled "International Secret Agents" celebrating Asian-Americans in popular culture.
Far East Movement cemented its success in 2010 with a major record deal with Interscope Records in February.
"It's a dream where we don't want to wake up," Prohgress said in an interview with soompi.com. "We used to intern at Interscope in the PR department. We were in the third floor and I never got to go to the fifth floor. It was like heaven. You never got up there. It's the home of Dr. Dre, it's the home of Gwen Stefani, . Eminem, . Black Eyed Peas. This was the holy grail for us. . The fact that we got signed to them is just crazy."
After entering the pearly gates of Interscope, Far East Movement recorded "Like a G6" later that year, propelling the group to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list and iTunes. It was a song that defined the lavish, hardcore-partying lifestyle and created a new vocabulary for young clubbers. Type in "what is" into Google during late 2010 and it would have automatically generated the words "what is a G6?" The lyrics of the song are catchy and make witty references to a drink made with promethazine and codeine (sizzurp), rap group Three 6 Mafia and the Gulfstream 650, the fastest civil plane in the world: "Sippin' sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6/Now I'm feelin' so fly like a G6."
Far East Movement's mainstream success caused the Dallas Morning News to ask, "Does 'Like a G6' signal the arrival of Asian hip-hop?" It's still early to see how they will influence Asian-American culture, but the emergence of shows like K-Town-the Asian-American version of Jersey Shore to premiere later this year-indicate the proliferation of a new type of lifestyle. Free wired will not burn out anytime soon.
"It's a generation of kids that aren't defined by specific genres but are defined by a playlist of music," Kev Nish told Schema Magazine about the Free Wired movement. "Hip-hop, trance, pop, alternative rock. Kids that geek out. Kids that live online. Those multicultural kids that you don't know their race but you know their screenname. Kids that blog. It's this new influx of kids or adults who are living free wired.