Park Jaebeom, mostly known as Jay Park–the hip-hop star armed with gleeful, magnetic energy and splendid facial features–doesn’t move like a celebrity, despite his larger-than-life-status in Asia and growing fame here in the United States. Park, who is in the Rotten Apple promoting his Roc Nation debut, Ask ‘Bout Me, is easily accessible. A day after his press run, he posted a video of himself breakdancing on an NYC sidewalk, with no bodyguards ushering him away fans. A bit of irritability arises when asked about his growing fame: “I just love making music, and entertaining. I really do live for this culture. I don’t think about the other stuff,” he said.
With fellow-rising Korean-American MC Ted Park (no relation to Jay Park) by his side, the “Soju” rapper falls through VIBE‘s office donning a peach-colored tee, baggy ripped jeans, and a sprightly spirit. He’s not just putting on a face for the press, though; this is Park’s honest energy. For instance, after being booted from Korean boy band 2PM, after some disparaging comments about Koreans were found on Park’s Myspace page, the now 31-year-old flew back to Seattle, where he paid his bills by working in a used tire shop.
“It was actually very relieving,” Park said when asked how being ousted from 2PM affected his confidence. “There were a lot of limitations [being in a boy band in Korea], things I’m not supposed to say, and to have all of that disappear in one day was king of relieving. It didn’t kill my confidence. It all depends on how you look at those things. If you live to breathe another day, you know it’s not over.”
The K-Pop invasion and newcomer Rich Brian may be making huge waves within the culture now, but Asians such as Hong 10, Skim, B-Boy Leon, and others have dominated the breakdancing scene for years. It was b-boying that first attracted Park to hip-hop.
“The b-boy culture in Seattle is very dope. I think there’s even a Zulu [Nation] chapter over there. And there was a hip-hop club in my high school. I would see b-boys breakdancing in the hallway, I thought it was cool. I started practicing in my living room, then started battling, and then I joined a crew, and we started getting into competitions. In fact, we still battle–for fun now.”
That resolve and love for hip-hop culture kept Park inspired to continue breaking, rhyming and singing after his untimely departure from 2pm. Keeping his lyrical swag and vocal chords sharp, Park begin uploading covers on his YouTube account, which garnered millions of Youtube views and eventually led to him getting shows.
“I didn’t want to just be doing shows of other people’s songs,” Park recalled. “I felt that I wasn’t giving fans me, so I got back in the studio.”
Catching his second wave, Park ducked off into the studio to craft efforts such as Fresh Air: Breathe It, New Breed, Evolution, and World Wide. His magnetic charisma on wax, and his ability to create potential hit songs like “Soju” and “FSU” featuring Rich the Kid, attracted the attention of Roc Nation.
“We had our AOMG tour. It was an eight-city tour. We were at Best Buy Theater (now Play Station Theater), and Jason from Tidal came to check it out. He was like: ‘yo, we need to get you on Tidal.’ We kept that relationship. He introduced me to Chaka [Pilgrim, president of Roc Nation Records] and they were like: ‘You want a label out here? You want us to distribute music? And I’m like, ‘Let’s do it.'”
Park met Mr. Roc Nation himself, JAY-Z, back in January. By the looks of the picture posted on Park’s Instagram account, Park was extremely happy.
“I rarely get starstruck, but I’ve been a JAY-Z fan since fourth grade, and had a huge crush on Beyoncé in high school. Meeting him at the Roc Nation brunch. It was dope. Everyone wanted to meet him. So I just waited my turn and he was like, ‘Thank you for trusting us.’ That was pretty much it. I din’t want to bother him.”
As most rappers, Park has an independent mindset like Roc Nation’s head honcho. He’s co-owner of AOMG, where he helps oversee a slew of artists such as Gray, Cha Cha Malone, and Ugly Duck. But going from an CEO to an artist isn’t an downgrade for Park–it’s just another avenue to get sh*t done.
“I was an established artist before. And right now that’s both a safety net and a skeleton key to maintaining artistic control. As an example, “Forget About Tomorrow,” I had that song for a couple years, but didn’t know what to do with it. [Roc Nation execs] said, ‘we want to release it.’ Then they said that it shouldn’t be the first single off the label. So, I was like, ‘OK, cool. I’ll just release it.”
With this, Park and his AOMG team shot a video for “Forget About Tomorrow,” and as of today, the visuals have garnered more than five million views on YouTube.
Park’s resolve, far-reaching outlook on life, and humbleness precede the fun-filled hits that cloud his long-ranging discography. After meeting Park, and absorbing his soft-spoken character, one develops a greater appreciation for his music and hustle.
“24 hours a day, I’m thinking about what we can do with this artist, what I can do myself over here and how we can tie it all together,’ Park said. “Everything I do is a learning experience. It’s still fun to me because I grow with every project, and every song.