Korean rapper Dumbfoundead talks about diversity in hip-hop, and how the city of Compton and growing up in the streets of LA helped him change the game.
There are plenty of things we can say about rapper and comedian Dumbfoundead that still barely cuts the surface. He’s toured and collaborated with more artists than we can keep track of—some of the more notable in the Korean music community being Epik High, Jay Park and Drunken Tiger. His YouTube channel hosts deep interviews, hilarious shows and must-hear music. He’s got a badass performance space in his car.
We can also say that Dumb not only has a front seat view as to how the hip-hop demographics are changing worldwide, he’s got his hands on the wheel. He started as a 14-year-old Asian kid from Koreatown, and now he’s one of the biggest names in West Coast underground hip-hop. He’s a founder of Knocksteady, a hip-hop collective that pushes new music and media to the masses “without losing sight of the greater social power.” He just performed at the LACMA for Through the Mic, the first concert series of it’s kind that celebrates the diversity of LA-based contemporary hip-hop. We talked to Dumbfounded to get a sense of how he started, where he is right now, and where he, and the diversity of hip-hop, is headed.
How did you get involved in LA’s underground hip-hop scene, being that you’re from Korea?
I used to go to open mics and stuff when I was about 14 or so. At the time, there were a lot of open mics in Los Angeles—I was going to three or four a week—but the one that really influenced me and I became a regular at was Project Blowed in South Central.
Were there any other Asian-Americans at these open mics?
I was one of, maybe, two Asian people there. It was mostly Blacks or Latinos there, and it was a really aggressive environment as far as rappers go.
How did being one of the few influence you?
You really have to step up when you get into freestyle circles like that. That definitely had a big influence on me, being there, being the only Asian, learning to be aggressive; things like that. It’s where I learned to battle and perform.
You’ve watched the demographic change from when you were 14 years old until now. In your opinion, what makes the time right for diversity movements like Through the Mic?
We recently had the 20th anniversary of the LA riots, which makes it a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come in the relationships between the Asian and Black communities in Los Angeles. If you really look back and think about where we’re at, a lot of things have changed or haven’t changed. One thing that has is the diversity of the hip-hop community.
There’s a lot more Asian-Americans involved, more Latinos involved – hip hop is one of those things that brings people together, so I think [Through the Mic] is pretty important. It’s a great place to have it, too—I mean, LACMA is a very central place as far as Los Angeles goes. It’s halfway between Koreatown and MidCity.
What is your take on the Asian-American hip-hop community? Not just in LA, but around the country?
There’s tons. There’s tons of great Asian American artists just everywhere, you know? I remember one of the tours I went on when I was younger, the Asian Hip Hop Summit Tour, where we actually toured all over the US with a group of Asian MC’s. We would go to these cities all over place, you know? I’m talking like, Wisconson, Iowa. And every city that I went to, I would see at least one Asian American rapper or DJ—whatever at these shows. They would come up to me and say “I’m the only Asian rapper here in the city.” It’s really crazy. There’s tons out there and everybody’s working on getting more exposure.
Tell us about Knocksteady. You’re a founder?
Me and my friend Brian Lee, who is also my manager, cofounded Knocksteady. It’s an internet portal where we share things that we like as far as art and music goes, but it’s also just, you know, introducing new talent and sharing cool stuff. Yeah, it’s just an internet portal, but it turned into something bigger where we started generating a following because people liked the content we kept putting up.
And it’s branched out into Knockstudy, too, right?
Yeah, KnockSteady is the internet portal, Knockstudy is the non-profit we started to teach [people] how to DJ, MC writing workshops, and filmmaking, and things like that. That came about because I’m a product of local Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA’s, and stuff like that for inner city kids. I was part of that when I was younger, so this is my way of giving back to those programs.
You’ve worked with several groups and collectives, but the concept of Jam Session 2.0 is sick. How did it come about, and what was the overall process?
Jam Session 2.0 was one of the first videos on my YouTube channel. The concept was connecting music and technology together, and it was just a cool thing. I emailed all these individual musicians and the process was I had one musician record one part, and then I would record that and send it to the next person. It was just one at a time. A lot of people think we did that live, and you can, we just did it where we put it together piece by piece.
It turned out great, though, seriously.
[Laughs] Thanks. That’s definitely something I’d want to continue doing.
This summer you’re touring with Breezy LoveJoy. What can fans expect from your upcoming tour together?
This is the first time I’m touring with a live band, so it’s going to be cool. Breezy is a friend a mine, well, pretty much my right-hand dude when it comes to doing music and stuff. He’s an interesting case because he’s actually half Black and half Korean. He’s an amazing musician to be taking on tour with me, all around the US and London as well. I’m excited to see the fan base out there.
Speaking of Breezy, he was your first guest on your YT show HotBox, which is based out of your car. Random Question: Who gave your favorite HotBox performance?
I still think Breezy was my favorite, actually. I felt that his was the most natural interview, and I love the song that he performed. But I’m starting to have a lot of exciting guests now, so it’s him and probably Speak. You wouldn’t expect [Speak] to just—he was like a ghostwriter in the rap industry. He writes for a lot of mainstream musicians, but he’s like this hippie kid. I thought he was an interesting guest.
Your last EP was on Valentine’s Day this year. We hear that you’ve been in mountains cutting an album. What can you tell us about the sound, the creative process, and the message you’re trying to convey this time around?
Yeah, I literally got back yesterday. I was there for two weeks working on this album. Didn’t completely finish it, but I did do about nine, ten songs for it. I was up there with Breezy, who was helping me produce some of it. He has a son and brought him up there with us, so that was the longest time I’ve ever spent with any kind of baby around. It was interesting for both of us.
Why the mountains, though?
Beyond the music it was a really good experience to get way from the city, getting to really focus on the music and clearing my head. Get away from everything, really. The internet stuff, and just…. Literally, we were there for two weeks, but in between, we actually had to come back down to LA for a day or two. It was amazing—in the cabin it’s so peaceful and I came to LA for one day and I was stressed the f*** out. I just wanted to go back to the cabin the whole time.
New York City can be just as bad, but music is our savior. Can you tell us a little bit about the album so we don’t go stir crazy?
Yeah, [the album] turned out really cool. I’ve always been playful with my music, but the newer stuff is a lot more mature and I’m really reflecting on what I’ve been learning. Life’s lessons, you know? I know that sounds cliché. [Laughs]
Dumb actually dropped a new track today at his Youtube Channel. Check out “Love’s Gonna Getcha” ft. Dynamic Duo, Kero One, and Dumbfounded.