pH-1: An elite lyricist matures into his sound
“I worked with producers I haven’t worked with before to explore an even bigger spectrum of sounds”
This month’s cover star is fast-rising Korean American MC pH-1, who’s blowing up like C-4 right now and just dropped a new 13-track album, BUT FOR NOW LEAVE ME ALONE, which is masterfully pieced together by his own raw experiences.
After being born in South Korea, Park Jun-Won moved to New York when he was 12 and started rapping as a teenager. After college he kept making tracks and releasing them on his Soundcloud, eventually catching the attention of superstar Jay Park, who followed him on IG and invited him to join his newly formed H1GHR MUSIC label.
By 2018 pH-1 was living in Seoul, had blown up on the hit TV show ‘Show Me the Money’ and even performed live at SXSW in Texas. It’s been a fairly meteoric rise ever since, with more TV appearances, collabs with the likes of Jay Park [again], SIK-K, RAMENGVRL, Haon, among many others, and winning Best Music Video last year at the Korean Hip Hop Awards. Now, pH-1 is known as an elite lyricist and one of the biggest names in Korean Hip Hop.
LiFTED has had our eye on him for over a year and couldn’t wait to sit down with this superstar to find out what’s happening and what’s next. Let’s get to it!
Hey pH-1! What’s good, man? Thanks for taking the time from your hectic schedule to sit down with us. Your family moved to Long Island, New York when you were 12. What got you interested in Hip Hop back then? Who were some of your first Rap heroes? Why?
I think it was only natural that I took interest in Hip-Hop because I grew up in New York. All the kids were listening to Eminem, 50 Cent, Chingy, Jay-Z, etc. I don’t have “Rap heroes” per se, but I do remember being very much inspired by watching 8 Mile with Eminem. Something about coming from the gutter and following one’s passion really drew me in.
Going back to Korea to rap at the age of 26 was a brave move. Did your parents support the move? Did you have a back-up plan if things didn’t work out?
My parents had always been against the idea of pursuing any art-related field. I think it’s mainly because back in their days – and even today – being an artist can be quite unstable. But by the time I decided to move to Korea for music, they were supportive because they had already seen how miserable I was for the past…God knows how long. I think they finally gave in at some point. I told them that within two years, if I don’t make any noticeable progress in my career, I’d come back and get a job like everyone else. Thank God it worked out. Ha!
How did you hook up with Jay Park and Cha Cha Malone in the beginning of H1GHR Music?
I never stopped making music in New York. I uploaded my work on Soundcloud and made a few music videos with my friends with no budget. Jay came across a video that I did with a rapper named Rekstizzy and followed me on IG. We started talking after that. I met Cha Cha through Jay Park when I visited Korea.
You’ve done a lot of collabs over the years with amazing artists like RAMENGVRL, indigo la End, and a lot of other Korean rappers. Are there any Asian Hip Hop artists that you haven’t done a collab with that you would like to work with? Why?
I’d love to work with NIKI. I think she is great, and I can tell if we ever collaborated, it would mesh perfectly. I generally enjoy working with female vocalists because I appreciate when male and female voices combine. I believe it creates a special dynamic that a lot of people can relate to and enjoy.
How did your performance on Show Me the Money [SMTM] change your career? With so many of these shows out, do you think it’s a viable way to kickstart a Hip Hop career?
At first I didn’t want to go on SMTM because I hated the idea of a bunch of rappers waiting in line to be judged by fellow rappers. But I am glad I did because it really exposed me to the majority of the Korean audience. After the show my followers on IG skyrocketed and everyone started noticing who I was on the streets. That’s when I truly realized the power of mass media.
I do recommend – with a grain of salt – taking advantage of any type of TV exposure to up and coming artists. But I think what’s more important is what you do afterwards. You need to continuously release quality music instead of dwelling in fame and becoming lazy because it will die out quickly.
What did you learn over the two years of COVID-19 when the world was suddenly shut down and supposed to stay inside for most of that time? How will that affect you going forward?
I realized how we, as humans, took so many things for granted. Simple things like going outside, socializing with friends, and having festivals were things I forgot were so valuable. This made me want to give 200 percent to every one of my performances going forward because I want my fans and I to have unforgettable moments together.
In your latest single, ‘MR. BAD,’ you discuss the demons and temptations in the music business. Have you ever been tempted to go off the rails? What happened to keep you in line or get you back on track?
Of course. I fight with temptations every single day. There are times I do fall under pressure, and there are times I have to keep myself in check. It’s an ongoing battle, but I definitely make sure I never cross the line that would sabotage my relationships and my career. To me it’s more like a way of coping with stress and finding out more about myself as an individual, rather than simply feeding my greed or seeking pleasure.
You’ve got a new album coming out this month. Can you give us a little sneak preview of what it’s going to sound like? What were some of your influences when making this album? Any big surprises?
I don’t even know how to describe the sound. It’s pH-1’s sound but much more mature and developed. For this album, I worked with producers I haven’t worked with before to explore an even bigger spectrum of sounds. For example, I think people were quite surprised to see that UMI will be featured on this album. I am very happy about the way the album turned out, and I just can’t wait til you all hear it.
Check out pH-1's 'Zombies + Tipsy' as well as the album But For Now Leave Me Alone below.