[Interview] – XXX (Part 2)

Picking up right where we left off on Friday, we get into the real meat of our conversation with new-wave hip-hop duo XXX. Today we dig deeper into the perceptions of their craft and why they do what they do.

Oh, yeah, and surprising to no one, I fall deeper and deeper in love with both Ximya and FRNK.


Reception, Perception, Expectation

Beyond the intergalactic clash of the music, the lyrics are just as crunchy—hard to the ear, aggressive, certainly explicit and provocative. So it begs the question, is the music mostly for shock value?

“When we started making aggressive, provocative music,” Ximya begins, “we thought we didn’t have a breakthrough, so we just had to….” He pauses for beat, visibly adjusting his focus. “I got into George Washington University,” he says, “and he [FRNK] was already a university student. We made this mixtape called XX that was our last try in music. And that was when we started making aggressive music, because nobody really cared about the music, so we didn’t really care back.”

And just like that, my respect for XXX increases tenfold. Never mind the power of the music itself. These men made music as it’s meant to be made—for and from the soul, not worrying about the approval of the multitude. “Just like, ‘Fuck it, we may as well make the music we like!'” I add.

“Yeah,” he says, conviction in his voice.

That being said, it’s not exactly the easiest feat to create what you want in South Korea. As Mir points out, “I know your society is very conservative. (Ximya: “Right.”) Having those type of lyrics, they’re a shock to us, and we live [in the States].”

So what exactly was the reception to this brand of “give zero fucks” hip-hop? “They don’t really like it,” Ximya admits. “There’s a small community that really likes the lyrics and the sound. But mostly….”

At this point FRNK interjects, calling on Ximya to translate, “They feel tired because the sound is so aggressive. They can’t listen to it more than an hour.”

“When you’re writing this music,” I begin, “a lot of it’s for yourself then, right?”

“Right.”

“So are all of your lyrics really personal?”

Ximya is quick to respond, “I try to write lyrics for the listeners, but how I structure it is really personal. So the theme or the information I want to send out is very pop-ish, but how I choose the words and how I structure it, I really don’t want them to understand.”

“They can’t understand,” FRNK again adds, this time with an assertiveness in his English that previously had been reserved when talking about his musical influences.

It’s always interesting to find out what an artist’s favorite track is. Knowing there’s a song they’ve created that they’re particularly proud of gives us a deeper insight into the richest parts of who they are. In particular, both Ximya and FRNK are so dedicated to creation for creation’s sake, I’m intrigued to know what of the music they’ve made together is their most personal, the track where they each reached in and brought a part of themselves out, no frills, nothing hidden, completely laid bare.

They both think about this for a moment, trying to perhaps find a song that would be familiar to anyone reading this interview. FRNK then spits off rapid-fire Korean, excitement in his inflection: “I think….” What begins in English quickly reverts to Korean again when he needs to find the words he really needs. “There’s a song we made called ‘Bentayga.'”

“That’s the Bentley truck,” Ximya explains. “It didn’t come out yet when we made the song, but it’s about me presenting the Bentayga to my father. It’s a personal song. But it never came out.”

xxx-3

“Some songs you gotta keep to yourself,” I say.

“Yeah,” Ximya agrees. With a quick nod to his partner he says, “His favorite song.”

“My best!” FRNK proclaims.

While the song is just a memory now for Ximya, FRNK remembers the song with a fondness one usually harbors for a loved one. Mir asks, “Can you describe the sound that you made for the song? You say it’s your best. What about it makes it the best?”

Again, FRNK relies on his native tongue to really put all the emotion behind what he’s going to say, the emotion he apparently still harbors for the track itself. “[I] think it’s the most basic sound and most basic structure. [I] really like the lyrics on it and the vibe.”

“It’s one of those songs where you’re not even trying, it’s just who you are,” I say. I find myself awed by just how intuitive these two men are, and I’m sure I don’t hide my admiration well. In the end all I can say is, “I like that.”

The emotional weight of a song like Ximya’s dedication to his father is pervasive through their discography. Perhaps not in terms of intention, certainly not in content. But there’s an earnestness, an overt rebellious nature to the roundness of their music. “When I listen to your music sometimes, I think of old punk rock. Like, Sex Pistols was the first thing I thought of when I heard it,” I admit. “I thought, ‘Oh my god! They just don’t care!’ Would you ever consider doing collaborations with artists who are like that?”

They exchange chuckles at the mention of the Sex Pistols, but it’s not a comparison they’re uncomfortable with, as neither try to distance themselves from it, nor do they shy away from the praise. After taking several seconds to contemplate the question, FRNK offers Kanye West as his reply, while Ximya leans toward the warp and warble of Clarence Clarity. Considering who he chooses to create with, that’s not too far-fetched. Come to think of it, neither is FRNK’s choice. It seems their influence on one another goes further than just how they create music. It suffuses every aspect of their musical relationship.

With the duo making a name for themselves in Korea’s hip-hop scene, I wonder if there are more artists like them that they notice going in that direction—all sexual innuendo and foul-mouthed apathy at the established order.

“There’s several artists in Korea who make music differently,” FRNK offers. “But they are not as famous as the others, and we think we’re just a part of the small community.”

“Like the underground?” I ask.

Again, Ximya takes a moment to consider. Though I’d read of the Korean perception of “underground,” that was all predating their debut. I had no idea the overwhelming image of “underground” was still a mixture of apprehension and disdain.

“Well, (finger quotes) ‘underground,’ the word ‘underground’ in Korea got a different meaning to it. It was the legitimate underground, but now it’s kind of a scapegoat.” He amends my initial question, choosing instead to refer to those artists as simply “not famous.”


Advice & The Future

As the imagery hasn’t changed much (rather become more aggressively negative, if one takes Ximya’s evaluation of the situation to heart), it makes even more sense that so many indie artists, even in the ever-burgeoning world of Korean hip-hop, tend to struggle. “We talk to a lot of bands, and we know they have a hard time doing what they love and still making a living and sort of being able to survive. Is that hard for you? Do you have support?”

xxx-5

“Yeah,” Ximya says. “From our company. But we don’t usually think about the money. We just make what we want. Then we do our best to earn money. But money is not the fuel.” As someone who isn’t exactly rolling in greenbacks off the merit of her work, I get it. But I mentally call bullshit… just a little. Obviously Ximya notices that my nod of agreement isn’t just a nod of understanding. “We like money,” he reassures with a laugh.

But I get it. “It’s not the goal,” I say.

“Right.”

“What you want to do is create.”

Then Mir tries to steer us in the real direction. “What do you do instead to support your art?”

“What do you do so you can eat?” I ask, because that’s what we really want to know. If the music doesn’t feed you, something has to.

“Well, [FRNK] writes music for other artists.”

“Do we know any?” Mir asks.

“We mostly work with SM,” Ximya says.

Then it hits me. I do remember hearing the official remix of f(x)’s house-inspired “Four Walls.” How I didn’t make the connection until this interview is beyond me. “Oh, that’s why they’re music’s sounding so brand-new. It’s because of y’all! Good job!”

We all share a laugh, but it’s true. Lately SM’s been trying to transition many of their newer groups into sounds that are edgier, stretching past the self-same dance hooks and bubblegum shimmer to spill over into something a bit darker.

“That’s how we earn money,” Ximya says.

Though Ximya and FRNK have only made music together for five years, trying to carve out a space for yourself in an industry as fickle as entertainment, especially in an environment that’s less than supportive of indie artists, will make you grow up quickly. In the time they’ve spent creating and surviving, I wonder if they have any advice for kids who want to make music their livelihood.

“I think we’re too new in this culture that we don’t have the experience,” FRNK says.

However, Ximya himself isn’t quite as reserved (remember, diplomatic, not shy). “I think there’s advice that I think the people who want to start making music wouldn’t like to hear. But what I think is if you really want to create something and you want to be creative, I don’t think you need advice. Don’t need to be scared, just do what you want to do.” He stops, readjusting his demeanor. “I kinda sound like Kanye West.”

We all laugh, but just as Kanye makes very valid points regarding one’s self-confidence and their desire to reach for something more, Ximya makes a good point himself. “I think it’s good advice,” I offer. “If you want to start making art you can’t be afraid. You just have to do it.”

That being said, when it comes to getting one’s foot in the door, there are ways, and then there ways. “So I asked a couple people last year. Speaking of new people trying to come up, I don’t know how you feel about shows like Show Me the Money and Unpretty Rapstar.” Just as when I interviewed Deepflow last year, FRNK reacts with a giggle and a shake of the head. Though I’m wont to agree with him, for those who really want a chance at that pretty brass ring, participating in reality survival shows like the two mentioned is an easy first step “Just thinking about it for people who are trying to come up, do you think it’s a legit way to try to get in?”

Ximya responds, “I think there’s two ways to come up. There’s one way… trying out for SMTM and UR and be a TV star. And the other way is just making music or making whatever you love. I don’t think you even have to wait for the come up. I think you just make something and keep posting it, and someday you’re gonna earn the fame.”

The old cliché of a young man wise beyond his years comes to mind. In this case it’s most certainly appropriate. I remember another adage that writers use when giving advice to new writers who want to know, essentially, what they can do to be good. “Advice we always give new writers is if you wanna be a good writer you have to read,” I tell them. “So I always wonder if musicians feel the same way. If you really wanna be good at no matter what genre it is, you just have to keep listening. Do you think it’s important for people to listen to, not just the new stuff but old stuff as well?” This is a question whose answer always intrigues me. I’ve heard both sides of the argument, and I’m interested in finding out what these two fairly new artists have to say on the matter.

“We can’t force anybody to listen to NWA,” Ximya says. “But I think if you wanna be shown as an artist of another level, you need that much information and thoughts. But if you’re goal is to be the freshest and the newest I think it’s more important to listen to the newest and the freshest.”

Another question that’s sparked a great deal of debate among friends of mine who are both casual fans of hip-hop and ardent lovers of the genre is one that’s started to come up more frequently: the subject of battle rap. “What do you think about battle rapping? Do you think it’s important? Do you think it’s part of learning how to be better at rapping? Or do you think it’s even necessary?”

“I watch a lot of King of the Dot (KOTD) videos, and I think, and also FRNK thinks, it’s a different thing because making music and freestyle battling is a different game. These people want to listen to a song and get some type of vibe that they want, but for battling it’s really aggressive and [about] punchlines. It’s more like MMA fighting. I think battle rapping is sport, and music is another thing.”

“So you’d never try it?” I ask.

“I don’t really freestyle.”

“Well, you do know that more of the one’s coming up, they’re all written.”

Ximya concedes the point.

“So like Conceited, all his shit’s written. So, I mean, I think you could go in real hard core and burn some people up. I’m just sayin’, I feel like you could snatch somebody!”

Of course, even the most diplomatic rapper out there has to get a bit puffy in the chest when someone’s in their corner egging them on. Ximya’s no exception. “I think so too!”

xxx-7

I continue to humor him, “So we’re gonna announce you, ‘Hey, Smack, we got this dude coming up. Representing South Korea!’” And though we all have a good laugh, I’m really only halfway kidding. (I’m calling you out, Ximya. Get your bars ready!)

Ximya goes back to his state of genuine humility, “Thing is, KOTD battlers use punchlines that use American jokes and American celebrities, but I have no idea.”

Fair enough. But there has to be something the likes of Ultimate Rap League (URL) and KOTD floating around in South Korea, right?

“We had something like that, but it was not as big as KOTD. It was called Boxer.” He and FRNK exchange a few words of Korean about the show, then Ximya explains. “It was mostly amateur rappers.”

“It’s not there any more?”

“No, it disappeared.”

Though their manager did set aside an hour for us, and though our conversation is really getting good, at this point it’s time for us to wind down and start talking about the group’s future.

“What would you like to say to fans of yours or new people who are just getting into your music? What do you want them to know about you?”

“We want people to listen to our music without making any assumptions. Because the fans listen to our music, but before that they know that it’s from XXX. What we want is mostly someone browsing Soundcloud and there’s our music and they just play it and they like it,” Ximya explains. “So keep your mind open.”

And just like that, it’s time for the last, and probably most important, question. “What can people expect from you in the future?”

“We’re gonna make the first XXX album,” Ximya reveals. “The previous one was an EP. Now we’re working on the first album, and FRNK’s solo album, and my solo album is coming out!”

“Oh! All right.” I turn to FRNK. “So what should we expect from you, Robert Glasper?”

With a giggle and a confident smile he says, “Just FRNK.”

To Ximya I ask, “We’re gonna get more of that aggressive, out-of-control wildness from you?” (This would be the opportune time for a bee to fly over and have an instant attraction to Ximya as he tries to answer my question.)

“I think it’s gonna be something like this,” he says, pointing to bee. “Irritating! I want to talk more about the facts that people don’t want to hear.”

What more could I expect from a man who pointedly admitted to making music whose purpose is to shock without care of consequence? Though I know we have to be nearing an hour, the time just flies by so quickly. Without a doubt, this is certainly one of the more revealing and entertaining conversations I’ve had with an artist.

XXX is a group on a mission—to pull back the sheets covering the world and reveal the naked and unfettered truth. Whether you’re a fan of their music or, as FRNK says, can’t understand, one thing’s for certain—you cannot ignore them.


Don’t forget to check out XXX and give them your support. You can find out more about the group on:

Soundcloud
iTunes
YouTube (XXX, BANA)
Facebook
Instagram (FRNK, Ximya)
Beats And Natives Alike website

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