Cover South Korean rapper pH-1 dishes about his new single, Lately (Photo: H1gher Music)

A leading voice in the Korean hip-hop scene, rapper pH-1 is serenading us this Christmas with his new single, Lately but it’s not the festive song we expect it to be

Fans of Korean music might have heard of pH-1, though Harry Park or even Junwon might not ring a bell. But in fact, they’re one and the same. pH-1 has been a leading voice in Korean hip-hop since he broke out into the scene.

Frequently spotted on Korean TV shows and an in-demand hip-hop artist, pH-1 is also a founding member of the hip-hop and R&B record label, H1gher Music alongside Jay Park and Cha Cha Malone with the aim to bridge the gap between American and Korean artists.

No stranger to collaborations and a recommended listen if you want good skin (according to his Spotify profile), pH-1 knows how to hook you so you’re constantly putting him on repeat. This holiday season, the hip-hop artist is releasing a new single, Lately but it’s not what you’d expect a festive song to sound like.

In an exclusive interview with Tatler, pH-1 dishes about the year-end song, his love for collaborations and how finds a balance between market appeal and authenticity.

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Winter or rather, the holiday season is merry and joyful yet you chose to release a soulfully, sorrowful hip-hop number. Why is that?

I don’t like being obvious. It is very much expected that an artist would release a carol-like song during Christmas, but I always try to be a bit contradictory. The Christmas season might bring sadness to some people. I made this track for them.

Tell us the story behind the song and why the title, Lately?

The song is about a person that has recently gone through a breakup. He/she is “lately” finding himself/herself feeling down and empty without his/her significant other.

It’s not the first time you’ve combined English and Korean lyrics. Is that due to your Korean American background or are there any other reasons?

It is exactly due to my background as a Korean American. Mixing two languages is literally how I would write or speak to people. It’s the most genuine means of communication for me. It also works as an advantage for me because my fans, no matter what country they’re from, can understand the overall story and mood of my songs.

You’re working with Hoody for this track, tell us how that came about and how was it like working with her?

Hoody (Kim Hyun-jung) is a dear friend of mine, and I’ve been a genuine fan of her music since her debut. Whenever I give her a general theme for a song, she understands right away what I had in mind and amplifies it to make it even better. Needless to say, Hoody did an amazing job on Lately.

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Is the creative process for this song any different or similar to usual?

The creative process for Lately was as usual. I created an overall sketch and asked Hoody for a feature. When she sent her vocal files back, I was very pleased.

You’re one of the founding members of H1ghr Music and well-known in Korean hip-hop. How has the hip-hop scene changed over the years?

There’s definitely been a rise of a new generation of rappers. A lot of autotunes, light-hearted lyrics, and melodic lines that seem to emphasize the sonic element rather than having a specific message. I am excited to see how the scene will look like in a few years. I definitely want to collaborate with more new school rappers.

And how have you as an artist changed?

I don’t think my identity hasn’t really changed, but my sound has definitely matured over time. The way I express myself through different tones, melodies, and arrangements have diversified, so my music is more dynamic than before. I get excited every time I hear my old stuff because it is a testament to how much I have grown over time as an artist.

What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself as an artist?

I am bad at turning into someone I am not. This might sound like a subliminal brag, but sometimes I do wish that I can just snap a finger and turn into someone totally different from who I am and make some weird or interesting narratives. But I am happy at the same time that I am able to keep true to myself.

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Does the way you create music differ as pH-1, as Harry or as Junwon?

No, I always try to write from my experiences or imagination from Harry/Junwon’s perspective. Therefore, pH-1 and Harry/Junwon are the same people.

You’ve collaborated with a lot of artists over the years including most recently, Indigo la End. How do these collaborations come about and who do you choose to work with?

Indigo la End and their label contacted my company for a possible collaboration. As in situations like these, I listen to the music first. If the music is good, and I see a potential for synergy, I say yes to any collaboration. International collaborations are interesting because it merges artists that come from various cultural backgrounds. The results are always fascinating.

The most important thing to remember is to not let it affect my musicality. I would never make songs only to make them appeal to the mainstream

I assume that each collaboration is special to you. But do you have a particular one that remains special?

A collaborative project with Indigo la End was a special one. I’ve been a fan of Japanese indie rock band music for some time, so it was a pleasant surprise when I heard Indigo la End wanted to work with me. I am very happy with how the song came out to be.

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How do you find the balance between making music that appeals to a wider audience and one that your fans and you yourself as an artist feel authentic?

It’s always the hardest part of the job—finding a good balance between those two. I try my best to monitor feedback from the audience every time I release a project. This helps me get a good sense of what my fans want to hear from me.

But the most important thing to remember is to not let it affect my musicality. I would never make songs only to make them appeal to the mainstream. If I don’t like a project, it will never see the light of day. Balancing without compromising is key.

How do you decide on the message you put in your songs? Some are open about your own struggles, others not so much. Where do you place yourself?

I just make songs about how I feel at the moment or how the beat makes me feel. It is not like I plan out different topics to write about and make an album accordingly; every song is quite spontaneous. I believe that this makes my songs more genuine. This process truly embodies all of my emotions without any fabrication.

You’re releasing Lately towards the end of 2021. How has the year been for you and what are you looking forward to in 2022?

This year has been very humbling. I had many plans for my career which was completely shattered by Covid-19 As devastating as it is, I also learned to appreciate all the things that I was given. I feel blessed to be where I am, making music for a living and being able to support myself and my family. I am looking forward to performing offline next year for sure. Fingers crossed.

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You can listen to Lately, pH-1’s new single featuring Hoody here.



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