Kirin: A Chat With Korea's New Jack Swing King


Kirin has made it his life purpose to maintain the New Jack Swing genre and lifestyle alive in South Korea. Ever since his 2009 debut, he has released a series of original songs that evoke the sensibilities of American Hip-Hop and R&B from the 80's and 90's. MUTZINE's editor met up with the multi-talented artist at the Back In The Day cafe in Seoul, where his visual artwork was also on display, to talk about his key influences, affinity to FILA, and collaboration wish-list. 

Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Interpretation Justin Kim & Monica Yum, Photos Ana Fernandez, Edits Sam Cello


Can you tell us a little bit about your background? When did you become interested in old school hip hop music?
 Kirin: When I was in elementary school, I listened to the radio a lot more than my peers did. I would often get scolded by my mom for doing that, but I got the chance to listen to a lot of music. I think I received much of my influence from the music I listened to during my elementary school years up to middle school. Rather than having memories from the music I listened to, I think I was more affected by the unique characteristics of it.
Why did you choose the name Kirin?
 Kirin: At first, it was just a nickname between my friends, but if you look at the name’s meaning, there’s a legendary animal named Kirin. A Kirin is made up of other parts of animals; but it can also mean as having a lot of talent. So I decided to stick with this name and continued to use it.

Your paintings are on display at this cafe right now, how did you get into painting?
Kirin: I have had an interest in art since I was a kid. I studied painting in college and I like to paint what I like, from hip hop artists to anime characters.


What music from the late 80's to early 90's do you like best? What musicians have inspired you ?
Kirin: If I had to choose a genre, I’d say R&B and New Jack Swing the most. Of course there are a lot of musicians that I like, but when I was a middle school student, I found a lot of solace in DRUHILL’s first album. That's the album I enjoy the most.  
How do you emulate the sound of  genres like New Jack Swing while also keeping it current?
 Kirin: Although there are songs where I obsess over the sounds, the songs I listen to are mainly ones where I don’t obsess over the retro sounds. When I started focusing more on the beat and mood, in respect to the sounds or instruments—for example, rather than using instruments that complemented the retro sounds and creating music, I like to create music that I enjoy listening to.
If you could collaborate with any New Jack Swing musician , who would it be?
Kirin: There are two musicians in Japan that I like: Zen-La-Rock and Dam-Funk. Actually, Zen-La-Rock and I met up and did some shows together recently, and we’re currently working on an EP album together. Dam-Funk is doing old funk music—if you think about it, he’s doing Future Funk again but he’s making it with his own style. If I had the opportunity, I would like to work with musicians like that.  


Where do you get your main aesthetic and fashion inspirations?
Kirin: For me, it would be the weather. When wearing clothes, the most important thing is comfort because no matter how cool it looks, if you feel uncomfortable in it, you’ll feel uncomfortable overall. I feel that if I wear clothing based on the weather, I can make more definite decisions on what makes me feel comfortable. Rather than worrying about whether I look cool or not, I get a lot more influence from clothes that make me feel happy and comfortable.
If you had access to any of your inspirations closets, whose closet would you take clothes from?
Kirin: There's a rapper named, BASS HAMMER. He actually has a bunch of polos and Tommy Hilfiger clothing, clothing from old style brands with the highest quality. So I end up buying some of his used clothes; I would love to look inside his closet. I think he’s the Korean king of vintage style!

Do you buy mainly vintage clothes?
Kirin: I don’t usually prefer vintage clothing, but the clothes that I’m interested in happen to be sold in vintage shops (laughs). So I end up buying from vintage stores. I prefer American clothes. They have short lengths and long sleeves. So that’s why I usually prefer them, and the next would be Japanese clothing. Japanese style is very different from Korean style so that’s why I really like it (laughs). My body type isn’t long like a model’s, so I don’t like wearing the popular styles found in Korea.


So tell us a bit about the track "My FILA."
Kirin: I usually bought some 80's/90's style FILA sneakers in America, but Korea has been reimporting them these days. Naturally, the Korean FILA corporation chose me to help market their relaunch. I had an idea so I suggested the song, “MY FILA” to them, and they felt that it had a fresh feeling and liked it, and that's how we ended up working together.

You even got cassette tapes of "My FILA" made! How difficult was it to get that done?
Kirin: It's not that it was difficult to get them made, but it was definitely expensive (laughs)
Can you tell us about your music video productions? 
Kirin: In the early days, I did everything myself—editing, shooting, etc. But it was difficult to do it all myself, so I contacted a studio, MHV, and was able to work with them. I write down all the things I want to do and they help push me in the right direction and make the ideas more concrete and colorful. "너의 곁에(With You) ", 잼(Jam)", "Summer Holiday", "My Fila" are made together with MHV. The rest of the videos were done by myself.  

In particular my favorite is JAM. What was the inspiration for the toy race-car concept?
Kirin: I’ve actually always wanted to create something with toy cars. The song’s color and the speed of the beat matched well with it. In reality, we had some financial issues, so we were trying to mediate the change of the direction we were going. But thanks to TAMIYA KOREA’s support, we were able to make the racing video.
As the artist Kirin, do you go through any hardships while working?
Kirin: I think the biggest hardship is to find other artists doing the New Jack Swing genre. I would like to have continuous exchanges with other artists but they only do it as a one-time event. So the most difficult challenge is that I can’t find someone who has a similar purpose and similar direction as me. 
What’s next up for Kirin?
Kirin: The EP album with Zen-La-Rock will be released early next year. And I plan on releasing my new single early next year too. I also plan on working with two different teams to create more music!


Keep up with Kirin's works by following him on Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube!