Friday, September 5, 2014

[translation] "I'm Not Drunk" E-Sens, GQ Korea, September 2014

Despite being behind on all the other things I could be doing right now, I got really into this recent interview E-Sens did with GQ Korea and decided to translate it for all the E-Sens fans out there. Or any international Korean hip-hop fans, really. He brings up a lot of interesting points - from Show Me The Money 3 to what he thought of Swings' comments on him. (Spoiler: E-Sens pretty much tells Swings to shut the hell up and mind his own fucking business.)

I also learned a lot about E-Sens as an artist and a person - definitely surprised me to find out that he actually doesn't like his hit "Poison" at all. (Ironic, because I think it's one of his best.)

He offers a lot more insight into his upcoming first official solo album, Anecdote, which does not have a set release date yet. But he's said that it'll be out by the end of the year. I'm just praying that it'll live up to the expectations, because through what he's said from this interview, it sounds like the best thing he'll ever put out.

This is a long interview, and a rather rambling one at that, so it may not make sense at times. Please do let me know if you want clarification on certain parts.

“I’m Not Drunk”
E-Sens, interviewed by Yoo Ji Sung for GQ Korea, September 2014

E-Sens has returned solo. He may like alcohol, but he isn’t planning on getting drunk on fame.

July 26, you were at Club Brown, right? You showed up without a warning and started rapping in front of the DJ booth, then you threw the mic to the ground and went outside.
I decided to check it out and when I went, the atmosphere was really great, so I was like “let’s do this!” But once I got to the second track, the alcohol hit me. Booze right up to my throat. So I went outside and threw up.

When we went to look for you, you were on the ground outside.
I was almost on the ground. I’m weak to alcohol but I like it a lot. I’ll be drunk off 3 shots of soju. After a bottle it’s alcohol drinking alcohol. I still have to apologize to the owner about throwing the mic.

In your new track “90’s” you wrote, “I’m young and I go far out sometimes”? I thought that those lyrics, and that night, were very E-Sens.
The important thing is, I said “sometimes”. I have a lot of complaints. But I’m not abnormal. I just take what I see very critically. In life you develop a boss called “money”. Because you work that way, life isn’t fun anymore. But when you just go far out, you’ll end up in the corner as a useless rock. So I want to tread water between the two. Not having “the world is rotten” kind of attitude, but being snarky at the same time.

Last spring, when you released “I’m Good,” you performed on Cake Shop’s stage. Do you remember it being completely packed?
Ah, that was good. But now I don’t care if the audience doesn’t react. Before, I hated that all that came down to money. But once I was on stage, I used to want to get the most reaction. It’s better to be shitty but winning than shitty and losing. But now I think this way: I’m an MC, so I prepared a stage with a DJ, and now I’m showing it to you. If you don’t think it was fun, too bad. My focus is back on myself now. I feel sorry about throwing the mic at Brown, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I was with an agency.

Then what do you find most fun these days?
I was listening to some songs I finished a while ago and it was awesome. I began to think that I haven’t had enough moments like those.

Excluding the recent songs you’ve released, we can count your solo tracks with one hand. Did you just not find them fun before?
The pressure is a bit much. When I work and get caught up on something, I can’t see the big picture and start digging deep into that one thing. I think I felt pressured, although I said I didn’t care about popularity. But I’ve realized, it’s not something I can control. The world turns, and as far as I’m on it, there isn’t much I can do. I’m not saying that I’m going to conform. I’m just trying to think in that perspective, accepting that I don’t get to control how I’m received. I’ve decided to have set studio times. And now I listen to the completed tracks before going home. That’s it.

Then do you go to the studio like you’re going to work?
I have deadlines. I’ll give myself a week to come up with something, even if it’s utter shit. I won’t come out until I have something. In the past, when I was anxious, I’d stay far away from the studio just to be not anxious.

“I’m Good” seems more laid back. Like you’ve put something down.
I started to think that I shouldn’t get drunk. When you watch celebs work from the side, they always sweet-talk you. “Ah, you’re so good, you’re so cool.” And later the mass starts doing the same. It’s impossible to be not affected by that. But I won’t get drunk from it. When I started to see myself as how the public sees me, I thought I was going mental. Like I’ve said earlier. I hated it, wanting the audience to cheer at shows. So the process for my new album Anecdote will be a process for checking myself. The original me, the me that people don’t know.

Do you watch Show Me The Money 3? It’s getting so much buzz. For some reason, when I watched it, I wanted to see you.
Well. I have some thoughts. Like the relationship between a crocodile and a crocodile bird. Hip-hop musicians tend to take that position of criticizing the issues in popular music. “You are all fake, factory music.” But rappers go on those shows instead, and I don’t like it very much. But then in the track I released recently called “Everywhere”, I found my footing by dissing them. It’s a funny game.

I can’t help but wonder what you would’ve been like on the show.
I was offered to be on the show. The artists on the show will also know. What has happened before in Korea when television touched upon hip-hop. They still go on the show, knowing that. To see how they’ll be sold on TV. They’re probably ready to take that on. "However they decide to edit, I don’t give a fuck, I’m a good rapper.” That kind of attitude, I respect. When I talk badly about Show Me The Money 3 it may sound like I’m dismissing all the participants, but that’s not it. The idea that the program continues to exist and be popular, I think that’s the reality in Korea.

Do you feel competition from other rappers?
Of course. I think it’s natural to have the battle mind, to have the competitive spirit bubbling in your heart.

If you think you are the best, you might not feel that way.
No. I’ve talked about this somewhere else. I just have the basics. Now I feel it. Ah, now everyone has the basics. Now there are kids who will be able to develop that in their own style. Instead of feeling like I need to get better technically to stay in the competition, I thought I needed to show something with my first album, as a career-less rapper. Getting away from senior-junior relationships, I like hip-hop, and I’ve hold onto rap so far while living in Korea. So in Anecdote I don’t want to include any tracks that are swagging or putting others down.

It’d be nice to see a well-polished album, but I think dropping tracks out of the blue suits you.
Something I learned while working is that you can’t be perfect. You can’t please everybody. So my attitude approaching music changed. If I go to the studio, listen to the beat, and feel something, I unfold that, and come home. That’s it.

You’ve got to have that kind of attitude to release an album.
Yeah. Because of my personality, I can’t decide quickly. But putting a lot of time into it and being inefficient are different. I believe that you have to include judgement skills in good music skills.

But you haven’t been too exceptional with your producing. Your rap is what people waited for.
Good. That means I didn’t waste time rapping.

Don’t you want to leave behind a ‘classic’ track, with both exceptional rap and exceptional beats?
I do want that, but I know not to create music with that mindset. Making music thinking “I need to create a legend”, is like going on a date after reading a book on how to succeed on dates. You just get fixated on being good, not knowing how to be natural. If I think about it, I really worked damn hard for a couple of years. And I know that people usually don't say that my songs from then were exceptional. So it’s pressuring.

Anecdote means a hidden story in some ways. Are there lyrics about what you’ve been through?
Talking about this game as a whole, or how I’m above you, I want to avoid that. The music industry, copyrights, the future of underground culture… I’m not saying that talking about that is boring, but on this album, I just wanted to talk about living. Showing Korea in its true form. Not “Korean” because it has some kkwaengari* souds. When [Korean] people who aren’t interested in hip-hop listen to a hip-hop album, they perceive that album as, in a sense, a “gyopo”**. It’s accurate, to a certain extent. Hip-hop is from America. But it’s only interesting when the main character of that story is actually Korean. It’d be odd if they pretended like someone famous from the US. So I’m going to go down to Kyungsan. There, I’m going to walk on streets I used to walk as a child, visit my school. We get trained through life so I know that I won't suddenly rediscover my old resolution by going down there. But you still gotta remember. Not some corny resolution story, but why I fell in love with it, how I came about it. When I’m in Seoul, I live in a fighting stance. In Kyungsan I was a person who loved music, but in Seoul I see it as “work” I need to get done in a studio.

Then will you be talking about the “Control” fiasco or the marijuana incident at all?
I don’t think I’ll talk about anything that will make me immensely tired by just bringing up. It’s not like I want to make a song out of how I felt when the whole marijuana incident happened. I already talked about all that in “Poison”. My fucking lowest point, squeezing out anything I could’ve. Now I want to be positive and look ahead, but people seem to think that I’m up to something, because I’ve been laying low for a while without signing with a company.

So think you’ve said everything you needed to say with “You Can’t Control Me” and “Poison”?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to talk about it ever again, but sometimes I do bring it up.

I’ve looked up all the interviews you’ve done after you went solo. But you never explicitly mentioned Dynamic Duo, or marijuana. You avoided it.
I didn’t want to talk about it. Everyone asked. But when I was on the news because of that, I thought that my music will become linked to it. I didn’t want that at all.

For example, one of the reasons why rappers like Notorious B.I.G. are lauded is the concreteness of their lyrics. Their stories felt alive because they talked about their experiences in descriptive ways.
But I wanted to avoid it. Think of it this way. Tupac’s got “Hit’em Up”, Notorious B.I.G. has “Who Shot Ya”, but they already had songs like “Dear Mama,” and albums like Ready To Die. They showed their musicality first, then they fought. Me, I’m just some bastard who’s fighting now, and if I only talk about that, I’ll only be pitiful. So I don’t like “Poison” that much, even though it’s my song. I don’t listen to it. Because I remember. I’m reminded. I hate it when I walk into a cafe and they start playing it for me.

I think you are better suited to be a solo artist.
I think so too. Simon D will probably think the same. I think we met, understanding that.

What do you think about your colleagues’ criticism? In an interview he did last March, Swings said something like “I liked E-Sens better when he was reckless”. I still remember E-Sens, who used to write malicious and exciting lyrics.
Now I’m tired. I get heated up. I get so heated up that my insides start feeling uncomfortable. Back then I was reckless. It was literally "start shit & fix it later". But then, like I said earlier, what exactly would E-Sens be, if I just went around starting fights? So who the hell are you?

Is what E-Sens needs right now an album of his own?
It's remembering who I am, which I’ll be able to do when I complete the album. The goal of this album is my satisfaction, my art. And it has to touch my soul. Let’s say that I’m 100% satisfied with it but the reactions aren’t great. Then I can say, hey, now I’ll do whatever I can. But until then, I’m not going to look back. I, Kang Min Ho, born in Kyungsan, came up to Seoul to rap at the age of 17, went through this and that, got in trouble for pot, and experienced truly not having anything to do, I’m that kind of a person. In no way am I impressive nor famous.

Do you agree with those who call you lazy?
In certain ways, I can definitely be considered lazy, but let me say one thing. Motherfuckers, I never stopped thinking about it in the last 12 years. About this topic. So please shut up.

This topic?
Hip-hop. When I rap and make music, I worry about whether my music will be heard as hip-hop. I worry about it while writing lyrics, I worry about it right before I record, and I'm worrying about it this very moment. Nowadays I want to try something really fun. Not something fun in theory. I want to challenge things.

Challenge what?
Certain concepts? There are things we think are obvious. You or me, we might be freelancers but there must be stereotypes. Those kind of ideas. For example, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” is right against the modern hip-hop’s idea of swagger, in a witty way. Making fun of t-shirts that cost $60 and stuff. Not that I’ll do the same thing as Macklemore, but I want to constantly try something fun like that. Let’s say that I criticize the system. Then what will I do when the system’s all fixed? So instead of fighting as a revolutionary, pranking the system.

You’ve said, “There isn’t a hip-hop scene like ours where it’s so easy for a rapper to get started and play celebrity”.
It may sound like I’m scolding as a senior, but it’s true. Post some pictures on Instagram of your Jordan's. Truthfully, sometimes I get angry listening to rap from rappers who are like that. I have a line about it. “Shit you do in Hongdae? You aren’t raw just because you aren’t on TV.”

Then what is the basis a rapper must have?
Basis? I think focusing on yourself comes first. Anybody can copy anybody else. But they call it hip-hop. Same clothes, same story, same dance, they say they hate it. But they don’t know who they are. They just know they are slightly different from others. Wearing a different brand, listening to something other than Orange Caramel. I don’t like kids who rap with that kind of an attitude. Techniques, you can master it if you copy about 10 Korean rappers. Then you gotta find yourself. Since everyone comes from different environments and everyone has different personalities.

There isn’t a trace of “references” in E-Sens’ rap.
Yeah. I don’t talk about money. You can’t reach number one with money. If you look at it that way though, I don’t have anything to help me reach number one. But there is one way, one way to be number one, and one thing that can touch everyone. Originality. I wish everyone could focus on that first. For their entire life. Instead of listening to a rapper who suddenly thinks they’re the big thing, I’d rather listen to Jay-Z. Actually, I think it’d help me more to talk to a friend engrossed in another profession. Instead of checking out what rappers are talking about on Twitter.

Do you think you’ve found yourself, somewhat?
To a certain degree. Now I really acknowledge it. I have a lot of flaws. I started so young, when I got a little better, I was way better than some rappers who were few years older than me. So I don’t know if I matured too young, but I used to think that I needed to know more than kids my age. But now I don’t think that way.

Do you regret anything?
A lot of things. Even now, it’s so difficult when I start regretting what I’ve done. Before, I had the energy to turn those regrets into motivation, but now it’s tiring. Instead of making me feel old and sick, there must be valuable things that will make me happier.

What kind of values?
My thoughts changed a lot after I came back from Australia. I didn’t have a plan B. Rap is my profession. Even if I want to quit, it’s the best thing I could do to support myself. But it’s not the most enjoyable thing. I have to be mindful of a lot of factors. In Australia, people are so free. There, you can live, if you’re a person. We can live too. But it’s not living, it’s just breathing. It feels like living as machine parts. It’s dangerous talk. Not because I’m criticizing the system, but because my friends are living that way. But it’s the reality. When I was in Australia, I thought, ah, I could quit rapping. When I quit rapping, I’ll come here. And live like a human being. But then people who are born there say that it’s a really boring country. It’s all subjective. I thought it was so comfortable. Like living in a giant house with a yard and a golden retriever after living in a tiny single room.

How’s your earning these days?
I can feed myself. I’m thankful for that. It’s not like how it used to be. Since I’m not actively working.

Founder of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly said that “creators need to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”
There’s a line like that in my lyrics. "There are around 3,000 people who know me, so I’m adequately famous." In the future, there will be moments where I commercialize myself and put myself on display. And there will be stories that I’ll keep to my self and my notebook. But I won’t try too hard to put myself on the good display counter. I said 3,000 people back then, because I didn’t have any means of publicity, but my fan club had that many people. So I thought, ah, this isn’t a small number compared to the 10,000 in an idol fandom. If those 3,000 people genuinely want to listen to my music, I’ve succeeded.

You’ve been through a lot. Is there something that you still want to do?
Travel. Not because I get to see cool things when I go abroad, but because I’ve seen different environments in Australia and Denmark. Nothing gives me more inspiration than experiencing a different environment. That image of “gone through a lot” is also burdensome. Some have seven part-time jobs, some have to sleep in public places, so I definitely can’t say I’ve had it the worst. In a way, I’ve lived an easy life. Since some time I began to earn a living through music. I want to talk about this on my album. “I feel like swindler. I earn a living through copyright fees I get from a song called ‘Poison’. Isn’t it ironic.” There’s nothing after Anecdote. In my mind, at the moment.

* Kkwaenggwari - a traditional Korean instrument. (x)
** gyopo - those part of the Korean diaspora, but mainly perceived as 2nd generation Korean-American.

Interview credit to GQ Korea. Translation by Sangha @, take out with credit


  1. Thank you so much for translating it! It was pleasure to read. E-Sens is truly amazing.

  2. Pretty good interview.

  3. I enjoyed the interview and I'm excited to hear E-Sens' new album. Thanks for the translation! :)

  4. Didn't know much about the guy except Poison and being half of Supreme Team, so I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you! :)

  5. Thanks for the translation. I am an American fan of k hip hop, and I love when I can see a translation of a favorite artist's interview, great perspective!