pH-1 talks creative process, the future, & latest single ‘365&7’ [interview]
pH-1 has been one busy guy.
Incredibly active since his 2017 debut The Island Kid, pH-1 has become a staple in Korean hip-hop thanks to his solid back catalog and excellent collaborations with a wide range of equally talented performers in and out of his label, H1GHR MUSIC. Looking at his discography over the past five years will make you wonder when he ever has time to sleep because he always has something incredible out.
pH-1’s path to hip hop excellence is an interesting one. Spending his teenage years and young adulthood in Long Island, New York, pH-1 studied biology and initially was on the fast track to working in the medical industry. He even worked as a dental assistant before turning to web development. With an interest in rapping that really kicked into gear during his college years, pH-1’s big break came after Jay Park saw one of his early music videos and reached out. Fast forward to now, and pH-1 is easily one of the most well-known Korean-American rappers in the game.
In the past two years, pH-1 has hopped on remixes with other big names of Korean hip-hop. 2020’s “Gang Official Remix,” a collaboration with Sik-K, Jay Park, and Haon, cracked the top five of the Gaon Digital Chart. Already in 2021, his collaborations have been legendary. First up was “VVS,” an ode to excess that saw pH-1 joining his H1GHR family members on a track that was all about flexing their success. In addition to that, pH-1 shows up on the very fun remix for “Achoo” and knocks that out of the park.
However, his solo releases over the past several years are a must-listen as well. “Nerdy Love,” his January 2020 track featuring Baek Ye-Rin hitting the top 50 on the Gaon charts. 2020 was also a big year for pH-1 because he released his second studio album, X, with H1GHR Music this time last year.
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Now, with “365&7”, his latest very spring-appropriate collab with powerhouse vocalist JAMIE, you get another glimpse at his softer side. KultScene had the opportunity to link up with pH-1 to chat about his latest collabs, his creative process, and the future of his music as we get ready to enter the second half of 2021.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
“365&7” is such a bright romantic song and it’s absolutely perfect for spring. What did the creative process look like for this song? How did you and JAMIE come up with the theme for the song and the sweet lyrics? Did you work on them together?
pH-1: When I first got the beat, I immediately knew it had to be about love. More specifically, I wanted “365&7” to play around the theme of “time.” Since COVID started, all of our lives have been put on halt in some ways, and we kind of lost sense of time. For example, I remember counting down on New Year’s Eve just a while ago, but it’s already May 2021. This made me realize that time goes by too fast, and we shouldn’t waste any of it — as lovers, friends, or family.
Speaking of collabs… your collab with Ace Hashimoto, “GIRLS,” dropped a few weeks ago. How did that collab come into being? Do you have any cool stories from linking up with him for this collab?
I met Ace about three or four years back when he visited Korea. After that we kept in contact, and he asked me to feature on his song “GIRLS”. The song was dope, so I hopped on it. He even came all the way to Korea to shoot a MV with me. But after that, he kind of went on a hiatus. Our management tried contacting him but couldn’t reach him. After about two years, he came back to tell me he was dropping the project. I was surprised but glad that we were able to put a great song out into the world.
When you’re working on your solo projects, do you have a creative routine that always gets you the best results?
It seems to me that all my best songs were written fairly quickly. Whenever I struggle to write a song, it usually turns out not as good as the ones I write fast. I believe that good melodies should come out naturally without having to think too hard.
If you have to get something done on a tight deadline, how do you make yourself meet it? Do you lock yourself in a studio and write all day or do you do your best writing outdoors? What helps you focus?
Yes, I lock myself in the studio until I finish the project. I have never tried writing outdoors, actually. I think I’d be distracted by what’s going on around me, plus the noise. Mood lights help me focus. I turn off all the lights in my room and only turn on blue LED lights to set the mood.
Your 2018 album Gatsby pulled from the film based on The Great Gatsby. What other movies or books have inspired you lately?
I was very much inspired by the film Joker. The script and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance were outstanding. It made me think about people’s tendency to mock or cast out the ones that are different from us, and that we as humans always find ways to justify our actions, even if they are wrong and sometimes malicious. It also made me try and put myself in others’ shoes before judging or jumping to a conclusion without knowing too much about them. Everybody has a sad story, we just don’t know it.
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I was rewatching your interview with Eric Nam from last year where at one point you mentioned that you create songs with a certain message and sound for your local audience and another for international audiences outside of Korea, like in North America. You also clearly put out music that has crossover appeal on multiple levels. How do you decide on the messages you put in your song lyrics? How do you deal with a song in progress that doesn’t fit anywhere?
It’s very hard to explain in words. There are certain types of melodies and chord progressions that Korean people are more likely to relate to, more so than the international listeners — and vice versa. I think it’s because the styles of music around the world are so different that people all have different tastes. I always aim to write songs that crossover both Korean and American sounds because that’s who I am. I grew up in the U.S. as a Korean-American, so I have a good understanding of both cultures and what people like in music. All this to say, I have yet to make a song that does not fit anywhere. I believe that whatever I make, it will always fit somewhere. Someone will relate to it, and that’s all that matters. In terms of lyrics, I feel the most comfortable writing about my experiences and emotions when living my life. The biggest theme for most of my songs is about relationships between people.
So far, how has 2021 been different for you when it comes to how you’ve created and who you’ve created with? Have you hit any goals or milestones at this point in 2021 that you thought weren’t possible in 2020?
The writing process definitely has not been easy. Due to restricted activities and travels, I find myself lacking inspiration. I can’t wait to tour different cities and connect with the crowd. It’s really the source of energy for every artist. As far as milestones go, it’s only May of 2021, so I will have to see. But I am very happy that my following and listeners have been growing in numbers every year (thanks to Spotify stats). I just hope that I never stop growing as an artist and as a person.
How do you navigate a balance between making hip-hop that feels mainstream and music that feels authentic to who you are as a person? Have you struggled recently with that or are you secure in your journey through the industry?
I’m always struggling to find the balance. As an artist that has a certain following and fandom, I often wonder if I should make more mainstream songs to reach a wider audience or just do what I’ve always been doing. It’s a constant battle, but I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job balancing both sides of the spectrum.
Let’s talk snacks. What’s your go-to food fuel when you’re working hard on a new release? What about when you’re celebrating a new release like now with “365&7?” How did you reward yourself for another really great release?
I usually order-in because I spend a lot of my time at home. My go-to food is definitely Korean food. It gives me energy to work and makes me feel like I’m really “home.” When in celebration, I like to wine and dine myself. I recently went to a nice Italian restaurant, ordered some fancy plates of pasta, steak, assorted fruits and cheese, and a bottle of wine.
I feel as though you do a lot of genre blending across your different solo and collab releases. Are there any genres or musical styles you want to incorporate into your future rap releases that you haven’t been able to touch yet? If so, why do you think those genres remain out of reach for you?
I want to try blending Dancehall in my music some time in future. I think that Dancehall has remained out of reach for me just because I feel the need to learn more about it first. It has a very unique rhythm and bounce to it that I want to fully get comfortable with so that I can blend it well in my own flavor.
If you could get your newer fans — like the ones who you’ll get after “365&7” — to listen to one of your older songs, what would you pick and why?
If you enjoy moody, sentimental songs, I recommend you listen to “DVD.” If you’re a fan of hard-hitting rap songs, I recommend “Olaf” and “PACKITUP!”
Aside from your own music, what songs do you keep on repeat when you’re listening to music? What’s the most “unexpected” song that you just can’t get enough of?
Recently I have been repeatedly listening to Justin Bieber’s “Peaches.” I think the most unexpected song that I listen to is Rosé’s “On The Ground.” Unexpected because I don’t know too much about K-pop. Rosé is very talented.
What do you think or hope that the rest of 2021 is going to bring for you? Any big musical plans you can spoil for us a little?
I am going to take a little break because I’ve been working non-stop for the past couple of years. I will be working on my album that will be released within 2021.
How did you like “365&7”? Before you dive into pH-1’s back catalog to listen to all of his great work, let us know how much you liked his latest releases! And don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.
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