Being from Toronto means collectively calling a place "home" with millions of other people who experience the city much different than the next person. As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, eclectic influences are found in nearly every facet of our everyday life—whether it is in cuisines, fashion or in music. However, for Justin Trash and his rap group, Uptown Boy Band, (which consists of Joe Rascal, Roc Lee and himself) the infiltration of the Korean language and culture in rap music is still vastly uncharted territory.
"As Toronto starts to expand at the rate it is we see Koreatowns in the city becoming a scene and a nightlife of its own," He says. "I'm inspired by my friends and mostly I try to stay away from avidly listening to other rappers just to keep my sound more organic and original." Originality, for the young artist, comes through uniquely merging the contemporary sounds, beats and themes heard in North American hip-hop and infusing it with references to his culture, while frequently interpolating his flow with Korean words and phrases. "The whole concept of our group and what we represent through music, is about spreading our culture and integrating it into Toronto itself," He explains. "Our main goal is to obviously do well in this city, but our vision ends up, you know, going to Korea and playing music."
What is inherently interesting about his collective and he as an artist, lies in the contradiction of their ultimate end goal and their cheeky name—which in itself almost pokes fun of the music industry they are trying to penetrate, dominated primarily by G-Rated K-Pop Boy Bands. "If we wanted to try out for like a K-Pop boy band we couldn't. Like, I'm tatted, so that's not okay. I rap about drugs and about my personal experiences, you know, and you can't really be [making those references] in a Korean song."
Arising as the dark, brooding, antithesis of a K-Pop star, in his single "Noraebang" the 22-year-old rapper is using this as his first stride in tackling this niche and making it his own. The track, which features fellow Uptown Boy Band member, Joe Rascal and Toronto rapper, Tahir, it comes as no surprise that he chose this song as his debut. It comes to life as a love letter to the Uptown Toronto area he resides in and the culture he is deeply proud to represent, in a colorful video of him and his friends partying in a Karaoke studio. In his verse, "keep it uptown where we drinking Soju," traditional Korean rice wine is referenced in the same way that other rappers chat about Hennessy. In another line he ties anime into his long list of cultural citations, rapping, "My mans look like Goku."
"The direct translation to 'Noraebang' is 'Karaoke room,'" He says. "It's a huge part of Asian culture that everybody experiences differently and [this video] is just showing everybody how I experience it."
"Noraebang" is not a song we might all understand lyrically, but that's the genius of it. It's strikingly contagious beat–in which catchy rap verses in Korean and references to a culture run rampant–is something we would all like to be a part of.
Andrea Gambardella is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.