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ToppDogg Wants To Entertain You! The Rap Group On Their Next Album And The New 10-Piece Lineup [EXCLUSIVE]

By Tony Sokol | January 20, 2016 03:10 PM EST

The South Korean hip-hop group ToppDogg became a 10-man band in 2015. Yet (as is not uncommon in the Hallyu scene), that was a downsizing. Founding members P-Goon, Jenissi, Hojoon, Sangdo, Nakta, B-Joo, Hansol, Xero, A-Tom and Yano are now responsible for preserving the group's legacy. But though their latest EP "The Beat," released on Oct. 12, is their debut outing as a dectet, Kidoh did return as a producer, presumably to ease the transition for the band and fans alike. All members are doing their own thing. Goon decided to join the army. Seogoong is currently performing in a live musical adaptation of "Gone with the Wind." Earlier this week, ToppDogg took the time to answer our questions in a wide-ranging exclusive interview on their creative process, the problems that arise in being a large outfit and the ways that being considered a K-pop boy band can be limiting, in a KpopStarz exclusive interview.

KpopStarz: You are performing in Japan this month. Is there any difference between K-pop fans in that country?

Bjoo: No, there isn't much that is different except the language when it comes to our Japanese fans. But Japanese fans seem to look at us with...sparkling eyes? {Laughs}

KpopStarz: Do you follow any J-pop and is does it influence you at all?

P-goon: I'm studying Japanese a lot and I also have many friends who are studying in Japan, so I have many opportunities naturally to listen to J-Pop and I enjoy it. I also watch Japanese movies and dramas a lot and hear songs. I'm a fan of the Japanese rapper Kohh.

KpopStarz: How do your shows differ from country to country?

Nakta:  We always try to do something special to show appreciation for the fans in the country we are going to. I always learn to do a greeting in the native language. But when you are preparing for a tour in general, you don't have the chance to change a performance too much in between the shows. But for Japan, which is not a showcase but a concert, we have created a performance only for that purpose, so it's a bit unique. Each country's fans are different and it really makes the whole experience of travelling to new places more exciting.

KpopStarz: Are you all really playing yourselves on reality TV show ToppDogg Project, or are you too self-aware of the cameras to really let loose?

A-tom:  If you have watched the show you can see that we are very comfortable with the cameras and don't really think about them. It is really how we are.

KpopStarz: Does the imposition of a TV crew distract you from your music or does it add an element of excitement?

Hojoon:  I wouldn't say that it has any real effect on music-making, because it's two completely different things. When we make music, we sit by ourselves or with another member and there are no camera crews around at that time.

KpopStarz: Do you come up with ideas you might normally not think of because you are being followed by cameras?

Xero:  "ToppDogg Project" is a reality show, but the missions we get each week are decided by the production crew, so they are not our own ideas. But of course, it's not a scripted show and when you have cameras around you, you want the viewers to enjoy watching, so you try to do your best to be somewhat entertaining. 

KpopStarz: How did Hansol and Yano choose to cover "The Monster" by Rihanna & Eminem?

Hansol:  It didn't take long for me to decide to cover "The Monster." I've loved this song since I first heard it. Just like the theme of the song and many people can probably relate to that feeling. There are these episodes in your life when you feel like there is a monster or feelings inside that bother you, but you still have to accept these different sides of yourself. So, I thought 'I really want to cover this song' and asked Yano to do it with me.

KpopStarz: How much of an influence is American hip-hop on ToppDogg?

Yano:  It's a big influence of course as a lot of what we listen to privately is music from other countries, mainly the U.S.

KpopStarz: Who do you listen to for inspiration and for relaxation?

Pgoon:  Well it's not any specific artist, but when I want to rest I usually listen to EDM or hip-hop songs. When I listen to them in a quiet setting I feel like I'm getting recharged.

KpopStarz: Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?

Atom:  I watch a lot of movies, so when I write rap lyrics a lot of ideas actually pop up from stories or events that had a big impact in a movie. But of course things you go through in life, or just everyday thoughts, are the biggest influence.

KpopStarz: What other hip-hop artists do you listen to?

Atom: I personally like Chris Brown and listen to a lot of his music.

KpopStarz: Do you ever feel like approaching social or political topics?

Sangdo:  Of course we have strong opinions and thoughts about issues in the world that make us upset and as an artist, you want to share your mind and hopefully inspire someone. Sometimes, we do touch on subjects that are very personal to us and that we know other people are going through, such as stress, pressure, judgment for who you are, what you believe or what others think of you. And hip-hop naturally has a quite straightforward and [the ability to be] political, so in the future it will be great to make more music that has a deeper meaning than more mainstream subjects.

KpopStarz: How is the work divided in a 10-member hip-hop group?

P-goon:  It's different for each song. We divide and record parts with the member whose voice will fit best with the song. The rappers are the ones who are talented with lyrics and also have most experience in producing, because they all work a lot on their own individual projects. But recently, Nakta has worked a lot on developing his producing skills and me as well. The members who are originally dancers are mainly in charge of choreography ideas. But putting all the ideas together is something we are all a part of, together with our company crew and making something that feels right for ToppDogg as a group.

KpopStarz: Which song concept do you think best matches ToppDogg?

Pgoon:  We like playful and free concepts and with a bit of a bad boy feel to them.

KpopStarz: Is there anything the group wants to try out in the coming year?

Bjoo:  We want to try out everything, especially more variety. Reality shows would be great. And, of course, we are hoping to release a lot of new music that shows our growth as artists and a new, cooler, more grown-up side of ToppDogg.

KpopStarz: How would you describe your music style?

Sangdo:  If you look at our past music, it's been influenced by all kinds of genres and eras of music, so maybe versatile. However, our ultimate goal is for this year is to develop our own signature style more. So even if hip-hop will be central [to the new sound], I think I want to wait to answer that question, a little bit.

KpopStarz: Do you get a lot of encouragement from other artists?

Yano:  Sometimes other artists will say encouraging things, such as that we are very talented and that they hope we will succeed soon. I've heard also through others that really top artists have said such nice things about us. It's definitely encouraging. In the media though and what fans see, is always when we get dissed by other artists or something. But there are those who tell us that they hope for us to achieve great things as well.

KpopStarz: Are there artists you'd like to collaborate with?

Xero:  Korean artists? Well, we always say Big Bang or G-Dragon first, because honestly who wouldn't? {Laughs} But this varies a lot from member to member, because our musical preferences for individual work are so different.

KpopStarz: How much say to you have in the production of your music?

P-goon:  Whenever a new album is released, our members' participation grows high, because it's work we want to feel proud of. We compose, write songs and write our own raps, so we do participate a lot when we prepare to make an album. Also, we always monitor our activities and consider things that we need to include for the next album. Not only for music-making, but for other points like styling or band concepts, we try to give our ideas a lot, which has made our participation more frequent and natural. Of course, now we have a lot more experience, so our opinions have more weight than they did before, so the more music we release, the more participation from our side you can expect. But also, you can probably imagine that merging 10 members' different opinions in just one song or concept is quite a task.

KpopStarz: Now that you are studio veterans, how is the process different from your first recording sessions?

Hojoon:  Honestly, when I was in the recording room the first time I felt a bit amazed and also intimidated. I was so surprised after hearing my own voice and how it sounded in a recording studio. But the more I recorded, the more I enjoyed it. Also, from working with studio staff you learn techniques and you start feeling more comfortable, so when you have done it a lot everything goes a lot smoother. We aren't nervous anymore and therefore, make fewer mistakes. We are also more confident in trying new things out, so I guess that is the biggest difference.

KpopStarz: How do you feel about how K-pop boom is growing internationally? How do you see the world music community viewing K-pop?

Jenissi:  I want to try to answer this honestly and a bit objectively and not just as an idol. On one hand, I think it's really great that music from Korea is reaching more and more people and it's something to be proud of. However, I'm not sure that labeling everything K-pop is the best way to move forward. I'm sure many Korean artists feel the same way, that it's great that the K-pop brand can help us reach a larger audience, but in the end you want to be loved for your music and performances, not the country you come from. And, as with any brand, there are certain traits that goes with K-pop. In the future, it might be limiting in terms of what audiences you will reach or in which media publications you will be featured in if you are always in that category. If you do hip-hop for example, you would want to be in the hip-hop category, not end up in the K-pop category, just because the lyrics are in your native language.

KpopStarz: Five-member idol groups used to be the trend in K-pop. ToppDogg has double that number. What are the pros and cons of being in such a large group?

Nakta:  We get this question in almost every interview so it's hard to come up with an interesting answer. Having many members is very expensive {laughs} and logistics can be a bit complicated. The good thing is of course that there are plenty of people to hang out with and you have a lot of diversity in terms of gaining inspiration for work.

KpopStarz: Do you have to fight for your time in the spotlight?

Atom:  If my part gets shorter and one of the other members gets a longer part, it doesn't matter much. We are a team, so I really don't feel bad about this. I think all members think like this.

KpopStarz: What makes ToppDogg stand out from the other Korean hip-hop artists?

Jenissi:  This question is something we are always asking ourselves too and I think to give a genuine answer rather than simply "we have our own style of music and we are 10 members," I think the more honest answer is that we are slowly finding it out ourselves as time goes by. When you start out as a group, your record company comes up with a concept that seems to fit the group and how to market it. But from what we have started to see in these two years since debuting, is that our strength is not simply the fact that we have many members, but that all of our members are truly unique characters and artists and are all good at very different things. We also genuinely value our differences in terms of music style and opinions and I think that as we grow even more experienced and together with our production team, learn to use these individual skills to the full potential for ToppDogg, that's when we will know what makes us different. It takes time to become a real artist and especially when the final product that you put out has to be a mix between 10 people's minds it's bound to take while to become a truly great group.

KpopStarz: When can we expect your next release?

P-goon: We are currently working hard every day on our next album. But we don't want to release something until every member of the band and the staff feels excited and confident about both concept and songs. We don't want to rush, so it might take longer, just because we want it to be perfect for our fans. So please be patient and wait a little bit more, and you will be surprised to see what we have waiting for you. But until then, stay with us and we will do our best to keep you entertained.

ToppDogg made a special video appearance just for the readers of KpopStarz. You can see that HERE

Watch the music video for ToppDogg's most recent single "The Beat" RIGHT HERE


Tagged :  ToppDogg, Topp Dogg, TOPP DOGG First Showcase 2015, K-Pop, kpop, Exclusive, exclusive interview, interview, interviews

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