Meet ILLAP! South Korea's Most Innovative New Rap Act Gives Their First-Ever U.S. Interview [EXCLUSIVE]

It is almost impossible to describe the music of South Korean underground hip-hop duo ILLAP.

From hard-hitting angular hip-hop beats to songs that are as close to meditative as hip-hop has ever dared to get, this group is truly one-of-a-kind.

The original approach of this Busan-based group, whose new self-titled album was released last week, extends to their album cover art, music videos and band photos, each with artistically inventive imagery that often obscures the band members' faces.

In their first-ever U.S. interview, the two members of ILLAP, 22-year-old rapper Jjang-You and 21-year-old DJ-producer DOL, spoke to KpopStarz about their influences, future plans and the meaning behind their mysterious image.

KpopStarz: What does your band name, ILLAP, mean?

DOL: It is a Buddhist word meaning the first year of being a monk. We chose it because we want to keep giving listeners fresh and original music. It's like saying "stay forever young."

KpopStarz: How did you start playing music? Do you play any instruments?

Jjang-You: When I first started music, I just sang as hobby. Until one day, I found myself hooked on rapping. I don't remember exactly how or why I took up music that very first time, but I suppose it was some sort of destiny. Now I can play the keyboard and guitar, but not that well.

DOL: I'm not sure if I can count beatboxing as a musical instrument {laughs}. I first began writing music by beatboxing and rapping. It naturally made me get interested in drum machines like the Akai MPC and samplers like the Roland SP-404. At first, it was just an entertaining hobby for me. But now, music is my life. It's my job.

KpopStarz: How did the two of you meet?

DOL: It's hard to recall. The way I remember it, we met in the street at dawn.

KpopStarz: What made you decide to form a band?

Jjang-You: DOL tends to think too much. On the other hand, me, never. So I suggested to DOL first that we should form ILLAP, without any real plan. I just threw it out there. {laughs}

DOL: Yes Jjang, you did. Because that's the way he does things. In my case, I waited until I had collaborated with Jjang-You twice before accepting his plan that we start a band. Maybe I needed some time to think about. But working with him was so appealing, I couldn't say no.

KpopStarz: When did you form ILLAP?

DOL: About two years ago. It's hard to remember the exact date.

KpopStarz: How would you describe your sound?

DOL: How could we describe our sound? We've tried to come up with definition for our music, but it didn't work out well.  Some people have compared us to [Harlem-based rapper] A$AP Rocky other people have said we sound like [Kanye West discovery] Travis Scott. Our music is just what you hear and feel in it. Don't hesitate to define our music on your own.

KpopStarz: What artists have influenced you the most? Who are your favorite rappers?

Jjang-You: Lil Wayne, Schoolboy Q and the Korean rapper J-Flow have influenced me a lot. The thing is, I like most rappers so I have hard time to deciding on one great artist. In the past I've been obsessed with Notorious B.I.G.'s music, then I'll get deeply into 2Pac. Then maybe the next day I'll be really into Kanye West. At this very moment, King Krule, Kid Cudi and Tyler, The Creator are my favorite.

DOL: It's hard for me to choose one favorite artist as well. I'm influenced by all of the producers whose music I listen to. Recently, Clams Casino is my favorite. Still, I can't choose one artist I feel is the best one. At anytime, anywhere, if there is music, I'm being influenced by it.

KpopStarz: As I wrote about in the review for your song "Calm," I hear a similarity between Frank Ocean's solo music and your own sound. Are you familiar with his "channel ORANGE" album?

Jjang-You: I like it very much. It's huge honor for us to be compared to Frank Ocean. I can't believe you even dare to mention us in the same sentence.

DOL: I can't stop singing "Thinkin Bout You" in karaoke.

KpopStarz: Do you consider yourself part of any particular music scene?

Jjang-You: Well, it is reasonable for our album to be categorized as K-hip-hop or K-rap, but frankly speaking, sometimes I feel like some K-rap players don't want to accept us into the club.

DOL: We are a part of the K-hip-hop scene and the international hip-hop scene. I don't want to separate them. The rapping in ILLAP is in Korean but I think anyone can feel our music, even in they don't understand Korean.

KpopStarz: Who are your favorite Korean rappers?

DOL: Okasion, Kid Ash, Jinbo and Isle Kim.

Jjang-You: B-Free, JTong and J-Flow.

KpopStarz: What are your thoughts on K-pop and its recent international growth? Do you consider Psy to be a fellow Korean hip-hop artist?

Jjang-You: It's a good phenomenon, I think. The worldwide growth of K-pop will also have a positive affect for Korean indie artists like us. I hope K-pop continues to get more and more popular around the world.

DOL: I am happy to see the growth of K-pop. However, the actual music scene in Korea is way worse than people realize. I think Psy basically has an attitude of hip-hop, especially listening to his track "Night Street In Seoul."

KpopStarz: What's the music scene like in Korea?

DOL: Asymmetrical and weird. Like in any other country, indie acts and underground musicians have a major opportunity to produce incredible music. But they never can make ends meet just playing music. In Korea, musicians make much less than a penny each time their song is streamed online.

Jjang-You: It's true. There are great tracks released every day, but the music industry keeps getting worse, little by little. But I continue to stunned by everyone that writes all of those great songs. I support all the musicians of Korea.

KpopStarz: What are your plans for the next year with ILLAP?

DOL: Military service is compulsory in Korea. So, I have to stop all profitable activity for two years, starting in September. But I won't stop releasing free tracks, unofficial tracks, I mean.

Jjang-You: It seems like it will be to release our next album soon after this first one, because there was a "Call Of Duty" for DOL. {laughs}. Meanwhile, I may release a solo album or something with one of the other projects I'm planning.

KpopStarz: Are you currently in any other groups?

Jjang-You: No, but we've got a crew named avalanche or "AVLX" that includes J-Flow, Magnic, and MSG. They are all talented musicians.

KpopStarz:  What would you like to accomplish with music?

DOL: I hope to always keep making music. I want take my music to the whole world, America, Europe, Africa, Asia and even the North and South Pole.

KpopStarz: Do you have any plans to tour in the US?

DOL: We've got no funding to tour in the US. But if not with this album, someday we will finally tour there.

Jjang-You: It is not the way I live to have a specific plan {laughs}. If anything happens, I'll go straight there. If someone calls us from the US, I'll fly off to the US immediately.

DOL: And then I'll follow, too.



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