It’s impossible to deny the impact of K-pop internationally, but at this year’s Korea Spotlight showcase at SXSW, it was male solo hip-hop artists that made up the bulk of the performances and included the first stateside set from DPR Live. At 25 years old, the rapper and singer is one of the newest faces in Korea’s hip-hop scene and the face of the increasingly prominent DPR collective.
Born in Korea and raised in Guam until the 10th grade, Hong Da-bin, aka DPR Live, is a self-proclaimed “island boy” who spent much of his youth ruminating on himself and life. “At a young age, I knew who I was, what my values were, what my beliefs were,” he told Billboard the morning of his Austin performance, adding that his contemplative nature and passion for life have always played a main role in his creative process. Prior to pursuing music, he expected to study philosophy or psychology in college and as a career path. “I always thought I’d do something to do with expressing myself, teaching, or, I dunno, something like that. So it was always music or that.” But while fulfilling his mandatory military service in South Korea, he found the inspiration to go after his dream.
“I always knew I should be grateful and I should have some hunger and ambition,” said DPR Live. “But being in the army and being very limited, and being told what to do every second of your life, that really changed my perspective. So when I first came out of the army I was like, ‘I’m going to kill it, I’m going to kill everybody.’ I had everything aligned, my goals, my purpose. I knew what I wanted to do, which was to make absolute quality music whatever the story is.” After that, he released several songs for free on SoundCloud and began working with the rest of DPR’s members.
The DPR crew works hard to live up their name, which is an acronym for “Dream Perfect Regime.” “We’re perfecting our dreams, it’s a regime; we’re coming up to take over,” explained DPR Live. Consisting of several other creatives, the crew’s name first got around the Korean music industry through their intensely cinematic productions, including music videos for Taeyang of BIGBANG and MOBB, directed by in-house director Christian Yu. DPR Live is their first formal artist. “Our team got together through passion at first,” said the rapper. “It was more friendship, more family. We’re doing what we love. Honestly, I feel like that’s not really easy to do in this day and age, especially to do business together.”
Working with the rest of DPR, Live released two EPs last year and started 2018 with the release of “Action,” a collaboration with singer Gray in which the pair equates the love of their life to the star of a movie. Originally meant for his second EP, Her, Live said that his newest track, in which he raps about “Emmas of Hollywood (Emily Ratajkowski, Emma Stone and Emma Watson, the latter of whom he said he likes the most at the moment), didn’t necessarily fit into that album’s depiction of who he is, and so it was kept back. “I wanted to use my imagination,” he said. “I didn’t want to limit it to where it’s like ‘Yo, this is my life story.’ I wanted it to be fun, very musical, very visual even without the visuals — that’s kind of our goal with that song.”
Sharing himself through his music is important for DPR Live. “I want it to be genuine and organic,” he said. “I respect artists that really put their life into it because you can feel it. The listener can really feel that.” Her is based on the artist’s love life, as a reflection of what romance is like for millennials. “Before, back then, our parents used to have letters and shit, dating. Nowadays it’s just [social media], you meet at the club… But I wanted to really bring romance to that. Because that’s like us right now. That’s how we get down, right? So I wanted to make it relatable to both genders and I think it came out the way I wanted it to.” Her went to No. 8 on the World Albums chart.
DPR Live doesn’t have any new music planned at the moment, but moving into 2018 with his first-ever performance in the States is enough for him at the moment. “The fact that this opportunity is right here is so crazy for me because I grew up listening to a lot music, a lot being American. And I always thought, you know, me being bilingual, just looking at the quality of both music, it’s both up to par. But Korean music has just as nice flavor, amazing qualities. [It’s] just the world doesn’t know yet. And obviously America is everywhere. Everyone knows. And I’m just excited to close the gap a little more.”