With an onslaught of addictive bangers and visually-captivating videos in 2017, DPR LIVE has ascended from an elusive, underground rapper to one of the most talked about and celebrated new voices emerging in Korea’s rapidly growing hip-hop scene.
Since gaining recognition through knockout bars and a scene-stealing performance on the critically acclaimed viral hit “Eung Freestyle,” DPR LIVE?real name Hong Da Bin?has excelled thanks to his chart accolades and internet co-signs.
The 25-year-old spawned two impressive EPs via his explosive debut EP Coming to You Live from March 2017 and stellar follow-up Her in December, the latter peaking at No. 8 on Billboard’s World Album chart, despite no big-name features. DPR LIVE also played to sold-out crowds in Korea and London last year, scored a promotional video campaign with Nike, and racked up millions of views on YouTube, all helping him garner a legion of excited fans all across the globe.
Yet what really sets the charismatic rapper apart as one of the more interesting come-ups in 2017 is the fact that he has achieved all this as a completely independent artist — a rarity in Korea’s highly-competitive music scene.
DPR LIVE and his crew Dream Perfect Regime — a creative collective better known as DPR — have relentlessly hustled with nothing but talent and determination, all in the name of keeping LIVE’s budding rap career authentic and true to the crew’s message. Never bowing to industry standards, the collective’s focus on positioning DPR LIVE onto the mainstream radar has already paid off in a big way: The crew received their first major monetary investment in late 201, which helped fund a new Seoul studio.
While DPR LIVE has already made accomplishments most of his indie peers can only dream of, the young talent is eyeing 2018 with higher aspirations. Gaining stateside traction for his witty flow flips between Korean and English and forward-thinking ear, LIVE earned a slot on this year’s massively-anticipated, sixth annual “Korea Spotlight” showcase at SXSW 2018 among some of Korean music’s biggest names — like R&B phenom Crush, rock sensation Hyukoh and powerhouse diva Lee Hi — all taking place on March 16 at the Belmont in Austin, Tex.
Ahead of his debut U.S. show, DPR LIVE exclusively sat down with Billboard Korea for his first-ever, in-depth artist interview at his new studio to share his personal struggles, creative vision and goals.
Watch DPR LIVE’s recap video and read full interview below.
Billboard: What were some of the challenges you faced in the industry as an indie artist without an actual label?
DPR LIVE: Oh man, where do I even start? We had a shit-ton of challenges. First of all, financing everything on our own was the hardest thing we had to overcome. We started with zero capital. No investor, no fancy equipment, no nothing. That’s why we had to start as a visual team, but that was probably the smartest move we made, to think about it now. Not only did we get a chance to showcase our talent, but it also helped to connect with other musicians and entertainment labels. It was a good way of learning the ropes of the Korean music industry; how it worked, how we needed to evolve to get to the next level, etc.
For a good two years, DPR REM [creative director] and DPR IAN [visual director] busted their asses shooting materials for other artists in order to help fund any and all of our projects during that time. And the more I think about it now, the more I’m grateful for that, you know? Cause I know it takes a lot of trust and commitment. They were sacrificing a lot, and that’s what fueled me when I was making music. I knew I not only had to do it for myself, but more importantly, for my team.
The second biggest challenge, I guess, was the fact that we were completely clueless. [Laughs.] I didn’t even know what it meant to “mix songs,” or how to get distribution for my music. It was all trial and error, because none of us had any prior experience. We had no money or any real knowledge as to how this [music industry] really works? all we had was just a whole lot of untamed passion and a dream. If one approach didn’t work, we would learn from it and move onto the next one. We learned a lot in those years. That experience is what helped us launch our own company. Now, we get to run our own show and do exactly what we want to do. No one tells us what to do, what to make or how to do it. If we like it as a team, then we do it. That kind of freedom is truly incredible. Our struggles brought us closer together and I’m proud that we have accomplished this as a team.
What is your and DPR’s greatest strength and weakness?
Our greatest strength is that whatever we do, it’s organic. We also know each other so well now to the point where we can easily align our thoughts in such a quick way that it allows us to get straight to work. There’s really no buffer period or queue. We have our own system that works efficiently for all of us. But on the other hand, we can improve and learn how to expand and grow our team. We’re known to be mysterious and unpredictable, and we like that because it keeps our fans in suspense and on edge, but it makes it harder for all of us to bring in new members, because we are such a tight-knit group. However, I’m confident we’ll get into the hang of things in due time.
Last year was great year for you. What are some of the most memorable moments?
2017 has been a life-changing year for me and my team. I released two albums, moved into a brand-new, dope studio, got to travel to some awesome places and work with some amazing people. I honestly couldn’t have wished for more. Although all these moments were significantly memorable, I’d have to say getting our studio was probably the most memorable moment of 2017 for DPR. Might not sound like a big deal to some, but you have to understand, we used to hold meetings ranging from coffee shops to even local karaoke rooms on a regular basis just to get some privacy at times. Now that we have a place we can all call home, with separate recording, producing and meetings rooms; it’s surreal, to be honest. Really goes to show what can be achieved.
Any mistakes or regrets?
No, I don’t have regrets. Everything I’ve experienced was for a specific purpose, and I really believe in that. Literally everything. Although, I had a fair share of upsets and disappointments, now that I look back on it, I’m starting to see how it all came together. Each experience was meant to happen at that exact moment so that we can draw a bigger picture. I’m a huge believer in the whole “everything happens for a reason” quote and so is my team. DPR was basically founded upon that motto. We all happened to meet by chance if you think about it. A bunch of kids, who grew up in all corners of the world, somehow met up in Seoul and eventually came together to do what we do now as DPR.
Your debut EP Coming to You Live boasts guest features from some of the top names in the industry. How did you get them to collaborate?
It was a mix of good timing and mutual respect, I guess. DPR was slowly getting recognized in the industry as an up-and-coming visual team and that really helped my musical career and credibility. While I was in the studio recording demos, IAN and REM were hustling on the video side and doing whatever they could do to spread our brand name. It also helped us earn some money to finance whatever we wanted to do in-house. [Laughs.] Also, being featured on “Eung Freestyle,” which was also produced and directed by my team, gave us a good boost. It helped start a lot of conversations with artists in general.
Your recent release Her has also been successful. What did you want to resonate with this project?
Her is a more genre-specific compilation of songs than my first EP. I wanted to get more personal and intimate with my listeners on themes relating to love and relationships.
Where does your musical inspiration come from?
For me, inspiration comes in many angles. I’d say half of it comes from just an array of talented musicians and their music. The internet in itself is inspiring sometimes. On the other hand, a lot my inspiration comes from my experiences in life and the things I place value on.
Why and how did you start making music?
I started making music when I was stationed in the Korean army. I went relatively early for my age, and I had a lot of free time on my hands so I would start writing whenever I had the chance. That’s where my passion slowly grew. It was a good time for me to reflect on my future; I had a lot of thoughts/things I wanted to say. That’s where I really picked up writing song lyrics.
What goals do you have for 2018?
I can probably make a huge list of what goals I want to hit in 2018, but ultimately, I really just want my team to stay healthy, committed and passionate. That’s not only for 2018, but that’s really a lifetime goal I have.
And what’s the biggest drive that motivates you?
I just want to release quality music and materials. I hope we [DPR] never get lazy or complacent, and continue to challenge each other so that we can continuously push boundaries. It’s not easy to impress people these days, but to rise above that, and to see that stamp of approval and recognition from people is where all my adrenaline rush comes from. It drives me and my team to go beyond.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Hopefully in the next few years, I’ll not only be a better artist myself but I hope to see our team grow and continue to do more exciting things together. Whether it be a visual thing, or a music thing, or something completely different, I just want to see us all succeed together. That’s really the main point.
In the end, it’s not really the legacy that I leave behind, but the impact we make as a team. There aren’t that many teams like us in Korea and for that reason, it’d be really dope if we could almost set a benchmark or an example for the next up-and-coming generation of creatives to think outside the box and really learn to DIY. In the end, that’s what we did and it’s been the best decision we’ve made.