South Korean rappers Mad Clown and San E have teamed up to headline a U.S. they’ve dubbed the We Want You tour. It represents one of the most extensive K-pop tours to ever come to the States.
Also known as South Korean pop music, K-Pop draws from Western pop music, rock, experimental, jazz, gospel, Latin, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, EDM, folk, country and classical in addition to traditional Korean music.
In a recent phone interview from South Korea, where they were rehearsing for the tour, Mad Clown and San E, who perform with Sobae at 8 pm. on Sunday, April 8, at the Grog Shop, spoke about their respective musical influences. They’re both successful solo artists who’ve recently collaborated on tracks such as the giddy “Sour Grapes,” a song that begins with some funky guitar and then features tongue-twisting raps, and the ballad “Lonely Animals,” a tune that begins with a somber piano melody before Mad Clown and San E start exchanging rapid-fire raps.
How much exposure did you have to American hip-hop while growing up in South Korea?
Mad Clown: When we started to listen to music, hip-hop especially, it was really hard to get the CDs or find music because at the time, there was no YouTube. There was internet, but it was really slow, and there was no Google. The only way we approached hip-hop was by TV. It was hard to get any influences or inspirations. Many of these popular musicians at our age had the same experience. San E: I pretty much grow up half my life in Korea and half in the States. When I was a little kid, I knew what rap music was, but I didn’t know what hip-hop was. I moved to Atlanta when I was 14. It’s a big city with a lot of rappers. It was natural that this music was everywhere. That’s when I first encountered hip-hop music, and this all started.
Talk about who your favorite rapper was when you were growing up and what you liked about their style and delivery.
Mad Clown: Tupac was the first American musician I listened. It hasn’t changed. I was singing his songs all the time. San E: I liked lots of rappers. I liked Biggie and Nas. I especially loved Nas. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I loved his voice. I tried to make my voice like his and copy his voice. I just loved the flow. His flow was just amazing. I wanted to have a voice like his.
Talk about how the two of you two first met and what your initial impressions were of each other?
Mad Clown: Before we signed to a major label, we knew of each other but never met. When I was ten years old, I was making my first solo album. I asked him to be a feature my song, but it didn’t happen. I contacted him first to help and feature my song. San E: He asked me to feature his song, and I wrote down the whole verse. He just disappeared. He was gone. Mad Clown: A long time after we signed with the label and got famous, we met again and we decided to make a song again. This time, we wanted to do it for sure. San E: He didn’t disappear the second time.
How do you complement one another.
Mad Clown: We are both flexible. We can adjust to each other’s styles. We also have a common taste in music. It wasn’t that hard to make a song like “Sour Grapes” and our new song, “Butterfly.” San E: I like Mad Clown’s rap and music. When he was doing pure rap shit, it was awesome. He’s also so good at doing mainstream songs too. I just wanted to work with him.
Could you each talk about what inspired the song “Sour Grapes”?
Mad Clown: San E first came up with the topic of the lyrics and the beat and the hook. It was his idea. When I listened to it, I thought it could be a big hit on the charts. I liked the song, so we worked really fast to record it. We finished the song really fast. When it came out, it was a really big hit in Korea. San E: We wanted to make a song that was danceable and that everyone could sing along to. It’s a good song at the same time too. That was our target. It just happened. We both liked it and people liked it. It was a great moment.
The accompanying music video is really colorful. What was it like to make the video?
Mad Clown: We wanted to put some funny characters that represent the kind of flavor in our music and that’s how we came up with the funny characteristics that came out differently. When we work on our next single, “Butterfly,” we want to keep that flavor. This new song also has the same atmosphere. San E: We just wanted to have some fun. In the music video, you’ll see we parody the “Hotline Bling” dance moves. “Butterfly” has the same particular flavor. It’s also fun to watch.
“Lonely Animals” comes off as a tender ballad. What is that song about?
San E: Sour Grapes is a catchy song and easy to listen to with funny lyrics. At the same time, we wanted to do something serious and a song how we really feel when we’re lonely and about the mental stuff. We compared ourselves to lonely animals. The lyrics represent lonely people. You think everyone else is happy, and you feel empty and lonely. Mad Clown: We wanted to make a song that had a completely different vibe than “Sour Grapes.”
What will the live show be like?
San E: It’s going to be pretty much, if you come, you can listen to all the songs you’ve been listening to on your cell phone, but they’ll sound so much better. It will be an hour and 30 minutes. In that moment, you’ll hear all our best songs. Mad Clown: We didn’t realize we had this many hit songs until we practiced together for the tour. There will be many hit songs that audiences can sing together. San E: If you come, there won’t be a second that will be boring. From the start to the end, it’ll be all fun. It’s an awesome opportunity. We feel blessed to have a chance like this. Not a lot of people have done this. This is pretty much the first Korean artist to play this many shows. We’re really excited.
Talk about the tour openers, Sobae and DJ Juice. How do you know them and what do you like about their music?
Mad Clown: Sobae is a new up-and-coming artist in Korea. I think she studied in the States and had a job as a reporter before. That’s her background. Her first song just came out today in Korea. It’s called “Homegirl.” San E: She’s a rising star. She’s gotten lots of attention. I love her new song. And DJ Juice is my homeboy. When we do shows in Korea, we’re always together. We have a tight relationship. He’s down to earth and really cool. Mad Clown: He’s been DJing for a long. He’s an OG, for real.
K-Pop has finally started to become popular in that states. What do you think has been the key to getting audiences outside of South Korea to embrace the music?
Mad Clown: Unlike people our age, people in these days have had more of a chance to approach music overseas because of Google and YouTube and Soundcloud. That’s one big reason that K-Pop has gotten more attention than before. San E: I’m not sure what it is exactly, but there’s got to be a certain flavor that people feel when they listen to K-Pop. Lots of other countries have their own styles of music, but people focus on K-Pop because it has own flavor. It also has its own dance moves. And it’s new. Back when we were kids, we had Backstreet Boys and N’ Sync, but you don't have that anymore [in the States]. In Korea, we still have it [in the form of K-Pop], and it’s great. It’s only from Korea.
Mad Clown, San E, Sobae, 8 p.m. Sunday, April 8, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $30, grogshop.gs.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].