By Kyung Jae Min
James Han is a NYU student and a member of Latakerz, an underground Korean hip-hop group. Pronounced “La-Takerz,” with ‘La’ as part of the friendly and harmonious A-chord (coming from The Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi”). Taking this La and conveying its emotional message through symphonic ensembles is the group’s objective.
Call it fate or coincidence, all members first met in the same neighborhood, Yangjae-Dong. Their love for hip-hop brought them together at the age of 14. These young artists spent their days listening, creating, and playing music. They found rap to be a medium through which they could share and convey their inner thoughts. It all started with trivial matters such as irritation towards their daily hunger while they waited for lunch, or girlfriends. The more they delved into hip-hop, the more they realized that it was ‘it’. Soon after, most members of the crew, excluding Han, dropped out of school, breaking the Asian social value placed on academics. Han could not drop out, as he had plans to apply to college in the United States, but nonetheless, enclosed in their own world, they lived doing what they loved.
Han remembers how one day, they went and bought a $70 microphone. This $70 was no mere pocket money. For them it was a hard commitment that represented their determination towards a future filled with difficulties and tears. In fact, a few failed to handle the pressure and went back to school. Due to such circumstances, there were a number of changes in the crew over the past few years. Yet, every loss was accounted for with a better fit and Latakerz only grew stronger.
For Latakerz, music was not work. It was their passion and their lives. As things began to progress, they came out with mixtapes and singles. However, their name was not yet known. For all their shows, they had to pay to rent a place and promoted their events through free tickets. It was an extremely hard period for Latakerz. They were making no profit and although cruel, it is hard to follow a passion without a stable financial support. However, during this period of doubt, all it took was one concert to blow all the hesitation away. Another group reached out to Latakerz for a joint show. It was the first time they did not have to personally rent out a stage. Furthermore, the audience of their previous concerts consisted mostly of people they already knew. However, this time a much larger group of 700 to 800 people came to the concert – and they bought their own tickets.
As Latakerz took on the stage with a song entitled “F Attitude”, the crowd turned wild. A truly ineffable moment. Han reflects with a nostalgic smile, “As I looked down to see a mass of people singing and jumping with me, all the doubt, all the hardships, and all the miserable feelings I had gathered until that point vanished and left nothing but happiness in their place.” After the concert, Latakerz shared these emotions with the audience by taking as many of them as possible out and paying for everyone with the first profit they made.
Latakerz, with the form of the most melodious sounds, wish to reach out and instill within their audience their story and the emotions that come along with it. And despite being here in NYU, Han has stayed active with the group as they produce new material.