Korean Hip-Hop Supergroup MFBTY Made an Album Just for Their Twitter Followers
Their fans are better than yours.
Tiger JK, Yoon-Mirae and Bizzy, are Korean rap royalty, which is quite an accomplishment in a country where hip-hop is still not quite mainstream. Individually and as members of the group Drunken Tiger, they have been ruling national award shows while maintaining the respect of the underground since the late '90s.
Tiger JK and Yoon-Mirae are married, and Bizzy is a close longtime friend of both. Over the last few years they've been moving away from the Drunken Tiger name, and in 2013, released the song “Sweet Dream” under the name MFBTY—which stands for “My Fans Are Better Than Yours.” Recently, they released Wondaland, their first full-length under the MFBTY name. It's a wildly creative ride that combines hip-hop, R&B, and EDM in a way that recalls some of the most forward-looking moments of 90s hip-hop, particularly recalling all things Missy Elliott and Timbaland. Tiger and Yoon-Mirae's seven year old son made one of the beats. The only thing predictable about it is the solid guest spots from other Korean rap luminaries like Dok2.
Though sonically Wondaland is a colorful, irresistible explosion, they say the album came out of a difficult period for the group. Things had gone south with Tiger and his partners in Jungle Music, the label he founded, and his father passed away after a battle with cancer. (Since falling out with Jungle, Tiger JK started up Feel Ghood Music.) But it was their fans, particularly their international community of fans on Twitter, they say, that pulled them out of it and inspired them to keep making music as MFBTY. The South Korean press and music industry didn't understand why such well-known artists would release a full-length under a low-profile abbreviation and Wondaland didn't chart as well as the group hoped at first. But, as Tiger JK told Noisey, they did it for their Twitter followers, who don't care about the criticism. They're the ones who came up with the name anyway.
So the name MFBTY came out of this community you found on Twitter of K-pop fandom?
Tiger JK: When I started tweeting, the first group of people that actually started talking to me was from Brazil. So just imagine—we didn’t think we were popping in Korea, and someone from Brazil will talk to us! And I was like “Hey, how do you know me?” And I was chatting with them and they were from different fandoms. And it was sort of an inside joke between them, ‘cause I was kind of like the UN for all these fans from different groups. The inside joke was “my fans are better than yours,” so the fans made the name. One day it kind of snowballed into something, and people were writing MFBTY graffiti in London and Spain and Italy, and we became something like a cult.
So how did MFBTY really start?
Tiger JK: One day just for fun, we made a song called “Sweet Dream,” and made a video, and called it MFBTY. We thought that it was going to be a one time thing! And all of a sudden, you know, when you search MFBTY, it’s like MFBTY China, Africa, Indonesia; it’s crazy, but it’s great. And these people—there are kids, but there are a lot of educated people who are writers, who are journalists, some doctors—and it’s sappy, but we became really like family.
So, is Drunken Tiger still a thing?
Tiger JK: Yeah, Drunken Tiger’s still a thing. Wu-Tang Clan had a lot of impact on me—although it was stereotypical, they made Asians cool. Before that, Asians weren’t taken seriously at all. And Wu-Tang came out, and I was really a Wu-Tang fanatic, and that really inspired Drunken Tiger. The reason I’m staying away from the name Drunken Tiger is that my son does not like the term “drunken," so I’m going by Tiger JK for that reason.
So how did this album develop? It feels to me like you gave yourselves the freedom to just try anything.
Tiger JK: It was a crazy time. We were in a dark stage in our lives, and the only thing we knew to do was come to the booth and record. I wanted to make a small coffee shop with books. Tasha [Yoon-Mirae] was thinking about designing some jewelry. [laughs] We didn’t know what to do. Bizzy was actually going to start a boxing career. You know what I mean? Cliché, right? When you hit the bottom there’s nothing left to do, and all you’ve got left is two fists. Bizzy was boxing heavily.
Now, the corny part, but it’s also the beautiful part, these fans, you know, MFBTY family and friends, these people I met on Twitter, they started writing us. They started sending us remedies that might help my father. It woke me up, and I just wanted to make a song that would make them happy. And we started just experimenting, you know? Let’s drop our own projects, let’s put Autotune on that vocal, let’s start singing. And we started doing crazy stuff. Let’s mess with EDM. But one thing led to another and we ended up recording a full-length album. Everybody thought we were crazy, because unless you’re from a big label, dropping a full-length album is not lucrative. But we had to do it for the fans.
Have you gotten a good response, at least from your real fans?
Tiger JK: Honestly, fans loved it. We love it. We actually really enjoy our own record. [laughs] But Seoul is such a fast-paced industry. If you don’t chart after a week passes, it doesn’t matter, it’s out in the trash bin. But we didn’t give up. Like, okay, you guys didn’t want to book us on TV shows, you didn’t want to give us interviews, we'll start rocking shows. And that sort of resuscitated our musical career. Now it’s creeping back up on the charts. Now people are asking for us out here and they’re taking it seriously. But it’s really tough, man! Unless you’re from a big label you can’t really do much.
That’s something I wanted to ask you about. You said in an interview with Eat Your Kimchi that a lot of Korean hip-hop artists’ songs get banned. What did you mean by that?
Tiger JK: I mean, it’s just like in the States, where there's the FCC, you know? Every network, they have their own standards. You can’t cuss, obviously. But since we started off as hip-hop, they think that we are hiding something. They’re reading too deep into our lyrics. For example, our video for “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” is 15 and up. It’s like the movies, you’re not allowed to watch it unless you’re 15 and over, or they won’t play your video until a certain time. Night time, we get the night time love. But what I’m saying is it was only because one of the dancers was shaking their booty!
Yoon-Mirae: Well, one of the girls did a dance where she bent over and you could see a little bit of the - her undershorts. Mind you, it wasn’t her underwear, it was the shorts that she was wearing underneath the skirt.
Tiger JK: And it’s not sexual. These dancers, they’re award champs, and it was straight up B-boy moves. As you know, other girl groups will be singing this song in their underwear, they get 11 and up. So there’s a lot of politics going on that we have to deal with.
Yoon-Mirae: A lot of hip-hop artists in Korea still get a bad rep. It’s gotten a lot bigger, and a lot of people accept hip-hop, but as far as the culture goes a lot of people still think that if you’re a hip-hop artist then you’re automatically bad news. There’s a stigma that’s attached to it. So unfortunately that also bleeds over into the music industry.
So what is the track “Rebel Music” about for you?
Tiger JK: That song was recorded during the Trayvon Martin incident, and we wanted to speak on it. I felt like too many so-called rappers or artists were quiet about it, and I didn’t understand it. You don’t have to be all political, or a revolutionary, or start a movement, but we thought that was strange. I thought we were supposed to talk about that.
Beverly Bryan is getting bizzy on Twiter: @DJBBCheck