In our music feature this week, Dumbfoundead discusses his seeming overnight success, which was actually preceded by a largely unseen and tedious grind. Just 25, he was already an internationally renowned freestyle champ. But he saw his career soar when he developed an Internet strategy that allowed him to harness his freestyle skills and nascent gift for writing emotionally relatable songs.
During the course of our hour and a half talk at Koreatown's Chapman Plaza, there were a number of outtakes that had to be cut from the story due to space constraints. Here are some of the highlights:
On his first attempts at rapping:
I started rapping at 14. I grew up in the Koreatown, near MacArthur Park. There was a cafe called Luna Del Sol in the Asbury, the building I live in now. It was your classic vegetarian cafe with lots of activists and open mics. My first show was there and after that, I started taking it seriously. I was freestyling a lot, battling a lot — this was my freshman year of high school.
Then one day, a few of my friends and I went to Project Blowed in Leimert Park. I thought I was the shit at the time. I'd been killing at house parties, and people would give me free booze and free weed. Then I poked my head into Project Blowed and saw Otherwize, Nocando, and Myka 9 freestyling. I was blown away and didn't even step in the cipher. It was like, 'Yo, back to the drawing board.' But after that, I was addicted. I went every Thursday. It was cracking then — the whole block was filled with people. There would be five to six ciphers going on at once, sax players walking up to them and joining in. A lot of classic battles went down.
On Day Jobs :
Before I started doing music full-time, I had dozens of shitty day jobs. I was working at Farmer's Insurance, at M Grill at the counter. I was a licensed bail bondsman getting up at odd hours to interview people in jail and try to sell them bonds.
I was working such shitty jobs that it didn't matter if I pursued rap and really went for it. I figured I could always go back to a shitty job.
On Dropping Out of Marshall High School:
I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. It was a pretty huge deal because education is obviously so important to the Asian community. My friends couldn't believe it, they were like, 'Shit, your parents let you do it?'
It wasn't like I was really getting into criminal activity. I was just a stoner who ditched a lot of school. But I basically ditched so many days that I was like, 'Yo, I can't even finish.' I ditched so much I would've had to have gone extra years to high school just to make up for it.
On Living Alone at 16:
My family situation was tumultuous to say the least. After I dropped out, my sister and I moved to our own place. We lived there while she was going to high school. That was a tough transitional period; I wasn't good at being the man of the house. I was still in my heavy partying phase and was working random shitty jobs. My sister worked. We had a roommate too, all in a one bedroom apartment.
On Telling His Parents That He Was Going to Be a Rapper:
My parents weren't that supportive of what I was doing musically, nor did they really care. I didn't really tell them. They knew that I was doing music, but that was it. My mom would see me going out on Thursday nights, and I had to explain to her what an open mic was in Konglish.
On Being An Asian-American Rapper:
So many Asian artists used to come up to me and be like, 'Man, it's so hard for us as Asians in hip hop,' but it's actually made it easier because now I'm getting gigs at all these Asian-American organizations. I'm one of the few Asian MC's really doing it well. It's funny when they say that and use it as a crutch, because hip hop has always been a vehicle to stand out and look unique. So me being a minority and rapping well — that's become a big advantage.
On Stand-Up Comedy:
I perform roughly once a month. I don't promote my stand-up under the name Dumbfoundead. I go by [my real name] Jonathan Park. I don't want to use rap to drawn people in to my stand up. I want to pay my dues.
I started a year ago. My friend has a weekly night at the Laugh Factory. My first show there, I was so fucking nervous. But I killed it. I'm not trying to brag, but I did really well. I was surprised. After I got off-stage and realized that I didn't bomb, I had this crazy new high. I felt like performing the next day, until I realized getting gigs isn't that easy. But I have the bug and I have my ten minute set down pat.