Electro-rap quartet Far East Movement have been MIA from L.A. for nearly three years. The hometown boys scored a number one hit, “Like a G6,” back in 2010, which quickly spiraled into world tours with everyone from LMFAO to Rihanna.
But now it's time for a homecoming, and the Koreatown natives know just how to do it.
Their new six-song EP, K-Town Riot, also comes with a five-minute mini-documentary of the same name. The video explores the infamous 1992 riots through first-hand accounts from Angelenos on the ground (and a dose of Roy Choi, because when you've got a Roy Choi, you don't waste him).
L.A. Weekly is premiering the mini-doc right here. K-Town Riot, the EP, drops October 28. We spoke with Far East Movement's Kev Nish about both projects, as well as the group's memories of those terrifying days in 1992 when the Rodney King riots spread like wildfire through his neighborhood.
You’ve been touring the world for a couple of years and scored some huge hits overseas. Now you’re not only coming back to the States and L.A. and K-Town — you're coming back to a very, very specific incident. What brought it on?
When we were on tour, we honestly just felt like we were losing touch with where we grew up, with the community that really shined us a light when we didn’t have any opportunities. After two years of touring, we came home and saw how much it changed. We heard that the clubs were shutting down — clubs that used to be open seven days a week were only open on Saturdays, maybe Fridays. Our town was getting noticed for the underground… not quite prostitution, but basically that. It’s getting known for some really seedy things — that’s not the Koreatown that we knew! So we were like, why don’t we try to do something about it?
When it comes to the riots — I know that you guys grew up in K-Town. Do you remember anything? Were your parents there?
We were all super young but we still remember the looting. It was a lot of racial tension. It’s like when your parents have a completely different concept of other races that you do, and vice versa. It’s like the liquor stores, y'know? A lot of our friends own liquor stores, a lot of our families own liquor stores, and we know the stereotype. Now it’s like we’re doing a song with YG from Compton and that stereotype’s completely washed.
How much of it [the EP] has to do with the riots directly? And how much is just about your childhoods in K-Town?
We wanted to take it to a harder sound than we were typically known for. So production-wise with “Illest,” “Bang It to the Curb,” “Grimy Thirsty” — we wanted to have that energy that the gangsta rap songs from that era had. Musically, we’ll make references, like on “Level” — we’ll say something like “refugee hustle, slippin’ Gs to OZs.’ That whole song, much as it sounds like it's some tropical vibe, it’s really just about being young kids in K-Town looking for a level shot with everybody else.
How long did it take to you come up with all the tracks? Was it during your world tour period?
We actually have around 30 songs recorded… but we’d been waiting, we still didn’t feel like we had an album. Eventually we just went for it. [Laughs] We took out the six songs that best fit the vibe… We still have another 24 songs and collaborations ready to go, but we felt like these six best represented the vibes for K-Town Riot.
Is this before you did the documentary? Or in conjunction with that?
We’d actually already shot most of the doc. The doc was supposed to be a much bigger piece. We have hours and hours of interviews… It was sad that we just decided, “Well, let’s cut it down.” What we really had was a five hour film, but when we sat back and looked at all of it we all felt, “Let’s just keep it tight, concise, to the point.” We have a second piece coming that shows a different side of everything, more just a light-hearted look at the growth [of the neighborhood]. It’s just getting finished so that’s coming out hopefully in like a few weeks.
What has the reaction been, within the community?
What’s funny is the main reaction we hear is, “That can’t be real.” [Laughs] We have kids who say, “No way that happened.” They think it’s fake! They think we just pulled it off YouTube, we’re just trying to be hard — but no, it’s like, that really happened, that’s all real live footage. We get people that are really positive, but then we get people who don’t really understand what we’re doing and criticize. Like, “Why you bringing it up?” We don’t want people talking reckless like we’re trying to exploit our community when that’s really not the intention.
What do you say to people who object?
We just let them know the foundation, let them know that growing up we didn’t have these luxuries [that we have now]. A lot of people who helped build Koreatown, they also helped us build our career — this is just us giving back, shining a light, letting them tell their story. I think when they hear that perspective and realize that we’re not trying to say like, ‘Oh, let’s riot”… it’s about growth. The whole album is about growth. We’re using the term riot in the context of the K-Town riot. The whole point is that from chaos comes positive growth… or at least that’s what happened in this situation.