Kim Sung-hee, better known as the rapper Ja Mezz, has never been bound by any one thing – be it the music he loves or the place he calls home. Now based in Seoul, he was raised in the Philippines and China, spending much of his childhood in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, before returning to South Korea at the age of 20.
Growing up, he listened to a mix of musical genres. He was a big fan of punk-rock bands like Blink 182, but also loved Chris Brown, and of course, whatever K-pop music was big at the time. Back then, he didn’t even think about becoming a rapper.
Ja Mezz began his music career in 2014, signing with record label Grandline Entertainment and releasing his first single, Wanna Get. That same year, he took part in the rap contest TV show, Show Me The Money. He lost to iKon member Bobby, but returned to the show for a further two seasons, and eventually became a fan favourite.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that there’s no limit and that I can go higher and higher. And I did prove that over the past three years.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Ja Mezz has just released his first full-length rap album, GOØDevil. On this record, just like the other aspects of his life, the 28-year-old doesn’t limit himself, collaborating with a slew of Korean artists including Jay Park, Dean, and Mino, a member of K-pop boy band Winner. One of the lead singles from the album, Alchemy, features Mino and fellow rapper Dok2. The song and its music video draw inspiration from the Japanese anime Fullmetal Alchemist.
“I was curious how people would respond to this homage to the series. Some people really liked that I expressed how much of an anime fan I am – one of my arms is made out of metal in that music video – and it also was fun to see that people enjoyed the 3D versions of me, Dok2 and Mino as much as I did.”
Most of the collaborations on the GOØDevil came about organically; Ja Mezz already had a lot of friends in the industry whom he knew he wanted to work with.
“I first met Mino at Show Me The Money. And Jay Park and I had come across each other a few times at parties, so we knew each other before [Park was a judge on the show]. But through the show, we got to know each other better. After they listened to my tracks, they said they were down right away. It didn’t take too long till I got their verses.”
Why is K-pop so popular in Hong Kong? Some local readers explain their love for the genre
Ja Mezz considered where each artist’s sound and style would bets fit, but mostly went with his gut. He simply called or sent a message to his friends whenever inspiration struck, rather than limiting his choice of artist on a song to what they’re famous for.
“It’s not always easy to bring everyone together. Everyone has his or her own ideas and style. When I asked artists to collaborate with me on this album, I actually [met them] in person, and played them all the album tracks including the one that I wanted them to feature on. We mostly talked a lot but also wrote lyrics and melodies. We recorded them right away in the studio. I tried hard to make them see my vision and I think it worked out well.”
Ja Mezz reveals the meaning behind his album’s title, GOØDevil, in the song Good vs Evil: “If I’m the good without “o”, I’m the God/ If I’m the evil, I got “d”, I’m the devil.”
“These days, people tend to judge other people; people also fear the judgment of others and act accordingly,” he explained.
“I think being an artist means self-expression. As an artist, I had to express myself through this album, without listening to other people’s judgement.”
Recently, the rapper’s schedule took him back to Chengdu, where he performed in front of what almost felt like a home crowd.
“It is always good to go back in Chengdu ... I had the chance to be on stage and perform, too. Now I know that a certain number of people already know my music and love me in Chengdu, I’m confident that I can make that bigger.”