Yoonmirae exploded onto the Korean hip-hop scene in the early millennium with hard-hitting rhymes. As a fierce emcee and compelling vocalist, Yoonmirae is an anomaly in South Korea — a nation once referred to as the hermit kingdom. Born in the United States as Natasha Shanta Reid to a Korean mother and an African-American father, she is one of the few interracial artists in Korea’s entertainment industry. She attributes her early success to a love of music that was fostered by her father: “My dad was in the army but as a side job, he was really into music, and he used to DJ. He just loved every genre like jazz, hip-hop, R&B, everything,” she tells us over the phone on Christmas Eve.
Before finding international fame as an acclaimed emcee, 1995 was the year Yoonmirae made entry into the music world. She tagged along with a friend on an audition that was seeking members for a Korean hip-hop group. After a World Records representative heard her sing, Yoonmirae was eventually signed to the rap group, Uptown. Two years later, the sixteen-year-old vocalist made her first debut with the band; Korea was just opening up to the concept of hip-hop. Uptown delivered a combination of American-influenced hip-hop and pop to Korean audiences. With a flow evoking Queen Latifah, Yoonmirae became a standout of the group, whose original lineup disbanded in 2000.
Thereafter, Yoonmirae made her solo debut in 2001 as T and embraced the persona of a hard-hitting emcee. Her 2002 album Gemini contained a mix of smooth R&B tracks including “Concrete Jungle,” which juxtaposed the fast flow of her rhymes against her rich, velvety vocals. In 2007, she released a single called “Black Happiness” that illustrated the harsh realities she faced as an interracial vocalist in South Korea. Like her lyrics resonate, Yoonmirae considers her music to be a reflection of her unique, ethnic background, avowing, “Aside from the language barrier, music is music. People would tell me, ‘you’re just trying to be American,’ or ‘you’re just trying to be Korean.’ I never really gave it that much thought, I just wanted to make music.”
A couple of years back , she was recognized by MTV Iggy’s Beverly Bryan as one of The 12 Best New Female Emcees Dominating Mics Everywhere. Feeling smitten by her inclusion, she says, “Words cannot describe how I felt about that recognition.” When asked about the lack of established female Korean rappers who are not part of idol groups, she points out, “It’s not like we [female emcees] are non-existent. It’s just that most of the female rappers don’t receive airplay.” Part of the reasons why she stood out from the bunch was because at that time she was considered a musical and racial anomaly; she also didn’t receive much airplay at first.
Consequently, her solo career developed into several collaborations involving her husband, Tiger JK and their musical partner Bizzy. In 2013, they formed the trio MFBTY and released the critically-acclaimed album The Cure under the Drunken Tiger moniker.
In addition, Yoonmirae was the recipient of the 2013 Mnet Asian Music Award for Best Original Soundtrack for “Touch Love,” her musical contribution to the romantic/fantasy drama, Master’s Sun. “I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Korea, they have their own team and producer for [making a] soundtrack. In the case of Master’s Sun, they sent me the script so that I could write the lyrics. I know the actress, Gong Hyo Jin personally and I have always been a huge fan of hers. I think she is a phenomenal actress. Whenever she is involved in a drama, I try to become involved in it,” she shares.
The ability to seamlessly segue from urban hip-hop on MFBTY’s “BizzyTigerYoonmirae” to captivating ballads like “Touch Love” would be a challenge for many artists. “When I am in the studio, I love to sing. But when I am on stage, I would much rather be doing a hip-hop track. So, it kind of balances itself out,” she describes on her ability to change gears genre-wise.
With more emcees emerging from the underground scene, the sound of Korean pop has started to evolve into K-hip-pop. For Yoonmirae, this evolution in Korean music is something she always dreamed of. She muses, “I used to always wish hip-hop was more accepting. I used to wish people didn’t think of it as people wearing baggy pants and screaming obscenities. There’s more to [hip-hop]. I used to wish we could have a spot on TV, and people would understand us. Now, I got that wish.”
As one of the leaders in early Korean hip-hop, she has witnessed the evolution of the genre and participated in some of its pinnacle moments. She continues to be one of Korea’s toughest emcees, and is one of a handful of female rappers outside of the idol groups who keeps breaking the mold of Korean hip-hop. Yoonmirae is a diamond, whose unique vocals and beauty are inspirational to Korean music fans throughout the world.
[SOURCE : 2015.01 MTV Iggy 'Yoonmirae is K-Hip-Hop’s Diamond in the Rough']
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