Through a mutual friend that goes back to when I was in the Bay to LA, it always feels like it’s only been a year since I have seen Kero One.
There are people you are around that are just good people, so no matter where I go, what I do, I am always on a path to elevate the people I am around. One such person needs nothing that I can offer, but I am going to do whatever I can to bring attention to my fellow Bay Area homie and his impact on the lofi hip hop/chillhop scene.
GREG: For people who are not familiar with your music, can you please give a short description of it (yea, I know I could copy-paste this from your Wikipedia profile, but I thought it would better hearing from you even if it is word-for-word off of Wikipedia).
KERO ONE: I think the best way to answer is to use labels others have given my music such as “jazzy hiphop” or these days i’ve heard comparisons to lofi hiphop.
Now for those of you who want to get in on picking up what your music is all about, can you name a few of your top tracks and/or your favorite tracks from the last decade and a half?
Perhaps my most known is called “In all the wrong places”, “let me show you”, and “Princes diamond”. The latter is a song I released under my alias (Kero Uno) for whenever i’m producing for other singers.
In China, your promoter Gary Wang also works with chef David Chang who took him around for his show Ugly Delicious. That sounds fitting for you because I had no clue till our recent convo that you had a ramen blog and a podcast that also involves food, so am I right about you being “live to eat” or vice versa camp?
Absolutely about the food. That’s one of the fortunate pleasures i’ve had while on tour. For instance in Shanghai, the reaction David Chang had when Gary showed him the shen jian bao was the exact same one I had. That episode made me realize that Gary takes everyone to that spot to spread the good word, so last year when I saw him I called him the Shen Jian Bao ambassador.
I also want to hear more about your love for ramen and your Ramen Snob blog from way back in the day, which you started 12+ years ago you said?
Traveling all over Japan and always being on the go on my debut album tour is where I tried so many different kinds of Ramen, from the Hakata region to Sapporo. I quickly fell in love with the different styles and ultimately inspired me to make one of the first ramen blogs back in the mid 2000’s and called it “Ramen Snob”. Unfortunately I gave it up because it demanded too much out of my day. I was taking/editing photos, doing the html code, writing lengthy reviews and having my girlfriend at the time edit everything. It was a passion project but I had my music career jumping off at the time.
For you to have done a ramen blog in the Bay Area that long ago, you were ahead of the ramen trend curve *respect* which is why I got to ask, do you remember when and where was the first time you had ramen (the restaurant kind, but you can talk about the instant kind too)?
The first non instant ramen experience I had was in Mountain View, CA at a place that opened in the late 90’s called Ryowa. It literally blew my mind. The depth of the broth, tender pork, bouncy noodles and even the ladle like spoon to take in the broth was so satisfying. Sadly I just heard that it closed down this year before the pandemic hit (good timing). Now days there are Ramen places on almost every major block in the Bay Area peninsula, the competition must be rough.
If people don’t know, you also have a YouTube channel with what I have got to say not only has some of the best music (obviously), but you recently covered a lot of what you were eating throughout your travels in China while you were on your tour which made me hungry watching you eat (dick, haha). Seeing that vid, I know there’s a lot of food-focused channels, but none of them would have your soundtrack, and you wouldn’t even have to talk because I envision your music and Travel Thirsty style footage (their vids get several million views per vid). Any chance of making that happen???
This year I wanted to take a effort to release more vlogs. I have so much material from my travels but getting the edits right is not always easy. I usually like to be pretty hands-on so it demands a lot out of my time. Thus far I have uploaded some of my behind the scenes from touring in Korea in Japan but I’d like to get the videos from the states as well.
Style-wise of your vids, I love the pauses you do in your vids where you do the freeze frame and voiceovers talking about anything and everything. It could be about the hygiene of food workers wearing mouth shields in China (before the pandemic) to various remarks like you walking across a busy street where they don’t slow down. The vids are so put together, so do you have a favorite YouTuber or filmmaker that inspires you?
Thanks for the compliment. I don’t have a specific inspiration, but through the pandemic all I’ve been watching is vlog content, everything from nice cameras and editing to a guy talking in front of a webcam.
I tend to analyze everything, so I did not only start to follow a candidate running for the party nomination for the president of the United States, but I participated a little in the campaigning. After that experience, I realized it does not matter how qualified or how good you are. It all just comes down to whether or not people see you for whatever role you are going after. Do you also think people in the U.S. can fathom or are open to Asian hip hop artists?
I think it was like that in the 90’s and early 2000’s. When I started, I was prob 1 of 2 Korean rappers/producers in America. Times are different now, and the explosion in asian artists is quite amazing to see.
If any readers have ever been in Takashimaya mall in Tokyo or watched Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, they may have heard your music which was all licensed. Something, I did not know much of till you brought it up during our conversation. So for people who do not know how that works, can you explain a little about it, and if people want to use your music commercially, who do they need to contact?
I offer a lot of my music to be used for free in YouTube vlogs and personal content, all that I ask is to link the song in the description. For bigger placements like Grownish or the Netflix shows I did, its gotta go through the proper channels. Email rj at pluglabel.com.
It’s so cool to see that you have a massive global following although is there a country that you were surprised to see yourself come up in?
Yes, I was super surprised to see the love I got in Poland. I went to tour there in 2007 and the show was a packed house with high energy crowd. At the end of the show during the meet and greet, a girl popped out part of her boob and asked for an auto right there lol.
Several of my friends know of your music because of The Hyo Joo Ko video, the South Korean longboarder which pulled in 25 million views via your Facebook post. The others are decade long Bay Area fans that know you through DJ Shadow and the late Nujabes (Jun Seba). In the world we live in now, I think the way we consume music is constantly changing from radio play (KMEL, Wild94.9), to iTunes, YouTube videos, streaming services, and now TikTok. Is there a channel or medium you are focused on or see as the future of music?
Yeah its hard keeping up sometimes lol. I had some minor success on tiktok and soundcloud but right now I’m focused on keeping my YouTube channel stocked with music videos and vlog content. Additionally, I have my podcast I started with a few of my asian Californian creatives where we discuss food/music/society from our perspective. We actually recorded an episode on Japan where I talk more about my experiences and you can listen here: smarturl.it/tastebuds
Thanks Kero One, I HELLA appreciate you taking the time out from your crazy busy schedule to do this, thank you.
Here are also some of my favorite tracks I recommend: