For someone many fans thought had retired, Jin has been quite busy of late. The battle tested MC was in the news again after suffering a high profile loss in the finals of a New York City freestyle battle tournament staged by Fight Klub and sponsored by AllHipHop.com. Failing to meet high expectations, Jin finished 2nd and the $10,000 purse went to Serius Jones. But as it turns out, the treat to Jin's reputation wasn't that Serius. Three weeks later the former seven time Freestyle Friday's champ would regain his throne by taking the $50,000 grand prize in a tournament put on by Fight Klub in the Bahamas. Immediately after winning Jin offered to put up $10,000 of his own money for a rematch with Serius Jones in which the crowd would play as judge. Although host International P. stated that Serius was coming to the stage, he never appeared after more than five minutes of waiting. I guess he either missed the announcement or he just wasn't that Serius.
With a new album The Emcee's Properganda on the way and retirement behind him, Jin talks to us about battling, his evolution as an artist and his take on Hot 97's infamous Tsunami Song, to which the Chinese American MC recorded a much needed response. "They wasn't doing that on behalf of the Hip-Hop community which is the irony because their whole title is 'the home of Hip-Hop and R&B' and meanwhile they let ignorant shit like that slide".
RIOTSOUND.COM: There's recently been published reports that you are retiring from the music industry, how true is that and where does the situation stand at the moment?
JIN: I think that all stemmed from this one song that I recorded. I did this joint about three months ago called I Quit, that's the name of the record. I heard this ill beat that my man Golden Child game me and at the same time that I heard the beat I was going though some stuff myself, just a little soul searching and just kinda figuring out what the hell I'm doing with my life. It was around June, so I just turned 23. Pretty much that beat made me want to write all of those different feelings and emotions that I had; and basically how I felt was like - yo, there's certain aspects of being in the "music industry" that I kinda never really fucked with and it's not me.
I'm an MC and I love Hip-Hop and I definitely enjoy doing this for a living but I think certain elements that have nothing to do with Hip-Hop and nothing to do with music, strictly business related type things, they leave a sour taste in my mouth. So what happened is I did this song called I Quit and it's pretty much me summing up all those different emotions. And to me that's kind of what music is about anyway, it's like a therapy for artists. So I put that joint out and the next thing you know everybody is hearing this song like oh, what's this? he's quitting?! And it just generated all this interest and whatnot. Magazines and different websites started wanting to do interviews. And pretty much that's what it was. It ended up being bigger than what I thought.
To me, I thought it was just going to be a record that I did and nobody was even going to pick up on it. But what happened [as a result of doing this record] is it kinda gave me an idea of what I really wanted to do, which is the beauty of it. Pretty much I am just getting on some independent shit; not so much as a retirement but you know how people just like drama like that, like oh, Jin retired!? But it was more me saying "the system", it isn't for everybody. And I think for me to make the music that I want to make and give it to the people, I gotta go about it a certain way. And basically it's the route that I am going now which is just some independent shit.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently took part in Fight Klub battle tournament where rhymes with racial overtones were directed at you. How do you feel about such tactics, you were on the verge of winning the tournament but many subsequently said that it was the racially charged rhymes used against you that caused you to lose in the finals?
JIN: Yo, the dude that I battled that won, he won fair and square. I'm never one to have excuses. He won and everybody might have their little opinion about it as far as - oh, he had those Chinese jokes and that's why he won. I mean, realistically that wasn't the first time that I've heard racially motivated lines in a battle. I've been battling since I was in the seventh grade and that is damn near eight or nine years ago and I've been hearing those type of jokes since then. So it wasn't nothing new for me.
People that have studied my battle history know that's something that I pride myself in as far as being able to bounce back [from those kind of jokes]. It just so happens that one night he happened to be really on point and I was having an off night and that's exactly what it is. If you ask me my opinion, bottom line is he won fair and square. In a battle the primary objective, as every MC knows, is to win the crowd. People have different ways of doing that and whatever is effective works. If you win the battle, you win the battle and he won that night.
RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as battling goes, do you feel that MCs who stand out in that aspect, such as yourself, should try to promote the live show and improvisational side of MCing and try to build that as a different branch of the music market as opposed to falling in with the rest of the industry and making conventional albums? It surprises me that not too many MCs are making CDs of their live battles and putting them out; do you think that might be something the fans would want to see?
JIN: Promoting battling, that's a beautiful thing because it's part of the culture and it's part of MCing. You go back to day one of this when Kool Herc was doing parties and Grand Master Flash was DJing and [even at that time] you had The Furious Five battling other camps and whatever. I think what happens as it gets more pushed into the mainstream with shows like 106th & Park and also where movies are made about it like 8 Mile, it's good because it showcases what it really is. But I think the most important thing is that it has to be shown properly. Because the last thing you want people to think is that it's something that it's not.
What's happening now is that you have more and more of these battles popping up and there's not so much skills in them no more. People think - yo, I go on stage and I crack a joke about you and that's it. Now that's one aspect of it but that's not the only aspect of it. It's way more than - yo, DJ drop a beat and I'll talk about your mom and I'll talk about your sneakers. That's one part of it, yea. But what I'm talking about is the whole live show part of it. MCs having rhythm, having flow, having character, having originality. All of those elements make up a freestyle battler. It's just that a lot people who want to capitalize off of this shit don't realize that.
Even these TV shows are like - oh the battling thing is hot right now, we gotta take advantage of that. And that's a problem too. But I think it's a balance, it's definitely a balance. Me, myself, I just love it because I love the competitive nature of it and I think the reason I kinda went the path of battling and developed such a passion for it is because I always felt like if you truly want to prove yourself on some MC rhyming shit, you could say you're better than me and I can say I'm better than you all day but yo, let's just battle and let the crowd decide and that's it.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You got into Hip-Hop at a young age, who were some of the artists you used to listen to when you were first getting into rap?
JIN: At the time I first started listing to rap music, lets see. LL was poppin' then, Naughty By Nature, even Kris Kross they was out then and it was just interesting and amusing to see kids rhyming. But then later on I found they wasn't writing their own rhymes [laughs]. But those were the earlier days - even House Of Pain, Jump Around, I was going crazy for that. Onyx, going crazy for that. I was born and raised in Miami so I was living in Miami at the time but a lot of stuff that I was really picking up on was more of the East Coast rap like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang the 36 Chambers, Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie.
Not to say that I wasn't listening to everything because I was listening to it all. The Chronic, the Doggystyle album, it all played an influence on me. But at the point where I really was like yo, I want to be an MC; I started really studying cats. On a more traditional level as far as understanding the mentality of MCing and the knowledge and the foundation, even cats like Rakim are inspiring, KRS One [also] plays a big role for me.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What are you going to be hitting us with on the independent tip?
JIN: The thing with the independent route is that it's very grounded. You get out of it exactly what you put into it. Your resources are more limited but more importantly you get to do the music that you really wanna do which is what I enjoy the most about being independent. I got an album coming out October 25th which is funny because I put an album out last year in October which was that The Rest Is History joint. So a year later and here we are again but it's a whole new ballgame this time around.
The name of the new album is the Emcee's Properganda and pretty much it is just a reflection of me and my passion for the art of MCing, just ill rhymes, flavorful beats and that's it. It ain't no big budget, 85 grand for a track type deal, definitely not that. But what's [been happening] over these last couple of years, it seems like people be getting so caught up in these big name producers and big feature guest appearances or whatever. And if you look at Illmatic, which is a classic album in a lot of people's eyes, there was only one guest appearance and the majority of the beats weren't done necessarily by high profile, big names. It was Premier, it was Q-Tip, so it was over there with it. Even if you go back to Jay-Z's first album, it was Clark Kent and Primo; so that's what I think is more the direction I am going, it's more just taking it back to the beats and the rhymes.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Who did the beats for Emcee's Properganda?
JIN: There's like thirteen joints on there. On the production level I got one joint that's produced by this kid named Demo. He's from Boston, an up and coming cat, I just found him on just some random shit. Somebody handed a beat CD to somebody and that person handed the CD to my manager and there was just one beat on there where I was like yo, lemme get that. [Demo] did the joint called Properganda which is the title joint off the album.
The other twelve tracks are all produced by Golden Child. He's this young cat from Brooklyn, he's sixteen years old yo, and he just got fire. It definitely reminds me of the early Primo, Pete Rock type sound. I kinda wanted to have the album go this way with him producing most of it because it gives the album a sound that's more cohesive. Everything flows good together because you have one producer and one MC just blacking out together.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What's the tone and feel of this new album, how is it different from The Rest Is History?
JIN: The one thing with this album that I feel I didn't really have with the first album was a direction. I'm very proud of The Rest Is History, that's my first major debut and I got to work with a lot of cats that I was inspired by like Styles, Twista and Kanye. But the one thing that I always felt was when I was recording that album so much was going on and I was still learning about myself as an artist and there was really no direction on it; that's the one thing I analyzed about it. On the Properganda album I have a complete grasp of who I am and what it is that I want to say as an artist.
As far as the overall theme, the way I feel about music right now on the Hip-Hop side, a lot of it propaganda as far as what people see in the mainstream and what they believe is hot. You'll have somebody who hears a certain record for the first time and by instinct they'll be like - yo, man, what the hell is this shit? get this outta here. But then after a while, after they program you, like Dead Prez said - that's why it's called radio program - after you hear it ten times in one hour, subconsciously, you don't even realize it, but you're like - damn yo, this shit is fire!
So that's kinda how I feel about it. I'm not necessarily anti-radio or nothing like that, I rock with a lot of the shit on there but I'm just trying to find more of a balance. Cats like AZ who just put out an album, that A.W.O.L. shit is fire but unfortunately it's probably not going to see the love on radio and on TV like it should, like the Buckshot and 9th Wonder shit. So that's kinda my mentality on things and I think this album The Emcee's Properganda is a layout of exactly how I feel.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently recorded a song in which you responded to the completely insensitive comments made on New York City's biggest Hip-Hop radio station, Hot 97.1 FM, in regards to victims of the Tsunami tragedy. Hip-Hip is supposed to be sympathetic to people who may be less fortunate and Hip-Hop urges for racial equality. Does the level of ignorance displayed by Hot 97 surprise you?
JIN: Well, you know what, what them idiots were doing up there - I'm not even going to say their names 'cause they assholes and I don't want to give them shine in my interview like that - but what they were doing, that's not a reflection of Hip-Hop. They wasn't doing that on behalf of the Hip-Hop community which is the irony because their whole title is "the home of Hip-Hop and R&B" and meanwhile they let ignorant shit like that slide.
The reality is that it's just the kind of society we live in. I think it's bigger than Hip-Hop. Until we come together as men in the world and address these issues I don't think it's going to change and Hip-Hop is only one aspect of the world so it is what it is. I did that response because that is just what my instincts were telling me - like damn, I feel like I want to say something about this. And probably because I felt like nobody else would've, and truth be told nobody else did.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What do you think about Hip-Hop in China? Hip-Hop is really blossoming out in Japan now, have you been out there to do any shows?
JIN: Oh yea, I've rocked wild shows in Japan and I've been able to go back to China and rock Hong Kong - Hong Kong is where my family is from and Hong Kong is a little more modern, in a sense it's like a New York City. But then you have the mainland China like Shanghai and Beijing where they are still a little more traditional and they are still a little more strict as far as their censorship goes.
I think it all takes time, Hip-Hop is growing out there right now, its still at such an early stage where they are still trying to find their own identity. You got Chinese rappers out there that rap in their native tongue; I think that's ill and that's Hip-Hop. It was a beautiful thing to be able to go out there and rock.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Where do you see yourself ten years from now, you've already made some Hip-Hop history, where do you see things going from here?
JIN: That's all I want to do yo. I think in life, not even on some Hip-Hop shit, the idea is if you could leave a legacy and be remembered, that would be the best thing man. And certainly I'm at a point in my life and career where I feel like I've done a lot but I still feel like there's so much for me to do. I appreciate that comment about making history because for every one of us when the smoke clears what can we really take with us? Nothing. So you might as well bust your ass to make your mark and leave some shit here that people will remember you for.
Ten years from now, I'ma be 33. Hopefully I'll have a family, wife, kids, be healthy, all my peoples living good, own a couple of businesses. I'm real simple man, I have complex thoughts but my goals and things that I want out of life are so simple yo, and I think you need to do it like that. I mean, you should have goals and whatnot but I think your overall agenda in life is to just be happy and healthy and that's it and be thankful for everything you have.
Visit Jin's official website www.TheEmcee.com to see the video for Jin's new joint Top 5 Dead or Alive off the forthcoming album The Emcee's Properganda.