Jeremy Namkung / J. Lately

Jeremy Namkung is an independent hip hop recording artist hailing from Oakland, California who goes by the emcee name J. Lately.

When not making music, Jeremy holds down an important job in society as he teaches the youth as a public high school teacher.

He released a new album titled One Way Ticket this past January and has other projects planned for later this year. The album can be downloaded for free at his official website.

HalfKorean.com had a chance to talk with Jeremy about his background and music.

So Jeremy, what is your mix?
I’m half Korean and half Caucasian. My dad is full Korean, but was born in China, raised in Japan, and immigrated to the Bay Area after high school. My mom was born in Canada and moved to Los Angeles when she was child.

Where were you born, raised and currently reside?
I was born in San Francisco and lived in Oakland until I was five. When I was five, I moved up north about an hour to a small town called Sebastopol. I lived there until I went to college down in LA, where I really started to get deep into Hip-Hop both as a fan and as an artist. After graduating I moved back up to Oakland to work as a teacher at a high school and pursue my music career. I’m still living in Oakland and am currently the Assistant Principal and PE Teacher at the high school.

Do you speak Korean?
I don’t actually speak Korean, and my dad only speaks really limited Korean because he lived in China and Japan, not Korea. I really just know a few basic words like grandma and thank you, and of course a few regulars on the Korean BBQ menu.

Growing up, what was your mixed Korean experience like?
I’ve had an interesting experience growing up as a mixed Korean because I didn’t grow up around many Koreans, or Asians in general, so I was always the “Asian” one in my classes. When my dad immigrated here he left behind a lot of cultural practices due to a variety of reasons, and so I’ve grown up in a very non-Korean household in many aspects. But even though I always saw myself as far more culturally white than Korean, it always interested me how people were always quick to identify me as Asian because that was what was different about me.

Have your parents and family been supportive of your music ambitions?
My parents and family have been very supportive of my music, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve always handled my shit at the same time. If I hadn’t gone to college in order to pursue music, I’m sure my dad would have had a few things to say. But I’ve always gotten good grades, stayed out of trouble (for the most part), and managed not to be a huge financial burden, so they didn’t have much negative to say. My parents are also both really musical themselves, and I grew up with them playing and listening to music in the house all the time.

Tell us what the name J. Lately means?
The name J. Lately serves as a reminder to myself to accept change and to always seek growth. We often have this idea that for someone to change it means they are not staying true to who they are. I want to live from the perspective that if you’re not constantly changing and growing, you’re doing something wrong. If you view the world and act in the exact same way throughout your whole life, then you’ve basically been wasting your time. My name helps me remind myself that it’s OK if I’m not the same as I was before, because the goal is progression. It also reminds me it’s OK if I haven’t yet reached the success I’d like to reach, because the place I’m at is only where I’m at just lately, and this will change with work and perseverance.

How long have you been rapping and making music?
I’ve been recording since my sophomore or junior year of high school, but I got much more serious with it when I went to college. During high school, a lot of the rap that I was exposed to was hard for me to really relate to or fit into given the way I had grown up and my values. Also, most of the other people who were making music around me at the time were trying to imitate this type of music/lifestyle, so it made it hard for me to really find my place within the music. I really appreciated this time playing with the craft of rhyming, but I’m also really appreciative of the fact that the music I made back then wasn’t posted to the internet and therefore does not live eternally for you to access.

It wasn’t until the end of my time in high school, and definitely during college, that I became really exposed to hip-hop music that I could relate to on a deeper level. Once I became exposed to the huge variety of music that was classified as “underground” or “independent” hip-hop I was able to find my own style and become much more comfortable within the genre. As I’ve immersed myself deeper into the hip-hop culture and the variety of music within it I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for the true value of hip-hop music in my life.

Describe to us your style of music?
I try not to place restrictive labels or descriptions on the type of music I make, because as my name explains I want to be open to change, and the music I may want to make at moment of the day could be completely different than what I’d choose to make when I’m feeling or experiencing a different emotion or situation. I also feel like the same music can be described completely differently by two people, because I think the music you like is hugely a personal preference depending on what you connect with or find important about that artist or song. That being said, I would say it’s some extremely honest and relatable hip-hop that remains true to the classic boom-bap roots while remaining relevant and pushing boundaries.

Who are some of your musical influences?
I have a lot of musical influences. When I was a kid I used to listen to a lot of Oldies with my dad, and I think that’s where I really gained an appreciation for music. I think my appreciation for simple melodies and relatable stories/themes comes from listening to artists like The Temptations, The Beatles, The Supremes, and others as a kid. Like I said, when I first started listening to hip-hop I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of it. I mainly listened to the music that was on the radio at the time like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Fabolous, Diddy, and the Game, and the Bay Area legends like Mac Dre, Too Short, E-40, and Andre Nickatina. These artists all definitely influenced my rhyme schemes and delivery, but they didn’t have as big of an influence on my overall perspective. During the end of high school and beginning of college I became exposed to and began to search for artists like Common, Mos Def, Living Legends, Hieroglyphics, Dilated Peoples, Pharcyde, Murs, Brother Ali, Little Brother, Blu, Atmosphere, and others. I was blown away by the large variety of perspectives that were offered in their music, as opposed to the typical message portrayed in the hip-hop found on the radio. The shit that I’ve been really feeling lately though is music that blends the border between “indie” and “mainstream,” if we want to use those labels. Artists that make stuff that could bump on a radio level, but is still really relatable and truthful on a lyrical level. I still listen to music from all corners of hip-hop though, and find some sort of appreciation in all styles.

Do your students know about your music? Is there any conflict between being a teacher and the messages in your music?
Some of my students know about my music. It’s become harder to contain it as I’ve started to have music videos and blog coverage on the internet, because once they know my name they can just look it up. I’ve actually gotten a lot of good feedback from many students about my music. They’re impressed, but I’m sure the fact that the originally see me as a “teacher” instead of “rapper” sets them up to be easily impressed. A lot of them are really surprised when they hear the content in my songs because they see me when I’m in a much more professional role. It creates a little conflict in terms of messages I should be portraying as a teacher, but I just tell my students that it’s an example of “code switching,” which means being able to adjust your behavior and language depending on what the situation calls for, and is something we teach our students. In other words, work is a time for work, your personal time is time for you to enjoy.

What has the reception been for your latest album, One Way Ticket?
I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback off of One Way Ticket. The album and music videos have been getting picked up on lots of local and national websites, and I’m starting to see it result in more show, collaboration, and promotion opportunities. The goal now is to just keep pushing with good music. I’ve never fully committed myself to music until now due to other things I had going on in my life, so even though I’ve had past albums that have been well received I haven’t been active enough in order to turn them into a full career. This is the first time where I’m prepared to do that and I have no plans but to push on.

Have any thoughts on the current state of hip hop and music industry?
I really like the state of Hip-Hop right now. I’ll be the first to say that it’s full of a whole bunch of bullshit and some talentless people, but I think it’s at a point now where no one can really complain about that. There’s so much accessibility that if you don’t like something it’s like OK, well go listen to some other shit then that you do like. For every shitty artist out there, there’s someone that’s dope. There’s really no excuse for not enjoying music except laziness.

What are some of your goals as a recording artist and making music?
My goal right now and always will be progress. We can’t determine where we start, but we can make sure that we always move in the direction we want to. Right now I’m really just trying to keep pushing from all angles. I want to keep putting out dope music and perfecting my craft. I want to reach as many people as possible through the internet and shows, and to overall increase my presence on people’s radars as a dope new artist to look out for. I want to dedicate my full self to this music and enjoy every second of it.

Any final words to the mixed Korean community?
I just want to thank the mixed Korean community for supporting one of their own. It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable as a rapper simply based on the fact that I am from the background that I am, and it’s dope to feel like I can be comfortable as a mixed Korean in Hip-Hop and just make some good ass music.

Thanks to J. Lately for his time and sharing more about himself and his music.

We hope that he continues to pursue music as he has a real passion and love for it. For more information regarding J. Lately, please check out his official website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Photo by Kolepa Phy

Photo by Kolepa Phy

Photo by BigKongArt

Photo by Luba Bartnitskaia

 
J. Lately – “No Less”

 
J. Lately – “Way Back”

 
J. Lately – “Share The Love”
 
(Images courtesy of J. Lately)
 
J. Lately

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