7-member male group BTS enjoyed a “break” from their usual hustle and bustle of idol life when the members packed up their bags and headed to Los Angeles, California a few months back for the filming of their variety program “American Hustle Life.”
The boys wanted to experience true hip hop culture and got hooked up with artist Tony Jones as their mentor. He and the boys were inseparable as they spent two weeks together practically 24/7, where the boys completed various missions to get a better sense of hip hop.
Tony Jones was so kind to set aside time for an interview. He discusses the state of American music and K-Pop, Korea’s strict culture, first impressions of BTS, and more.
Soompi: What’s your story? Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Tony Jones: I’m Tony Jones and I’m from Texas. I moved out to L.A. around last July – August. I’ve been here for about a year now. I’m from San Antonio, which is a smaller market. I’ve figured that as far as entertainment and music, L.A. is the place to be so I decided to move here for good and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
S: Were there any events that made you realize that you’ve made a good decision?
T: I do a lot- promote nightclubs, write songs, do music, do a little clothing. I came out to L.A. last February and I was here for about two weeks. During that two week period I recorded my album and I featured The Game and Slim Thug from Texas and we put it out. So while I was here I had an amazing time. The weather and everything was nice. I felt like this was my second home. So I went home to perform at SXSW in Austin and after that I decided that I’m moving to L.A. for good.
S: What do you think of the current state of American music?
T: I think music over here is at a really good place right now. If anyone’s at the top, I’d say Drake is probably at the top of hip hop and R&B. But I listen to all types of music. So you have the J.Cole, Jay Z, Kanye West. Music is at a really good place compared to about three to four years ago where there was no music out. I think the main artist- I can’t even remember who the main artist was, you know. Music is at a really good place and I listen to all different genres. My dad was a DJ while I was growing up so I was exposed to rock, country, alternative, and one of my favorite bands is All American Rejects, you know, so I’m all over the place when it comes to music. And then my favorite artist, my favorite rapper, is Young Jeezy.
S: Why did you pursue hip hop if you’re well-influenced in other music genres as well?
T: I guess that’s what came naturally because I’ve always written music. First it was basketball. It was the main thing I focused on from middle to high school and even college. I grew up with a full scholarship. I always did music on the side. So when I got the chance when basketball was over, because you can’t pursue that dream forever, I really started to do music seriously. I’d say around 2010 I went full force. That’s what came naturally. I can’t play the guitar or the piano, I can’t really sing even though I try. It came naturally and I knew the most about that culture so it was a natural thing.
S: On the other hand, what do you think about K-Pop?
T: K-Pop is really interesting. I’ve never heard of K-Pop or Korean hip hop until BTS and I think the first record I heard and saw was “Bulletproof” when I was trying to do some research about the group. I didn’t expect that much from a K-Pop group. They were really good. The music video was directed really well, but I was just really impressed as that being the first record, the first song I ever heard [in K-Pop]. It got my interest and my attention. I thought every other group and artist in Korea that did K-Pop was like that and that talented. I was wrong. Not to talk about any other group, but they’re just different. BTS has so much to offer. They really studied hip hop culture. I want to meet the person behind them because the producers and the directors are finding the beats, and everything they’re doing is really American. I also really think that they can come over to the U.S. and do music if they can learn English in the future. They’re that good. They’re that talented. Afterwards, people were like “Look up BAP, look up EXO, or G-Dragon,” and all these groups. I checked them all out, and it wasn’t the same for me, you know. They’re talented as well, but it wasn’t the same reaction that I got.
S: How would you compare the American music industry to the K-Pop industry?
T: Well, it’s really different. They are in Korea- the culture and everything. You’ve got to respect it. And yea they put on makeup and they dance, and it’s not really American hip hop, but that’s the culture there and that’s what everyone wants, and that’s what’s successful there. Rap Mon can rap really good, I mean Suga and J-Hope can as well, but the fact that he wears makeup shouldn’t take away from it or the fact that he dances shouldn’t take away from it because that’s his culture. I’m sure he can switch it up- him and Suga can do straight hip hop tracks and raw hip hop tracks and rap music and all that but what they’re doing right now is they’re in a group, BTS, and that’s the path they chose to take. Sometimes you’ll have to take paths that will help you to further your future, and if that’s going through BTS getting their voice known and heard in Korea then that’s what they have to do. So it’s very different but you still have to respect it.
S: Where do you see K-Pop in five years?
T: I really see K-Pop blowing up and growing. I don’t know if the management thought of bringing them to America or starting an American BTS, but what they’re doing is brilliant. There’s no one in America dancing, singing, and rapping like that. It’s actually a good idea to start a group like that in America. They took from New Edition, from Boys to Men, they also took from A$AP Rocky. They just took everything and put it together. I don’t know if that was the plan or the boys were that talented but it’s lucky they came together. It’s brilliant. I really think that K-Pop will blow up more and it won’t be a local thing anymore. It’s going to grow because of BTS.
S: Do you think America is ready for them (BTS, K-Pop) right now?
T: They’re not ready for the language, but I think it will cross over eventually. As you look at every culture, you start with rock and alternative or you start with rap. Those cultures merged and they’re now one to where the white race loves hip hop and the black race loves alternative. Little Wayne did a rock album. You have Macklemore, Matt Dillon doing rap albums, so everything is merging. If this is going to continue to grow worldwide as far as different cultures like BTS incorporating American culture, who knows when Americans will start incorporating Korean culture. It’s all going to merge together. So if they don’t come to the States after five years, I’m going to bring them over here myself.
S: Scooter Braun is working with PSY and CL. A lot of K-Pop artists have been expanding their promotions to the U.S. now. I saw that you were at KCON with BTS as well. It’s an event that brings together a lot of fans from the U.S. for a genre like K-Pop. What are your thoughts about that and were you surprised by BTS’ reception there? What surprised you about that.
T: I know that there’s a lot of American fans that love K-Pop. I wasn’t surprised at KCON because of a concert before. When I first got there, there was a line around the corner and there’s people outside and kids crying because they couldn’t get in. I was amazed. I knew that they were big in Korea, but I had no idea that people like K-Pop here. They have loyal fans here as well. They limited the show to 200 people and all the girls were crying and screaming like they’re N’SYNC or Backstreet Boys. When I got to KCON, that really opened my eyes. I think it was about 25,000 people celebrating and cheering on not just BTS, but all the groups. K-Pop has a big market in the States because you have a lot of people that want to be different. If everyone loves N’SYNC, they want to find somebody else and find a different boy group. They found BTS.
(Go to the next page where he discusses more about K-Pop cross over, impressions of the boys, thoughts on banning songs, and more!)