Interview: Meet Johnnyphlo, the Rapper/Producer Who Discovered Ailee
As an old school Soompier, I love meeting other people who had Soompi Forums play a big part of their adolescence. What’s better is when I find out that someone I have heard of was an OG Soompier. That is how I got connected with Johnnyphlo, an independent musician/producer. I had heard the name “Johnnyphlo” more than a few times the past few years, his name being connected to the likes of Ailee, Jay Park, and Dumbfoundead. When I found out that back in the day Johnnyphlo would collaborate and share his music on the forums, I knew I had to interview him about the good ole’ days.
During the interview Johnnyphlo and I reminisced about dial-up internet, how Soompi christened his name, and his close relationship with Ailee and G.NA.
Describe Johnnyphlo in one sentence.
Johnnyphlo is a Muzo, a person who is obsessed with making and listening to music.
How did you find Soompi to start your music career?
I’m from the generation who misses the sound of 56k internet connecting and having a buddy list on the right side of your screen all day. That’s when Soompi and other forums were really popular. I was looking for the biggest platform for a young Asian musician to share his music. I heard about Soompi, and I started sharing music in 2003? 2004?
There was (editor’s note: still is!) a forum where people could record their own songs and they would collaborate with different users in the forums. I released my own music, but I was also managing a rapper who went by the name Decipher (now known as Danny Chung) and Ailee. I used Soompi to share their music for a few years. I stopped for a few years, and when I started music again, Soompi was the only place I thought of to share my music. I shared my songs, and the response was really good. People started calling me Johnnyphlo. That’s how Johnnyphlo began.
So you can say Soompi gave you “Johnnyphlo.”
It did! Because of Soompi and the opportunities that followed, I became Johnnyphlo. I still keep in touch with some of the people I met through Soompi.
In 2008 there was a JYP USA audition in New York, and one of my friends wanted to go so I offered to drive him. He suggested I also audition, and even though I had no intention of being in JYP or other agencies, I decided to do it for fun. I ended up getting second place. I would not have known about that audition if it wasn’t for Soompi.
How did you start on managing Ailee and Decipher?
I wanted to be a musician and I wanted a group of people to do music with. With Decipher he needed a studio to record and all I had was a $100 microphone and some computer speakers, but he would come over to record.
Ailee was someone I was looking for to help Decipher with the chorus as a vocalist. She’s amazing. I actually saw a clip of her singing at a church on Myspace, so I reached out to her. At first, she thought I was a creep and blocked me. [laughs] She got scared because I was this teenager who was asking this young girl to work on music together. I didn’t want to harass her, so I just messaged her and said, “It doesn’t have to be me you work on music with. I just really think you’re talented, and I believe that no matter what you should pursue your dreams as a musician.” She’s soft, so after she read that message she unblocked me and we started talking.
How do you feel about Ailee’s success now?
I’m really happy for her. We’re family, not just friends. When I was in Korea she was the one person I could consider my family. I needed someone I could trust, and to her I was like an older brother. I’m proud of her, not because I played a big part in starting her career, but because she’s like my sister. Sometimes I worry, as an older brother, that she might overwork herself, but I hope she’s happy doing what she loves.
You were in Korea for a few years under a label and were actually set to make your official debut. How was that experience for you?
In 2011 I got a record deal and went to Korea. I was supposed to debut in that October, but a lot of things happened. I moved to another label and learned a lot as a musician. I was hustling, and it was difficult being away from my home and friends, but the things I learned and the amount of growth I had made it worth it.
My second label wanted me to pursue something more musical and profound. They wanted to give the image of Johnnyphlo as a real musician, not just some rapper. I went along with it and really believed it. When the album was ready and I was ready to debut again, I felt like if I didn’t pull out now, I would never be able to leave. This just wasn’t what I wanted. My company respected me enough as a musician to let me go as an artist. I have much respect for the company and I’m still in working terms with them, though not as a musician but as a producer.
Now you’re an independent musician. You recently released a song with G.NA called “Dalla (Different).” How did this song come to be?
G.NA is someone I became real good friends with in Korea. It’s not easy to make friends with people you meet in a working environment, but she is one of those friends I made in the industry. After I quit my company I decided I wanted to make something that my company told me not to make. I let her listen to it and she said, “Let’s me hop on to it. It’ll be fun.” I hadn’t even thought about asking her, since she’s part of a big company and I thought it would be such a hassle. It was really nice of her to offer first. She’s the one who really made that song and I’m really grateful for that.
In your YouTube channel you have the very poppy and catchy “Dalla” but then you also have this hardcore rap piece where you’re like “I’m going to F your mother.” They’re like right after each other.
[Laughs] I feel like a lot of artists try to stay in their boundary because they know what people expect of them. That’s justified, but I don’t have to be like that. Like you said, I’m talking about ‘effin mothers in one song and talking about loving my girl in another. I don’t like boundaries, and I don’t like the pressure of doing what “Johnnyphlo” is supposed to do.
No matter what I do, people are going to hate. It’s impossible for me to have a song no one dislikes. As cliche as this sounds, no matter what, you’re going to have haters, and haters are going to hate. If they’re going to hate you, might as well do you and do what you enjoy. Why cater to one side of the haters and create another side of haters?
Are there any K-Pop artists you would like to work with?
A lot! All of them, actually. My favorite rapper of all time, not just in Korea, is Gaeko from Dynamic Duo. I’ve spoken to him through Ailee because she knows that I have this fanboy crush on him. She thinks it’s funny that I turn all red when I talk to him. I also want to work with IU. She’s an incredible singer and beautiful.
I know a lot of my fans are waiting for me to work with Ailee again, and there are songs we made together but I don’t know if I’m going to release them, yet.
What do you think about idol rappers?
I think even with the idol rappers there are two different kinds. There are rappers who can actually rap and just happen to be an idol. I think Zico from Block B is an example of someone who can really rap. Then there are people who wanted to be idols and are good looking, so they were forced to rap because staying on beat is easier than staying in tune. As a rapper I hear them rap and I know they are not rappers. But, some of them, they fall in love with rapping. They try to become the rapper they should be and that has my respect.
So what can we expect from Johnnyphlo now?
I am currently working on a project called “Any Given Sunday.” I release music and blogs every Sunday. I think this is the biggest mistake I made this year [laughs]. The worry begins on Monday and ends on Sunday evening. I did this to set a commitment to myself make sure that I’m not being lazy and making music. This is all going to turn into an album with the songs that I released so far and some new ones. So what you can expect from Johnnyphlo is music. Whether it is good music or not you can decide on your own, but I do hope that whoever listens to it will enjoy it.
Last word for Soompiers?
I remember back in Soompi, younger users would ask me what kept me going because their parents wanted them to be a doctor or an accountant, and they couldn’t ignore it. I told them that it’s your life, and you’re going to be here long after they’re gone, so if you have the talent and passion, go for it. Keep going. What do you have to lose? There will be chances to turn back. Don’t turn back now, for the fear of turning back later.
Check out more of Johnnyphlo’s music at: