“I want to be the first Asian American hip-hop artist that gets on the same level as Drake or Kanye. “
FLANNEL ALBERT (real name Albert Joo) is a melodic hip-hop artist based in Brooklyn, NY. He started in music from the young age of four, studying classical piano and music theory. Though he was raised in Portland, the rapper lived in Korea for a few years during a brief stint as a K-pop artist where his debut EP topped independent online music charts in Korea. Shortly after, the artist moved to Brooklyn where he delved into the world of hip-hop and joined the WH9LE Collective.
Albert’s music is an eclectic blend from his diverse experiences. Citing influences such as Eminem, Childish Gambino, Sufjan Stevens, and Kanye West. He also fuses his classical music training and the upbeat vibes of pop all while incorporating electronic vibes, clever lyricism, and vibrant energy.
Which is why we took up the opportunity to catch up with Albert this week to get his thoughts on making the move from Korea to New York, falling in love with hip hop, the key to success on social media and the sound behind his debut EP, ‘YEAH, no.’ So, check out his exclusive Hype Off Life interview below and give him a follow @flannelalbert if you can relate!
What made you make the move from Portland to Korea to New York?
My parents actually both moved there for their jobs. I had never lived in Korea before so I was really not into the idea at first. I stayed with a family friend in Portland for about a year in a half until I really started missing my parents, so I decided to make the move my sophomore year of high school. Korea was cool though–it gave me a good appreciation of my parents’ culture, and I was exposed to a lot of cool opportunities that I would’ve never gotten otherwise in Portland. I’m definitely still an Oregon kid at heart though.
What about New York pulled you into Hip Hop?
I’ve been into hip hop since before I moved to Korea. And when I went to Korea, my closest friends were all bboys, so I naturally became one too. I think really started appreciating hip-hop when I got into bboy culture. It was all about pride and showing what you could do, but in the end it was all love. I also really enjoyed the eclectic nature of it–as a dance, it borrowed ideas from so many different places but put its own “bboy flavor” to it. I think I employ that in my music these days.
And New York is no different. So many different people here from different walks of life. It’s inspiring to see how a bunch of cultures and backgrounds can come together to create such a vibrant city. Also, the fact that there’s so much hip-hop history here is inspiring. There’s an established scene here and so many talented people.
You had a brief stint as a K-pop artist while in Korea. What do you think are the similarities and differences between Hip Hop and K-pop?
When I was in Korea, I feel like the mainstream music scene was pretty homogenous. It was just K-pop run by the bigger corporations. I think recently, it’s become more like the US’s. More diversity in the genres and more independent artists coming into the light—I love it. But I wasn’t really in the Korean music scene so it’s tough to say much about the fans or exactly how everything works. I don’t want to make some sort of generalization and have them come after me—I’m political like that.
What I do know is that a lot of Koreans appreciate hip-hop/R&B as a genre. I think they’re still working on the underlying culture and where it comes from. That’ll take time for general public over there, but it’s becoming a very popular genre and I’m glad.
How does it feel to be part of the WH9LE Collective? What is your role in the group?
I’M THE GOD OF WH9LE DUDE I’M JUST SO FAR AHEAD OF EVERYONE ELSE THEY ALL ANSWER TO ME. YOU HEAR THAT AMARA?!
Hahah in actuality, I’m super thankful to be part of the collective. I’d never really had a close group of friends in the same lane as me goal-wise/artistry wise. I joined in early 2017–I knew Andrew (Chuku, one of the other rappers/producers) from college. We used to make music together in college. He introduced me to Amara (Mr. Manager) and Brad (Producer/Graphic designer/fellow Asian) over FaceTime. And regardless of the fact that I met most of them this year, they’ve become my brothers. They’ve stayed at my place, traveled with me, and rocked shows with me, the list goes on and on. Not to mention that these guys are all talented and driven. I’m usually an asshole and secretly think I’m better than everyone, but these guys are all the real deal.
How do you currently use social media to grow your fanbase and raise awareness of your brand?
I just try to be myself. I’m a goofy person in general. The only time I’m TRULY serious is when I’m making music, and I think that’s why I do it. It allows me to show people of a side of me that isn’t often seen. But on social media, I try to be my goofy self. I love interacting with people and just talking about random shit. So if you message me on Instagram or twitter, I’ll definitely respond. I’ve learned that posting content consistently is important. So many people use social media these days that your post is only visible for a short amount of time–you gotta keep posting content.
You picked a funny, yet interesting title for your debut EP, ‘YEAH, no.’ What’s the meaning behind it?
I feel like life is all about decisions–and when we make decisions, there are usually two sides to it. A lot of my music deals with that. I contradict myself in my lyrics all the time because that’s how my brain works. In my lead single, it talks about the struggle between trying to fit a “mold” as a rapper or really just being myself. It’s a constant conundrum–so YEAH, no. represents that sort of duality. Part of the reason I make music is to examine myself as a person, but that doesn’t mean I have all the answers once I write a song. A lot of the problems/struggles I mention in my music are still open ended. That’s why there are two versions of me on the front cover.
What type of sound were you going for?
I always describe my sound as melodic hip-hop. This really goes in hand with what I said earlier about being a goofy person overall, but very serious about my emotions and music. When I rap, I’m being earnest, but I can’t help but be kind of poppy and catchy in my music. It’s just what I’m naturally good at. I think I conveyed that pretty well, especially with “aok”. It’s a bouncy earworm, but there’s a pretty deep and personal meaning to it. That’s why I’m so happy with it.
If you could collab with anyone right now, who would it be?
Travis Scott. At first glance, we’re so different. His sound is much darker. But I really look up to his talent in creating melodies, and his flow is also just so natural. I think one of my upbeat verses on one of his songs would be insane. I could also go head to head with him on stage in terms of bringing the energy. I want him to know that I watch his live version of Skyfall before every single one of my performances.
How do you want to go down in the history books?
I want to be the first Asian American hip-hop artist that gets on the same level as Drake or Kanye. My goal is to get that big. I don’t want anyone to ever say he’s a good artist “for an Asian”. There are so many talented people of Asian descent, and if I can help open up that lane, I will be satisfied. I don’t want to be remembered as a gimmick, or just a battle rapper–I want to be remembered as an artist that left his mark on the game. Korean Beatle. Like on some “I’m mentioned in your liberal arts college course” shit.