In SMTM1, Toy made it to the Top 21, and in SMTM3, she was in the Top 12 and on the verge of joining the Top 8. Toy didn’t receive much airtime in either season, and while it’s not so surprising that she didn’t get much airtime in season 1, it is weird that she was barely shown on season 3 considering how far she got in the competition. Curious about Toy, I looked into her and what I found was her Youtube channel.
Toy has both original work and covers on her channel, and it is clear, through what she has posted, that she’s a good rapper. This, of course, makes her lack of airtime and sudden elimination on SMTM3 even stranger. More curious than ever about Toy, as both a contestant and as an artist, I reached out to her and via email we talked about her experience on SMTM3, about what she thinks about the Korean hip-hop scene and about her work as a hip-hop artist.
Noelle Connell: You’ve been on both SMTM1 and SMTM3, but you’re most well-known for your appearance on SMTM3 where you made it into the Top 12 and you were on the verge of joining the Top 8. What was your overall experience like on SMTM3?
Toy: It definitely wasn’t easy. I am not yet fluent in Korean, so having to prepare Korean raps in the same amount of time as the Korean rappers was quite difficult. Also, I couldn’t understand everything that was said during the filming, but there were people who helped translate for me. Despite all of that, it was a good experience overall. I made new friends and I was able to make a name for myself here in Korea.
You didn’t get much airtime on SMTM3 and you were eliminated in favor of Chamane. I personally thought your performance was better than Chamane’s, and I’ve listened to your mixtape toy’s’tory, and in terms of overall rap skill, you’re definitely superior to Chamane. Do you think that at least part of the reason why you got so little airtime on SMTM3 and Chamane was chosen over you is because you’re a Black American woman?
First of all, thank you for taking the time to listen to my mixtape! Secondly, what I was told was that part of the reason I was eliminated was because Chamane is Korean, and SMTM is a Korean rap competition. I’m happy for Chamane, and while I do feel that our rap skill levels differ a bit, when it comes to Korean rap, Chamane is superior. True emcees should be able to write their verses on their own, but I needed help writing my Korean raps, so I can understand why he was chosen over me. If I had been able to rap in English, I honestly think the outcome would have been different. To be honest, I’m not sure why I got such little airtime. Even some the judges were surprised by the fact that I had made it so far but rarely appeared on TV. I honestly think the SMTM writers already had a storyline planned out, and that is why some people got more airtime than others. It is after all a TV show. Also, as far as being a Black American . . . I can’t really say, but, there has yet to be a non-Asian artist to debut in Korea.
Yeah, I was surprised that you didn’t get more airtime especially since you did get so far in the competition and you have competed on the show before (usually SMTM loves to build up a storyline around past contestants).
You mentioned how a non-Asian artist has yet to debut in South Korea. Do you think it would be possible for a non-Asian artist to successfully debut anytime soon in South Korea?
I believe anything is possible. It may take several more years and there will probably be many obstacles for those non-Asian artists who are trying to debut in Korea, but nothing is impossible.
What was it like to be the only non-Asian foreigner on SMTM3? The rap producers and the other contestants never really appeared to interact with you, and whenever they were around you, they looked slightly awkward and uncomfortable.
It was fine. I was also the only non-Asian on SMTM1. I’ve lived in Korea for five years, so I’m used to it. Many Koreans either don’t speak English well or are shy when it comes to speaking English.
Would you ever consider going on Unpretty Rapstar?
There are no auditions for Unpretty Rapstar. The producers contact only those whom they choose to be on the show. If there was an audition, however, I don’t think I would audition.
What do you think of the South Korean hip-hop scene? How does it compare to American hip-hop?
The Korean hip-hop scene is still growing here in Korea. K-pop still dominates the media and the music charts. As far as how it differs from American hip-hop . . . I think that in America (more so in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, but still today) hip-hop music, namely rap, was a way for people to “talk” about all the things going on their lives. I feel that in Korea, many rappers rap only because they think it is cool. A lot of time their lyrical content has only to do with the artist having more “swag” than others. Hip-hop and rap started in America . . . so its roots are pretty deep. I feel that hip hop in Korea is more of a “trend.” It’s just the “cool thing” to do right now.
A lot of artists mix and match different genres of music, and they (the artists) can’t be classified as being part of any one genre. Would you solely classify yourself as a hip-hop artist?
I would say I mainly do hip-hop. Sometimes R & B. I’m open to doing different genres of music, but rap is my specialty.
How did you get into rap?
I started off singing, but I would sometimes write verses when I felt angry or frustrated. These I just kept to myself. One day I was recording a song I wrote, and my friends suggested I try rapping it. I did and as they say, the rest is history 🙂
You previously went to college and graduated with a degree in psychology. What made you decide to actively pursue music as a professional career?
Even when I was studying, I was always listening to music. Whatever I did, there was always music involved, so I figured that if music was that much of a distraction in my life, I should pursue it. If it didn’t work out, I could always go to school grad school later.
You’re originally from the U.S. Why make the move to South Korea? Was it to pursue your music?
I mentioned before that I moved around a lot, so I knew that after I finished university I wanted to live somewhere else. I came across some music in South Korea that I enjoyed. The language is phonetic, so I knew it wouldn’t be hard to learn and there were/are many jobs available for Native English speakers. So, I decided to make the move.
And how has it been trying to pursue music in South Korea?
It’s not easy making it into the music industry period. Being a foreigner definitely makes it harder at times, but it has its advantages as well. Living in a homogeneous country makes it easy for people to remember me.
What is your goal as an artist? What kind of music do you want to make?
I want to inspire people and really show them that nothing is impossible as long as you don’t give up. I also want to make music that reflects who I am as a person. I hope that as I continue to grow as an artist, that people can really see all sides of my personality through my music and hopefully even relate to what I’m saying.
What artist influences or inspires you the most?
I listen to a LOT of different music. I don’t think there is one artist that influences me more than others. Also, everyday life experiences, interactions, and etc. all inspire me.
What are your future plans? Will you being doing any performances or releasing any new songs?
I’m working on a couple of singles now. I hope to release a mini album sometime next year.
Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect when it comes to your singles or mini album? Like what kind of sound they will have or if your singles or mini album will have a certain theme.
When people listen to my singles/album, I want them to feel refreshed. There will be some of “old school” sounds as well as at least one Korean/English song. I don’t want to give away too much about what I’m working on, but I hope that my album will be well received. It’s been a while since I’ve put up music, so I hope people haven’t forgotten about me. Haha.
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