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An #importedAsians POV: DJ Seoul Train

Can you tell me a bit about your origin story for starters?

I was born in Cheorwon near the DMZ. I’m the youngest of three brothers. My oldest brother was also adopted to the Netherlands to a different family. My middle brother stayed with my family in Korea. Then, there was little me raised in a protective white bubble (in the Netherlands)—at least until I was about 16 or so when I “stopped being cute” to the outside world.


I grew up in a loving home, but whenever I stepped outside, it was basically always like going to war. I had a couple of friends, but where I grew up in the Netherlands was a small village. I was the only Korean kid. There was a Chinese family running a Chinese restaurant; but that was it.


Did you know that your older brother was adopted as well to the Netherlands, or did you find out from a biological search?

Well, I always had the information in front of me. My Dutch parents were really cool about it in the beginning. They always said, “If you want to search for your birth family we will help you.” They were very straightforward about that, which was good.


But, my oldest brother sought me out and found me right before I went to Canada. He came to our house and it was uncanny how similar we looked. We hit it off immediately.

That was when I was like, “This is real.” My parents immediately became very afraid. They were worried: “Now, he’s gonna leave us and he’s gonna go out and search for his Korean identity and just turn his back on us.” So, yeah, that led to that to some tension.


It’s the famous guilt trip all adoptees go through. It was a very difficult time. It took until 2010, when my wife and I were reunited with my birth family.


We were welcomed with open arms in the village. It turns out that [my] abeoji (father) and umuni (mother) were still together and living in the same house where we were all born. That was like “Wow!” Also, when I walked into the house and into my middle brother’s room, the first thing I noticed was a guitar and a keyboard. So, it turns out I come from a very musical family. That was so deep, and that made the bond I have with music even stronger.


We went back again in 2017 to celebrate our son’s birth as we knew it was such a big deal in Korea. Not long after that, [my] umuni sadly passed away. We were glad that at least she got to meet him. I still every now and then call [my] abeoji and have regular contact with my brothers.


Within a year or so, we are actually making plans to make our way to Korea ourselves.


You mentioned that growing up was like war—can you talk a bit more about that? How did that affect your sense of identity?

Well, I think growing up in a bubble with my parents saying, “You’re adopted from Korea, but you’re one of us now,” was confusing and against how people went out their way to show me I’m not welcome, you know? My parents even went as far as to say, “Racism doesn’t exist, because you are one of us.”


At some point, I stopped talking to them about it because it was just no use. With a lot of these struggles, there was literally nobody I could turn to. Instead, I internalized it all. Then, of course, when you do that and something happens, you explode. That’s why I got in a lot of fights, but in the end I just wanted to be left alone.


That happened all the way through high school. Basically, in elementary school, it was just incidents, but they became really more structural in high school. Yeah, that was a really bad time.


In the end, I started to pick up the pen, and then became an emcee and started showcasing my skills at local talent shows. It was when I debuted at a really big festival about 20 minutes from Amsterdam, [where] from that moment on, that’s when people finally started seeing me more as an artist and respecting me more as a person. They began to care a little less about what I looked like.


How would you say, then, that your sense of identity changed?

When I was 12, I discovered hip-hop music. That’s where my views began to change because I’ve always been into languages.


Music and languages are basically the constants in my life. When I heard hip-hop, I actually understood what they were rapping about. Although I might not have been able to relate to the abject poverty of some of those artists, I could definitely relate to the struggle, the pain, and also the glimmers of hope that are also a part of hip-hop.


This helped me greatly further [on] in life when I was not able to turn to my parents with my struggles. I turned to hip-hop because I felt like I wasn’t alone. There were people going through struggles and I realized things can always be worse.


A big part of my self-identification became based on the values of hip-hop culture. Now, I think of myself as a hip-hop scholar and student because I just absorbed all the knowledge with the music.


But, as for the whole Asian aspect, I think when my brothers came into my life, that’s when I took some time out to really re-evaluate what it means to me to be Asian. In 2008, I discovered some Korean R&B. That was when Jay Park was still coming up and others like him. Now, it has become more cool—more accepted—to be Asian.


How does this play into your music and artistry?

In 2002, I decided to join a couple of bands, and all of a sudden people started noticing me and saying, “Oh, this guy actually does know what he’s doing.” From 2002 to 2007, I was one of the few higher profile Asian artists in Europe. It took artists like Jin of Ruff Ryders, and artists like myself and DJ Rockid to do the groundbreaking as pioneers, you know. That’s something that helps bring more confidence as an Asian artist, and makes me feel more Asian.


In terms of your work, what are you working on now?

Back in 2017, I became visually impaired. So, I decided the only way forward was to go back to school. I chose to study ethnomusicology, which is an ugly word for non-Western musicology, or anything other than classical Western music. My speciality is, of course, Korean music.


I have to finish my dissertation and a couple of papers, then by next year I’ll graduate and have my second M.A.


The other thing is I’ve just released my latest track, “Yellow Peril.” I’m still trying to gain more momentum with that. I really want it to be more of an anthem, and [so I] tied into all the movements that have now sprung up. Some people have started to use it, which is great. Hopefully, it will become more internationally known, because I think it’s one of those songs that kind of resonates.

I also have an older song in my catalog that kind of ties into that which I’m going to release within the next few months or so called “No More Yellowface.” People are still very ignorant. So, I have a couple lines about the pretenses with which the U.S. lured Chinese workers to the U.S. to work on the railways, and then came up with the Chinese Exclusion Act. That’s the next song on my agenda.


And, I’m working on a song right now sung by a very talented Vietnamese singer. I’ve made the music, and I’m doing the mixing and mastering right now. That’s gonna be released in the course of the coming weeks. I’m trying to stay creative and find ways to stay out there, to stay visible; and hopefully, you know, to attract more and more artists to work with me and collaborate.


What would your takeaway be for younger, aspiring universal Asians, or how would you encourage our universal Asian population to pursue their art or to do whatever it is they want to do in life?

I think right now is as good a time as any. The wind is now in our sails because of the Korean wave. I think the balance has shifted towards the East. It’s been going on for awhile now, but it looks like it’s picked up momentum in a really, really big way. And, it’s not going to slow down.


There’s still so much to do to inspire the next generation. I think right now the most important thing to do is to educate people—to educate ourselves.


I think in order to succeed, you gotta see yourself not as an island, but as a part of a whole. Right now is the time to stand together.


Basically, what I’m trying to say is to just be you, just stay true to you, to just believe; because people will not believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.


That’s what I am trying to do. I’m just trying to inspire as many people as I can to follow their dreams, whatever their dreams may be, because I’m still trying to fulfill many of my own dreams. But, by doing so and by documenting this journey, I hope that it gives people hope, and that it helps to inspire the next generation.

 

Check out DJ Seoul Train’s latest work: E-1 Ten’s “CCTV,” also featuring well-known Dutch MC Brainpower, just released by indie label Wallboomers Music.

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