Interview: 'I Criticized Kim Jong Un as a Spoiled Young Politician'

The 'defector rapper' Kang Chun-hyok discusses his music, art and why rap is a metaphor for life in North Korea.

Kang Chun-hyok performing at an album-release show in Seoul, Dec. 16, 2016.

Kang Chun-hyok took a different path in his new life in South Korea than most North Korean defectors. Instead of keeping a low profile, the artist and musician has attempted to gain the world’s attention as the only rapper to come from the closed country. As the “defector rapper,” Kang’s flow deals with his life under the oppressive regime, a life that reflects the music’s underpinnings in the African-American community. Kang recently talked about his music and art with RFA journalist Yongjae Mok. The following is an edited version of that interview.

RFA: You recently released the record, ‘For the Freedom.’ What made you record the song?

Kang Chun-hyok: I participated in the South Korean rap competition television audition program, ‘Show Me the Money.’ I went out of the competition in the second round, but I wanted people to hear me sing so I released the song that I have been working on for a long time.

RFA: What’s the basis for the song?

Kang Chun-hyok: The first verse tells my story. How I was born in North Korea and how I lived in North Korea. The second verse explains how I defected from North Korea and stayed in China and elsewhere. Lastly, the third verse is about how I came to South Korea.

RFA: The lyrics are critical of the North Korean leadership, take us through them.

Kang Chun-hyok: As I talk about my life story, I also criticize North Korean politics in the lyrics. In North Korea, Kim Jong Un is the father of citizens, and [his wife] Ri Sol Ju is the mother of the citizens. But what I articulated in my lyrics is that they are not my father and mother. The content teased Kim Jong Un. Since he is fat, I am teasing him like, “lose your belly fat.” I criticized Kim Jong Un as a spoiled young politician. You know, when kids throw a tantrum, they lash out at their parents first. So I criticized Kim Jong Un, “even if you cry, you are just the kind who goes to your mother’s bosom.”

Why did you choose hip-hop and rap music?

Kang Chun-hyok: Hip-hop comes from poor African-American people. It started out as they plead for their human rights and talked about their situations. North Korean residents live under dictatorial government, which ignores human rights. People come out of North Korea in search of freedom, but they get killed in the river or become caught up in human trafficking. The situation in North Korea is worse than it is for African-Americans, so I think hip-hop suits my story better than other genres.

RFA: Although you are known as ‘North Korean defector rapper,” you majored in art. Tell us about your exhibitions.

Kang Chun-hyok: I have done one in South Korea, and also have opened exhibitions in Indonesia and Germany. In the past, I tried to describe how children and young people live in North Korea. Now I draw paintings that are a form of satire that mocks North Korean politics.

RFA: As a musician and artist, what do you see in your future?

Kang Chun-hyok: I would like to study art more and exhibit the art works to as many people as possible In South Korea. Some people consider North Koreans a different people, even though we are all Korean people. Therefore, I want to change that perception by showing my art, especially to young people. Music has the merit of being popular, and it appeals to many people. Through the music, I can let them know about human rights in North Korea.

Written by Yongjae Mok. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.