Korean-Canadian trio UPTOWN BOYBAND draw inspiration for their music from their culture, city, and musical influences like Big Bang, BSB, A$AP MOB and Odd Future. The group explains how growing up was confusing because of their Korean backgrounds, coupled with living in a city as multi-cultural as Toronto.
Group member, and engineer, Roc Lee shares that even his parents had a hard time understanding where he was coming from with the way he wanted to make music and express himself. “Just finding out your identity and where you belong in this culture and this community – that was very confusing at first. But now we embrace it. I love being from Toronto, being of Korean decent, and we’re just trying to blend the best parts of these cultures together.” 25-year-old rapper Justin Trash adds that the most difficult part of solidifying their sound was, “finding it, so that it’s relevant to both cultures,” and believes the group has found a good balance.
Being the first alternative K-POP act of their kind to combine pop and trap music elements, the group has embraced taking that leadership. “I feel like growing up there wasn’t a lot of role models for me to look up to personally. Now, we see a lot of Asian-American artists doing well and the market is definitely growing, but growing up I didn’t see a lot of it. We’re just trying to be the role models that we didn’t have growing up,” Trash explains. “There’s literally no one in the city, or in the world, that’s doing exactly what we’re doing. I’d say right now we don’t have any competition. But for me, we do want to spark up that competitive spirit. So if there are any other Western-Asian groups aspiring to do what we do, please come forward and let’s do this.”
The group acknowledges that the people of Korea are very patriotic and are very proud when they are being represented worldwide, making the artists happy to receive such overwhelming support. “They have a different perspective of second gen’ Korean-Canadians (and) Korean-Americans. They definitely look at it as if we’re foreigners. They see us as Canadian people, and it’s very interesting because growing up here (in Toronto) we’re categorized as Asian and Korean – so it’s definitely a different perspective of how they look at us,” teaches Justin Trash
UBB was discovered by their current label, solely by word of mouth. ”Every label that we talked to was word of mouth. They didn’t even have any data,” explains Justin Trash, stating that the group had no music out at the time and were just performing solo songs as a group. He continues, “That’s really cool for us, because we were just working really hard on our live shows and our music… we’re eating the fruits of our labor now.”
The group credits engineer Roc Lee for having the most musical background. Roc Lee started out producing and mixing his own sound. He also took part in the whole mixing process of their forthcoming album. Justin Trash was inspired to join the choir by a girl that he liked in middle school, and continued with music as he always loved singing. 24 year-old Joe Rascal struggled to connect with his heritage during his adolescent years, and looked to other outlets such as dance, music and hip hop. Rascal adds, “I was ashamed of being Asian when I was a kid so I used to try to blend in with different cultures, and I guess that got me into their music. So I was listening to Eminem, or Tupac, and I was listening to old-school rap and stuff like that growing up. And then I got into K-POP.”
All three members ended up coming together organically without having to give up their own identities and sound. Justin Trash explains, “Once we all met, our sound not only got better, we didn’t have to sacrifice anything. We’re all in agreement that we’re heading to the same area. We could still be ourselves – our own individual artist. We came together to create this super group called UPTOWN BOYBAND.” Joe Rascal adds that their music is so versatile because they’re able to bring their own creativity into what they do as a group, saying, “We have different styles that we brought into the music, but for some reason it just blends in and works so well together.”
When it comes to their music, they want to be honest about the unique experiences that they’ve gone through. “We’ve always had the mentality of, we need to talk about our experiences because that’s what’s going to make it more real. And. so, even in the beginning of us making music it’s always been vulnerable. A lot of our music speaks on our mental health, drug addiction, things that are actually happening in our city, things that are happening to Asian Americans. So we do try to keep it as honest as possible,” they emphasize.
While they finish preparing their debut album, today marks the release of their new single and video release. “KULT FREESTYLE” is the fourth single the group has released in 2020. They describe it as, “a very heavy song – it’s bars and bars and bars.”
Watch UPTOWN BOYBAND in “KULT FREESTYLE” below, and follow the group on Instagram for future releases.