When Korean rapper Digiri first heard hip-hop in middle school, he thought it was hilarious. He didn't even think it was real music.
"I thought it was just murmuring. I didn't like it at first because back then, Korean people only listened to hip-hop music with Seo Taiji," he said. "I thought it was just funny. But after I listened to the music of Deux, I felt the rhythm like a heartbeat."
Now, after being in the industry since 1997, he considers himself first of the first generation of hip-hop artists. And he hopes to see the industry continue to develop.
But one thing holding back Korean hip-hop, he said, is the use of English in lyrics. Different pronunciation and strong syllables make rapping in Korean difficult, Digiri said, especially when compared to rapping in English.
"It's very difficult to rap. But some of the new artists, young rappers, they put English lyrics in the middle of the song. It's not really good for the future of Korean hip-hop," he said.
He added that there is already a US textbook on how to rap and that no matter how hard they try, Korean rappers cannot rap in English better than American hip-hop artists.
"No matter how hard we try to rap in English, it's just a copy. It's cheating. It's not good for the development of Korean hip-hop."
Digiri calls himself "hip-hop grandpa." He started performing at the first hip-hop club in Sinchon when he was 18 in 1997, a time when most other first-generation Korean hip-hop artists were still just members of the audience.
"I didn't know anything about hip-hop. I didn't know what freestyle was, but (Honey Family) group member Young-poong and I would rap there, freestyle," he said.
He described his first performance as nerve-wracking, but exciting. There was no preparation, no lyrics, just freestyle. He admitted that he didn't know what he was doing or what he was capable of. But lucky for him, the audience liked what he had to offer.