Zizo adjusts to life in the limelight

Hip-hop artist Zizo.

SOUTH KOREA - This is the fifth in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene.

Rapper Zizo said he walked away from Mnet's hip-hop audition programme "Show Me the Money" with many things besides coming second, one of the most important being the support his family began to show him.

"My mother doesn't really know about hip-hop, but by appearing on TV, I was able to get her support. She is proud of her son," he said.

On top of that, he said the show was a learning experience, thanks to producer MC Meta who headed Meta Crew, and has led to big changes in his career as a hip-hop artist.

Zizo said while it was difficult to be fully comfortable around MC Meta due to his senior status ― Meta is considered first generation hip-hop artist in Korea ― he felt privileged to be on his team and gained a lot of knowledge from him.

"The thing I was touched the most about working with him was that MC Meta would use me as a vessel to express some of his own musical personality. And so, the fact that I could be that vessel, I was really happy and felt privileged," the 27-year-old rapper said.

And life has certainly changed for him. Zizo said where once he had to seek others out and ask for help, now more people such as beatmakers and producers are contacting him asking to work together.

The rapper said he's not used to the attention he is receiving now because of the show, since he started from the ground up.

"But although it doesn't exactly feel natural to me, I want to work hard and introduce my music to the people that don't know it well yet," he said.

It is a far cry from his start in underground hip-hop. He said he was first interested in hip-hop in high school. His friends were into the music and they would listen together. But it was his first visit to an actual hip-hop club in Sinchon, the famous Master Plan, that affected him. At the time, high schoolers were allowed entrance.

"The thing that really had an influence on us was going to Sinchon and actually going into a club (Master Plan) in my high school uniform and being able to see the energy and passion," he said.

Zizo said he began rapping in a club at his high school called Soul Shout. He and others would perform at school events and festivals and recorded some of their songs. After hearing what they had come up with, Zizo felt that if he decided to really work at it, he could be really good.

From there, Zizo said there was no one stage or performance that marked his debut. He had been performing since he was a kid dancing for his grandmother and family, so he said his emergence into the underground hip-hop scene was more of a "step-by-step" process. He continued to perform throughout college and was always a member of hip-hop clubs that would put together shows.

He said that one of the challenges of underground hip-hop was a lack of feedback. For an artist, there needs to be communication with listeners, and without it, it's difficult to grow, he said.

Not only that, but he mentioned how people often judge hip-hop artists based on their performances alone.

"They only look at the performance, the rapping part of the performance. Not deeply into the rapper's life or experiences or the things they are trying to say," he said.

Despite the challenges, Zizo hopes to continue to do music forever, comparing himself to musician Na Hoon-a, in that he wants to spend many years performing. He also named MC Meta as an example to follow, hoping someday he could make enough money from one concert to live on for a year. Outside of that, he plans to venture into other forms of entertainment and try new things.

"Although I may not have experience living in the States and experiencing the real American hip-hop, I lived my whole life in Korea, so I think that I'm able to appeal to Koreans," he said. "It makes me more approachable."

In the immediate future, he hopes to release a single this month, but next year he hopes to start branching out into other areas of entertainment.