The battle is a classic test of emcee skills. No excuses, just emcee versus emcee. In 30 seconds a rapper can begin building a rep or he can flush his ego and name down the toilet. The newest addition to the Ruff Ryders family, 20-year-old Jin tha MC, is no stranger to the battle. He has used the format to, literally and figuratively, battle his way to the top. Jin might not appear to be a logical fit for the Ruff Ryders, whose roster includes DMX and the Lox, both of whom are noted for their harsh reality raps. But Jin caught the ear of Ruff Ryders, along with many other major labels, as he displayed his microphone dexterity in front of a national television audience on BET's weekly emcee battle, Freestyle Fridays at 106 and Park. Though he is still hovering beneath the radar for the most part, Jin was the top emcee on Freestyle Fridays for seven straight weeks and was inducted into the show's hall of fame.
Winning seven weeks in a row on Freestyle Fridays is impressive, but what's gotten most to take notice is that Jin is Asian. Having spent many years on the battle circuit, Jin has faced punch lines about slanted eyes, Chinese food, selling batteries and other Asian stereotypes, but he has learned to stay calm and use it to his advantage. As a result, he can easily take jabs at his culture and flip them on his opponent. With all his battling success, Jin is now set to release an album that shows he's no fluke and can be just as mind-blowing on record as he is in a battle. Prefix Magazine caught up with the newest Ruff Ryder to find out about how he's gone from a kid picking on friends in the grade school cafeteria battles to a member of a Grade-A crew and about what we can expect next.
Prefix Magazine: How long have you been rhyming? Jin tha MC : I've been rhyming for about six years. I started getting into it when I was 14. PM: How'd you get into it? Jin tha MC : At first I didn't get into hip-hop rhyming as an emcee, but as a fan just listening. It was interesting, 'cause I just sort of discovered it on my own. It wasn't like my friends said, Hey we're all listening to this, why don't you listen to it also? I found it on the radio, and then eventually I started going to the record store looking for the latest albums. PM: So you got into it by yourself? Jin tha MC : Yeah, just by myself, with no influence. Then I learned the words to all the other artists' songs and started rhyming along with them. Then at one point I just started thinking, Hey, I can do my own lyrics. I just went from there. PM: Growing up, what'd your parents think of you trying to make it as an emcee? Jin tha MC : I think any parent thinks, Is there a future in this? What college are you applying to? Are you taking your SATs? What're your grades right now? and things like that. Parents in general just want you to focus more on solid stuff and not chase some dream. PM: More like a guarantee. Jin tha MC : Yeah, a guarantee. Something that requires an education. It was good though. That didn't stop me from chasing it, as you can see. But now, of course, on the flip side, they're totally supportive and they're like my biggest fans. Every morning my mom's asking me if I got distribution yet. They're just real supportive though. Can I get a quick story in? PM: Of course. Jin tha MC : Pops was walking up and down Canal (Street). He was looking for DJ Kool Kid Part 6 and Part 7 and DJ Boom. Anything that had me on it. You know on Canal Street, the heaven of mix CDs and bootleg CDs, my dad, this middle-aged Chinese guy -- he's like 40-something still thinking he's like 25 -- that speaks broken English. He'll understand you if you're talking to him, but he can't really hold a conversation well. So picture him walking up and down Canal Street going to the mix-tape spots talking about, Hey, there's this Chinese kid that raps. Do you have the Kool Kid? Then he told me this one story right. You know the African guy? The African guy is like, Yeah, I got this one right here. Part 7. But, my dad bought it already. He was like, I got 7. I need 6. Hilarious! He told me they were playing "Hey Jin" at one mixtape spot and he was telling the mixtape guy, I know that right there. I know that guy. But yeah, bottom line they're real supportive now. PM: You grew up in Miami right? Jin tha MC : Yeah. Miami, Florida. PM: What was it like growing up there? What was your high school like? Jin tha MC : A pretty diverse school, but predominantly probably Hispanic and Black. PM: And is that who you hung out with most of the time? Jin tha MC : Most of the time, yeah, but it wasn't even me being like, Yo, I don't wanna hang out with the Asian kids. It was just my interests. I was into basketball, sports and hip-hop and they happened to be the people I related to. My two best friends, one is black and one is Hispanic. At the same time I had a lot of Asian friends, and I know it sounds weird, but we'd go out on weekends and do the Asian stuff. Bowling, shooting pool, karaoke, wildin.' PM: How do you come up with your rhymes? Battling versus studio stuff. Jin tha MC : Well, with battling there's no guidelines. You can go anywhere with it. One minute you could be talking about one thing and the next minute you could be talking about the opposite. Whereas in a song there's a theme. When I rhyme, I'm just talking to you, but the words rhyme. So, I guess that's the level everyone wants to get to. I'm not saying I'm the best and that I perfected it. There's always room to better yourself. I mean a lot of the younger ones ask me, Yo, I rhyme, too. I'm trying to battle. I'm trying to get a deal. What is your advice? Do you practice a lot? Most of the time I tell them that when you love it so much and you just love doing it, you don't even look at it as practice. We might be in the car going to a show or wherever and put a beat CD in and just start rhyming. Now, that in itself is practicing, but we don't look at it like practicing. We're not like, Yo, put in a CD. Let's practice. Nah, we're like, We got 2 1/2 hours to kill, let's rhyme. That's one of the key ways to get better. PM: Who's the best person you've battled? Jin tha MC : BET-wise, my favorite battle when I was on was the second week against Sterling, for the sheer fact that a lot of people were still wondering if I was legit or if I just got lucky the week before. Between that and the fact that he came out real strong. He came out like no holds barred. From beginning to end it was just raw. And people were like that's it. He won last week. He's done this week. But naw, I came out right out the gate. He's probably one of my favorites. PM: Were you intimidated by the BET thing? Jin tha MC : It's nervousness. But why I'm so proud of it as far as getting up there and accomplishing everything we have up to this point is that nothing was ever really handed to us. With the BET thing, it wasn't like my manager's cousin knows the executive producer who's related to the sister so he could probably slide us in. It was nothing like that at all. My manager called me and was like, Yo, I have the audition date, let's go. We went and auditioned, got a call back. We went and got it ourselves. That's the best part. PM: Do you remember your first battle? Jin tha MC : Some junior high cafeteria. That was all we did. It was like in the cafeteria, you just finished eating and you're just chilling until you have to go back to class. So, naturally we had to find a way to pass the time, so, somebody would start beating on the table and you just start rhyming and by nature one guy says something about you and so you have to outdo them and it just turns into a battle. That's where it started, and after that I just loved to battle. PM: There were obviously a lot of labels after you. What made you sign with Ruff Ryders? Jin tha MC : Out of all the labels that showed interest, contacted and called, Ruff Ryders was the most ideal because they have a good resume. They had a catalog of big artists that had done well already. They have an ear for hits. Number two they have a real strong promotional team. When an album's gonna come out, you'll know it. Number three they was just real personal. It wasn't like, Yo Jin, we wanna sign you. They was like, Come to the studio, come meet everybody. Come say what's up and let's see what you're trying to do. PM: Who's gonna be doing the beats on the new album? Jin tha MC : A lot of the production has been by in-house Ruff Ryder production. A lot of up-and-coming producers that they signed. The beats are top quality, Grade-A stuff. Chart toppers. PM: Now that you've gotten some press and exposure are you getting recognized on the streets? Jin tha MC : Yeah, it's interesting. I was on 106 and Park on BET a good six or seven months ago. People are coming up to me now like it was last Friday. They start quoting what I said. That's the best part. It's good to know people appreciate your efforts and hard work. PM: What about girls? You got girls calling who weren't calling before? Jin tha MC : I mean, don't get it wrong. I was pulling girls before TV. Let's just say that after BET and TV and magazines and all of that, my stock went up. PM: Is there anyone out there that you really want to collaborate with? Jin tha MC : Right now, who I'm feeling is not even a hip-hop artist. I wanna work with Craig David. Ever hear of Craig David? PM: Yeah. Jin tha MC : He's a singer from London, but he's starting to blow up in the states. PM: The one song I really felt was dope was the "Seven Days" remix with Mos Def. That song's ridiculous. Jin tha MC : With Primo. Yeah, ridiculous. I think that's why I want to do a joint with him. He's got that hip-hop flavor to it. But at the same time he's got talent, vocal talent. He's legit. He sounds good. Even the original "Seven Days" is great. But that one with Mos Def and Premo is just crazy. PM: What are your favorite three albums? Jin tha MC : Boyz II Men, the self-titled album. A classic hip-hop album, Wu-Tang 36-chambers. And to top it off, Michael Jackson Thriller PM: Do you ever think what you would be doing if you weren't rapping? Jin tha MC : I really can't. I don't know. Since my teenage years when I started getting real serious with this, I never thought of doing anything else. Even when times were so rough and all hope was gone. I was like, No, you were meant to do this. It's gonna happen. Just be patient. 'Cause you got to understand, I went through a lot of ups and downs. I did all the demo tapes, auditions and meetings with this guy and that guy. Thinking, Here's my big break, when in reality, it's just right back to the bottom. It's hard to deal with all of that and then, when you're young, all you do is live that dream. I guess it's even tougher because at that point, you have school as your fallback. At that time I'm still in high school, but when I turned 18 and graduated, that's when it really hit me -- What the heck are you doing with your life? Even at that point things didn't skyrocket right away. I'm just glad I didn't give up on it. 'Cause if I did, I wouldn't be doing this interview. PM: There are, of course, other Asian rappers. But you're the first solo act to be signed to a major. Jin tha MC : Oh, that's crazy. PM: Did you listen to any of them before? Jin tha MC : Yeah. Mountain Brothers. They're talented, and much respects to what they're doing. I don't really want to compare myself. It's just a matter of different artists, different career paths and different destinies. PM: You don't think of yourself as the Asian MC, right? Jin tha MC : Not at all. Not at all. But at the same time, it's inevitable. Like you said. When people recognize me they're like, You was that Chinese kid on BET. It's a given. But the key is I don't exploit it, I embrace it. When people say that, I say, Yep, that's me. I've been doing a lot of shows lately, and I don't want to say the majority of the turnout has been Asian, but it's probably because Asian promoters that cater to Asians have done the majority of the parties. So, they're coming out in masses and the energy is high, and this is like real hip-hop heads. Just waiting to have someone come out and represent for them. They just come out and hang on every word I say. It's unbelievable. PM: What do you like to do for fun outside of rapping? Jin tha MC : I try to hang out with my little sister these days. She's growing up. Most of the time, I find myself just by myself. A lot of people be like, You got mad friends, you probably be hanging out... PM: With your 30-man crew? Jin tha MC : Thirty-man crew? Nah, I don't have a 30-man crew. I need a 30-man crew. When my manager comes back, I got to tell him. Like 29 Chinese guys. But nah, I just be driving through the city by myself listening to music. I just try to escape, 'cause it's hectic. PM: What's your biggest surprise? Jin tha MC : Like I said, I always thought I'd be doing this and it would happen one day, but it's just hitting me now that I've actually done it. I still have so much more to accomplish, but at least I'm on the right path and it's just crazy spending everyday of your life focused on one thing only. You wake up and it's the first thing you think about. Before you go to sleep it's the last thing you think about. Like trying to get that deal and trying to get on, it's just crazy spending so many years of doing that and then actually watching that unfold and now it's like reality. Now, I'm here working on my first album and doing interviews and shows. PM: What's your day like nowadays? Jin tha MC : Well, lately I've been filming for The Fast and Furious 2. That's crazy. PM: Crazy. Jin tha MC : That right there is crazy. I always figured I'd go into acting after the music thing, but I didn't think it'd be so soon and on such a huge movie. That's gonna be huge when it comes out. PM: You got lines in that? Jin tha MC : I'm important. I can't say more. Let's just say the movie couldn't function without me. But going back to my daily activity, most of the time I'm out of town filming for the movie, and if I'm not doing that I'm at a show somewhere. So I'm going back and forth between where I'm doing a show. When I'm here I try to get the most out of it. I hang out in Chinatown. Spend time with my family. PM: Once you got signed and got that first check, what'd you buy? Jin tha MC : A car. I needed a ride to get around. Essential stuff. Literally, I battled, and in a sense I won all of this. PM: You didn't go crazy? Jin tha MC : Nah. I didn't go crazy at all. Do you see any bling? PM: No. Damn, what's with that? Jin tha MC : Not yet. I can't let that disrupt my focus. Bling later. Just focus now. PM: When's the album drop? Jin tha MC : Well, the movie comes out in June, so I think what they want is to set it up so the album comes out like a month before. It's crazy. PM: It's not done though, is it? Jin tha MC : About. The foundation is there. Ever since I left BET, I went straight to the studio and spent like two or three months recording straight on it. So, the foundation of the tracks is there. It's just a matter of wrapping it up now. Finishing it.